+ Advent Midweek 1 – December 3rd, 2014 +
“Jesus is Coming: The Hymns of Advent”
Lo, He Comes With Clouds Descending
1 Thessalonians 5:1-11; Luke 21:25-33
In the Name of + Jesus. Amen.
Oh, you have to try this new restaurant. Did you hear about that new deal at Target? Have you seen the new Star Wars VII trailer with the new light saber?
We’re obsessed with “new”. New car or new book smell. New socks on your toes. New recipes, smells, and flavors of food. When it comes to food, a hobbies, or exercise, “new” can be good. But new can also be dangerous. When the god of “new” sets up his temple in the church McDonalds replaces friendly greeters in churches (no, I’m not making that up), Christian artwork is exchanged for entertainment equipment; and the faith once and for all delivered to the saints is traded for a fad. So when it comes to “new” in church and theology, beware. After all, what happens when the craving for whatever that new thing is passes and moves on? Well so does every hope and treasure we placed in it.
One of the reasons we’re obsessed with new things is because we realize how fleeting and temporary life is. All good things must come to an end we say. Even the world must end, Jesus says.
And there will be signs in sun and moon and stars, and on the earth distress of nations in perplexity because of the roaring of the sea and the waves, people fainting with fear and with foreboding of what is coming on the world. For the powers of the heavens will be shaken.
Wouldn’t it be great if there really was something that was always new? What a fantastic surprise it would be to find a joy that never ends, a gift we never tire of receiving, and a promise that never gets old.
Welcome to the season of Advent. A season of solemnity and royalty, of waiting and hopeful expectation, of repentance and great joy. Advent prepares us for the Last Day. For in Advent, Jesus comes to make all things new.
And then they will see the Son of Man coming in a cloud with power and great glory. Now when these things begin to take place, straighten up and raise your heads, because your redemption is drawing near.”
Jesus’ advent in glory brings us the one thing at is eternally new. Your redemption is drawing near.
This is why the hymns of Advent are among the best in our hymnal. They teach us to wait with hopeful longing and joy for all of Christ’s advents.
Today’s hymn is no exception: Lo, He Comes With Clouds Descending
This hymn beautifully weaves Jesus’ death and second coming together. And yet we sing it during Advent as we prepare to celebrate Jesus’ first coming in Bethlehem. Early Christians recognized that Jesus’ eschaton, his second coming, began already in Bethlehem. We remember his birth and immediately we long for his second coming. In Jesus’ birth, the end times are here; the promise to make all things new began in Bethlehem. The day we long for and the Savior we long to see, that’s what this hymn prepares us for with great joy. Your redemption is drawing near…
Lo! He comes with clouds descending,
Once for ev’ry sinner slain;
Thousand, thousand saints attending
Swell the triumph of his train:
Alleluia, alleluia, alleluia!
Christ the Lord returns to reign.
It’s an advent, end-times hymn; and it’s a passion hymn. Jesus’ death and Jesus’ birth go together. You can’t have one without the other. Take the crucified Christ out from Advent and Christmas and all that’s left is an elf on a shelf and a guy in a red suit who smells like beef and cheese.
Jesus’ passion is the purpose of his advent in human flesh. Jesus’ suffering and death brings us his advent among us now in his word, water, body and blood. This is how we welcome Jesus’ second coming, with shouts of Alleluia. Advent is the return of the King who destroys sin and the evil that never sleeps by dying the sleep of death.
Once for ev’ry sinner slain. At Christ’s second coming – just as in his first – we rejoice in the universality of Christ’s atonement for our sin. Charles Wesley originally wrote once for favored sinners slain. Thankfully that got changed. That phrase “favored sinners” comes from the false teaching that God chooses to save some and condemns others. Scripture teaches otherwise: Behold the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world. When I am lifted up I will draw all men to myself. Jesus was not born for some favored sinners, but for all sinners. Christ died for all. Christ died for you.
Every eye shall now behold him
Robed in glorious majesty;
Those who set at naught and sold him,
Pierced and nailed him to the tree,
Deeply wailing, deeply wailing, deeply wailing,
Shall their true Messiah see.
Another name for Jesus’ advent in glory is the apocalypse. It means to reveal. That means Jesus’ death is the beginning of the apocalypse, or the beginning of the end times. For Jesus’ death is truly revealing. Like Christ’s second coming, it reveals the depth and darkness of our sin. It reveals sin’s consequences. Jesus was put to death for our sin. We pierced Jesus with our sin. We nailed him to the tree. We betray him in thought, word, and deed. Repent at this revelation.
Jesus’ cross – like his second coming – reveals those who have faith in him and those who do not. Think of Pilate. The religious authorities who mocked him. The soldiers who ridiculed him as king. On the Last Day those outside of Christ will be found deeply wailing.
And yet here’s the irony, the soldier at Jesus’ crucifixion was right. Truly this man is the Son of God. Jesus is revealed as God most of all when he is suffering for you. Jesus is shown to be the Son of God most clearly on the cross. Jesus is pierced for our sins. Jesus, nailed to the tree in our place. Jesus, betrayed for our betrayals to die our death. He is crowned with thorns to crown you with glory. He is robed in wounds and scars to robe you in his majesty.
Now, when you come to church you come to the Last Day. His absolution delivers the judgment day verdict ahead of time: you are forgiven all your sins. His holy baptism marks you as his ransomed ones, clothed in robes made white in the blood of the Lamb who was slain and yet lives. In His Holy Supper Jesus is with you. He is present to forgive and save. Here you receive the tokens of his passion.
Those dear tokens of his passion
Still his dazzling body bears,
Cause of endless exultation
To his ransomed worshipers.
With what rapture, with what rapture, with what rapture
Gaze we on those glorious scars!
This is the Savior you long to see on the Last Day. And you will. You will know him by his scars, for in his scars you are known to him.
This verse is yet another reminder that the church is completely out of step with the world. To the world, scars aren’t glorious. The cross is shameful, even embarrassing and foolish. And Jesus isn’t palatable unless he’s tamed or made into our bro or a boy scout. What a contrast to Jesus’ life: suffering, then glory. Death, then resurrection. That’s the pattern. His suffering, his death, his scars – that’s how Jesus wants you behold his glory. In Advent – as always – we worship and rejoice in the Lamb who was slain and yet lives; but you don’t get the raised again without the scars.
Glorious scars indeed.
This is how you’ll know it’s Jesus and not some huckster. Jesus won’t come like Superman from the planet Krypton or a time machine in a sketchy alley. You’ll see him. You’ll see his scars; he bears them still for you. And you’ll hear his voice – just like the disciples did on Easter. Your redemption is drawing near. The Kingdom of God is near. Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away.
You see his wounds and hear his words and rejoice:
Yea, amen, let all adore Thee,
High on Thine eternal throne;
Savior take the pow’r and glory,
Claim the kingdom as Thine own.
Alleluia, alleluia, alleluia!
Thou shalt reign and Thou alone!
What does this mean? Amen means yes, yes it shall be so. The night will soon be ending, the dawn cannot be far. Yes, it appears that for this old creation, winter is coming. But Summer is near.For you, the baptized, Jesus’ advent in glory is like the old REM song: it’s the end of the world as we know it, and I feel fine.
For you, the baptized, Jesus comes to make all things new, including you. Advent gives us hope in this dying creation: the term is over; the holidays have begun. The dream is ended: this is the morning. Advent is the beginning Chapter of the Great Story which comes in Jesus’ birth, death, and resurrection, in which every chapter is better than the one before.
Amen. Come, Lord Jesus.
In the Name of + Jesus. Amen.