Sermon ‘The day of the Lord’ Brentor Sunday 15 November 2020 2nd before Advent
Zephaniah 1v7, 12-18 (Psalm 90v1-8) 1 Thessalonians 5v1-11 Matthew 25v14-30
What deep and searching words we have heard in our readings this morning, words whose meaning may not necessarily be immediately obvious. So do not expect in this short reflection a full elucidation of what is called ‘end times prophecy’, a subject which in itself is a contentious issue, for that we need at least a few in depth bible studies.
But as we are now about to enter that wonderful Church season we call Advent, a season, maybe like me, that you find full of excitement and hope, we can see that our readings start to take on great relevance.
The Old Testament teams with prophecies of our Lord’s first advent at Bethlehem some two millennia ago. That time which Daniel prophesised so precisely of Jesus birth in 3BC; and to which Micah located the exact place of our Lord’s birth, and Isaiah to the nature of Jesus birth, to a virgin, the blessed virgin Mary, and there are so many other prophecies.
We love to hear those prophecies, and to acknowledge that they were fulfilled in Jesus, God’s chosen and anointed Messiah, born to reconcile us to our holy God and Father, if we will but put our faith and trust in the Lord Jesus.
But is there anything more? Yes, the Old Testament has even more prophecies relating to Jesus second advent, than to those referring to his first advent, and if they have all been fulfilled, then we must expect to see those referring to his second advent also fulfilled. Prophecies that relate to the return of our Lord to rule and reign upon earth, a time which we attest to in the mystery of our faith, Christ has died, Christ is risen, Christ will come again.
However, these prophecies need very careful study to remove any confusion and contradictions that they may seem to contain. That is why we also need to read from our New Testament what Jesus himself, and the Apostles, taught concerning the second advent, and maybe that is to be a soon coming time.
The ‘day of the Lord’ that the prophet Zephaniah, a contemporary of Jeremiah, mentioned in our reading, first refers to the immanent time of distress that was about to fall upon the people of Judah and Jerusalem. The king Nebuchadnezzar was soon to come and take the people into exile in Babylon, and to destroy the holy and magnificent Temple of Solomon in 586BC. This was the consequence, as had been told to the people by Moses a millennia before, if Israel practised idolatry and neglected the commandments and statutes they had promised to keep.
Perhaps we should ponder what may befall this our generation for its similar idolatry and rejection of God’s purposes for humanity at large.
But the prophet Zephaniah also mentions ‘a day of the Lord’ that will be experienced ‘by the whole earth and all its inhabitants’, which he describes as ‘a terrible end’. It is here that we have to take care not to confuse that ‘day’, that time, with the time mentioned by the apostle Paul which we read of in his letter to the Thessalonian Christians.
Paul says to them that they know that the ‘day of the Lord’ would come like ‘a thief in the night’, just as our Lord said it would in his discourse to the disciples on the Mount of Olives just before the last supper, which is recounted by Matthew in chapters 24 and 25. There Jesus makes it clear, as those early Christians knew and were expecting, and as we also should know, that he could return at any moment, like that thief in the night. That is why he gives us many warning that we should be ready, with our loins girded and our lamps lit, waiting for him our bridegroom, like the five wise virgins in the parable, who had trimmed their lamps.
Describing that time, still to come, the Lord said (Lk17v34), “I tell you, on that night two people will be in one bed: One will be taken and the other left”, but his coming could equally well be during the day for the Lord also says, “Two men will be in the field: one will be taken and the other left” (Mtt24v40).
We must guard against being ‘caught out’ through our complacency, mistreating our fellow servants, and hiding the talents that God has so graciously given to each one of us to serve him and our neighbours. Talents we are to use as we seek to build and hasten the coming of God’s kingdom in the here and now. Jesus expects us to be ready, ready to be ‘caught up’, snatched away in the twinkling of an eye, and so to be fore ever with him, our Lord.
Brothers and sisters I ask, are we ready and waiting for that time?
Paul says we are to encourage one another with these thoughts and promises, no wonder, especially when we look around at the many uncertainties that still remain for us all during this ongoing time of lockdown.
But Paul also goes on to give us another word of encouragement. God has not destined us, his born again children, for the prophesised ‘wrath to come’; no, we are to enjoy and rejoice in our salvation. We have the promise of life eternal with him, of transformed and glorious bodies to come in the new creation, and the presence with us now of God’s Holy and life-giving Spirit.
In psalm 32 we read, ‘Great tribulation remains for the wicked, but mercy embraces those who trust in the Lord’. Let us brothers and sisters be those who do indeed ‘trust in the Lord’.
Yes, there is a time of wrath, of great distress and tribulation that is coming upon the world, you can read about that in Saint John’s Revelation. It is a time that will proceed our Lord’s second advent, his second coming, and that ‘day of the Lord’ shall be unmistakable, it will be seen by all.
Jesus said that as the lightening is seen across the skies so will his coming be.
The angels at Jesus ascension assured the disciples that just as Jesus had gone up in the cloud, in like manner he would return to the Mount of Olives. No one shall miss that event, the time of which no one knows but God the Father.
Yes, Jesus will return. Jesus shall return to judge and to rule and reign in righteousness and peace, and you and I shall come with him and the entire heavenly host. That is our hope for a ‘new creation’, the hope for us who believe in what our Lord has promised; a new creation that will far exceed all our imaginations and expectations.
So brothers and sisters, as we look forward to this coming time of advent, may it be with great hope and expectation. We are to ‘keep awake’, for we are ‘children of light’ and are not to be as those who sleep. Let us ‘be sober’, and put on the breastplate of faith and love, together with the helmet of salvation. Let us then make every effort to support and encourage one another as we see that ‘day’ approaching.
Let us pray:
you long for the world’s salvation:
stir us from apathy,
restrain us from excess and revive in us new hope
as we see the dawning of the day of your coming,
that day when all creation will be healed,
we ask this through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen