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  • Writer's pictureRev. Gerald (Jerry) Reiter, Emeritus

Lift Up Your Heads

First Sunday in Advent


“There will be signs in the sun, moon and stars. On the earth, nations will be in anguish and perplexity at the roaring and tossing of the sea. People will faint from terror, apprehensive of what is coming on the world, for the heavenly bodies will be shaken. At that time they will see the Son of Man coming in a cloud with power and great glory. When these things begin to take place, stand up and lift up your heads, because your redemption is drawing near.”


He told them this parable: “Look at the fig tree and all the trees. When they sprout leaves, you can see for yourselves and know that summer is near. Even so, when you see these things happening, you know that the kingdom of God is near.


“Truly I tell you, this generation will certainly not pass away until all these things have happened. Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will never pass away.


“Be careful, or your hearts will be weighed down with carousing, drunkenness and the anxieties of life, and that day will close on you suddenly like a trap. For it will come on all those who live on the face of the whole earth. Be always on the watch, and pray that you may be able to escape all that is about to happen, and that you may be able to stand before the Son of Man.”

Luke 21:25-36


I’d like to read the first four verses of today’s Gospel lesson again. Jesus is speaking, and He says, “There will be signs in the sun, moon, and stars. On the earth, nations will be in anguish and perplexity at the roaring and tossing of the sea. Men will faint from terror, apprehensive of what is coming on the world, for the heavenly bodies will be shaken. At that time they will see the Son of Man coming in a cloud with power and great glory. When these things begin to take place, stand up and lift up your heads, because your redemption is drawing near.” (Luke 21:25-28)


In the first chapter of Genesis (1:14-19) we read that the sun, the moon, and the stars were set by the Creator to “serve as signs to mark seasons and days and years,” and to “govern the day… and the night.” As “lights in the expanse of the sky,” they are constant reminders of the order and stability that God built into the universe.


But before the Lord returns to bring the course of history to an end, even these steady elements in our cosmos will begin to show signs of breaking up. And long before Jesus spoke of the “signs in the sun, moon, and stars,” the Old Testament prophets spoke of the celestial signs that would mark the approach of the Day of the Lord.


Isaiah wrote, “See, the Day of the Lord is coming… to make the land desolate… the stars of heaven and their constellations will not show their light. The rising sun will be darkened and the moon will not give its light.” (Is. 13:9,10)


And Joel wrote, “The Day of the Lord is coming… the earth shakes, the sky trembles, the sun and moon are darkened, and the stars no longer shine.” (Joel 2:1,10)


The sea is a symbol in scripture of nations churning in turmoil, but kept under control by God’s providence and power. David sang in Psalm 65: “Praise awaits you, O God… who stilled the roaring of the seas, the roaring of their waves, and the turmoil of the nations.” (Ps. 65:1,7) But there, too, forces and events will be allowed to become unbalanced and thrown into confusion.


What’s your reaction to this kind of talk? For a lot of people it’s pretty scary, causing anxiety and dismay. When people read of the end times with their wars, famines, persecutions, and pestilences, they can get upset. If this is what the future holds, maybe they shouldn’t have had children. On the other hand, I suppose most people just scoff at the whole thing. But Jesus said that these things “will be,” so that’s not a good idea! And to us He said, “When these things begin to take place, stand up, and lift up your heads, because your redemption is drawing near.”


That’s what the followers of Jesus Christ are to do in reaction to these awesome signs. We’re to recognize them as signs that Christ’s kingdom is coming in glory – and stand up – and lift up our heads!


All through history God has been telling people to “stand up and lift up your heads, because your redemption is drawing near.” When Adam and Eve decided to yield to Satan’s temptation, their eyes were opened, they realized they had sinned against God, and they experienced a new emotion: fear! But God, in His infinite love, promised them a Redeemer who would destroy Satan – being “bruised” in the process – and restore the relationship between God and man. He said, in effect, “Stand up, and lift up your heads, because your redemption is drawing near.”


Years later, when “the Lord saw how great man’s wickedness on the earth had become,” we read that “the Lord was grieved that He had made man on the earth, and His heart was filled with pain.” “But Noah found favor in the eyes of the Lord,” and God spared Noah and his family from the worldwide flood. And promising to never again destroy the earth with a flood, God set the rainbow in the sky and said, stand up and lift up your heads – for the rainbow “is the sign of the covenant I have established between Me and all life on the earth.” (Gen. 6:5,8; 8:17)


Again we read that the Lord promised Abraham that a great nation would come from him, and that through him all the families of the earth would be blessed. (Gen. 12:1-3) But when Abraham finally had a son, God told him to sacrifice him as a burnt offering! Passing the test of faith, Abraham was about to kill his son when God called to him from heaven, and Abraham stood up, and lifted up his head, and God told him not to hurt the lad. So we read, “Abraham looked up, and there in a thicket he saw a ram caught by its horns. He went over and took the ram and sacrificed it as a burnt offering instead of his son. (Gen. 22:1-19)


And Isaac became a type of the Redeemer who would be offered up as a sacrifice, and received back from the dead by His Father. (Heb. 11:17-19)


And then one night, in the fullness of time, the One who would pay for our promised redemption was born in a stable in Bethlehem. There were shepherds watching their flocks in the fields outside of town, and an angel came to them saying, “Don’t be afraid. I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all people. Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; He is Christ the Lord.” (Luke 2:8-11) And the shepherds stood up, and lifted up their heads – and “suddenly a great company of the heavenly host appeared with the angel, praising God.” (Luke 2:13) The long-promised Redeemer had come!


And as God had told Adam and Eve so long before that the Redeemer would be “bruised” by Satan, His birth looked forward to His death. The very name, “Jesus,” means “Savior” and bears witness to the salvation of God which He came to achieve – redeeming us – buying us back – at a tremendous cost on the cross. There God in Christ took our place, bore our sins, suffered our penalty, and died our death – in order that we might be forgiven, and reconciled with God!


Hanging on the cross, suspended between Heaven and earth, “Jesus cried out in a loud voice… my God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (Mark 15:34) What a price He paid! We have no conception of the cost! But when He had paid it, He once again lifted up His head and shouted out in victory, “It is finished!” The redemption was made. The ransom was paid. The relationship with God was restored.


This is the Good News – and it’s good news for us today. Because it tells us how to handle the fears we have now. Like the fear of death, the fear of losing a loved one, the fear of losing our health, the fear of financial disaster, the fear of people finding out that we aren’t what we appear to be. What do we do with these fears? How do we react to them?


As with the signs of our Lord’s return, we can react with anxiety and dismay. Or we can stand up, and lift up our heads, looking to God for comfort, help, guidance, and protection. Two dramatic examples of both kinds of reactions are found in Judas and in Peter. Both disciples sinned against Jesus: Judas betrayed Him and Peter denied Him. But their reactions to the realization that they had sinned against the Lord were quite opposite. In despair, Judas hanged himself; in grief, Peter stayed with the other disciples and was then able to be forgiven by Jesus.


Judas hung his head, figuratively and literally! Peter finally lifted up his head and was commissioned to feed Jesus’ sheep!


God’s Word doesn’t tell us that we won’t have troubles or fears – but it does tell us to whom we should turn when we have them. Pursued by King Saul, David prayed in the 56th Psalm: “Be merciful to me, O God, for men hotly pursue me; all day long they press their attack. My slanderers pursue me all day long; many are attacking me in their pride.”


That’s David’s situation. Now listen to his reaction to it: “When I am afraid, I will trust in you. In God I trust; I will not be afraid. What can mortal man do to me?” (Psalm 56:1-4)


I found a little poem that says it pretty well, too:


“When troubles are deep and your world is dark, don’t give up hope, try God…

“When life turns sour and you’ve lost your way, don’t give up hope, try God…

“When fears stack up and you’re sure no one cares, don’t give up hope, try God…

“When temptation comes knocking and you struggle with it so, don’t give up hope, try God.”


“When these things begin to take place, stand up and lift up your heads, because your redemption is drawing near.”


Amen

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