A college student heaves a sigh and looks at his books with frustration. All his friends are out at the biggest party of the semester. He was invited, his friends begged him to come … but he has a big test to prepare for. Imagining the fun he is missing, he thinks to himself that getting this degree had better be worth it. Walking by the shop window the young woman sees the pair of shoes that are absolutely perfect. Just what she’s always wanted … not like the grungy old sneakers she’s wearing now. She’s ready to go in, when she remembers Africa. She’s been working so hard to save up enough money for the trip. She still has a long way to go if it’s ever going to be a reality. Taking her hand off the door, she sighs and thinks that Africa had better happen before the soles of these shoes wear out! As the couple sits at the dinning room table working through the tax forms once again, they can’t help but look over at the newest postcard from their world-traveling friends. Every other month it seems as if those two are off to some exotic location, living life to its fullest. And here they sit trying to make ends meet. They have scrimped and saved for so long they can’t remember when the last time was that they let loose and had a little fun. Getting back to the bank statements they can’t help but think that retirement can’t come soon enough!
We all know the inner pull of giving in to the here and now, despite the rewards of what is yet to come. We all know what it is like to be lured by the promise of instant gratification. We all know what it is like to doubt that the wonderful promises of days yet to come will ever come … or that the promises might not be so great when we do finally see them after all. We have all been jealous of those who live with little or no thought for the future and seem to always thrive, always be successful, to always have nice things. And we are not alone in these feelings.
Our Old Testament reading was written by Malachi sometime in the 5 century BC. The glory days of Israel under David and Solomon were long gone. The glorious promises of God for the future of Israel seemed like they might never come to be. Sure the Jews had been released from captivity to the Babylonians. Sure they were allowed to go home and rebuild the city of Jerusalem and the temple of the Lord. But it sure wasn’t like it used to be in the good old days. The people were so few. The temple was a pale imitation of its previous glory. They were a backwards little community in a backwater part of the world, quickly being left in the past. It’s no wonder the grumbling started. “Being faithful to God is a waste of time!” some said. “What’s the point?” others asked. The day belongs to the wicked! They are rich, they are happy, they are content … and we … we are waiting on promises.
Can you hear those words being echoed again today? “What’s the point in being a faithful to the Word of God?” some wearied Christians ask. “Day in and day out athiests get all the fame, heretics get all the glory, and sports gets all the numbers!” others bemoan. “Why bother trying to remain orthodox Lutheran? Why continue to uphold the literal truth of God’s Word, and the sanctity of the Sacraments, when so many who are free and easy with their interpretations and practice seem to be doing so well.” We good old Lutherans are being left behind, growing older, growing fewer, waiting on the same old promises.
In the face of such pressures the world says change. Give in, give up, let go, let loose. Get your head out of the clouds and live life a little. There is no distinction between you and me. Between now and then. There is no right or wrong, only those who are good to themselves and those who cause themself to suffer needlessly, waiting for promises that might never come to be. But there is a distinction. This is God’s Word to the Israelites through Malachi. There is a distinction between right and wrong. Between what is and what will be. There is a distinction – it is His word to us – a word of promise worth waiting for!
The Day is Coming … promises the Lord. And it will be a day of great distinctions. On that final day the distinctions between good and evil, right and wrong, believer and unbeliever, will be made clear and final and absolute. And it will not be a good day for the wicked! (1) “For behold, the day is coming, burning like an oven, when all the arrogant and all evildoers will be stubble. The day that is coming shall set them ablaze, says the Lord of hosts, so that it will leave them neither root nor branch.”
The day is coming when evil will be put to an end. And everything that wickedness has built up will be like nothing more than stubble in the field. And the heat of that coming judgment will be like a scorching furnace, that consumes in an instant all the works of the arrogant and the proud. In a flash it will all be set ablaze and the ravenous fires of that judgment will leave nothing behind. Those who have reveled only in the here and now, will find that both are stripped from them. And what’s more, there will be no rebuilding, no coming back. No one to pick up the pieces and carry on. It will be the end, for it will be the day the Lord returns in glory to judge both the living and the dead.
It is that day Jesus Himself spoke of in our Gospel reading (Luke 21:27-28) “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. It is a day of terror for those who have scoffed at God’s warnings in their arrogance, a day from which they rightfully shy away, a day they do not want to think about. But not so for you and me! We look for that coming day, we long for it, we raise our heads to the sky and watch for its coming. Because that will be a day of celebration for those who have feared the Lord in this life. It is the Day when God takes action.
(2-3) “But for you who fear my name, the sun of righteousness shall rise with healing in its wings. You shall go out leaping like calves from the stall. And you shall tread down the wicked, for they will be ashes under the soles of your feet, on the day when I act, says the Lord of hosts.
No longer bound and constrained by the burdens of this world, we will greet that coming day like like calves released from the stall. Neither sin, death, nor the devil can hold us back or hem us in any longer. When that day arrives, bodies crippled with pain, and sickness, old age, and disease will once again go about leaping! Just try to restrain the joy … for our Lord and Saviour will return to set all things right. The sun of righteousness, will rise upon this broken creation with healing in his wings. In the golden rays of His light there will be life!
No more grief, no more sorrow, no suffering, or doubts … no more wondering if waiting patiently was all worth it. The dark days will be over and forgotten! As Isaiah foretold (60:1-2) “Arise, shine, for your light has come, and the glory of the Lord has risen upon you. For behold, darkness shall cover the earth, and thick darkness the peoples; but the Lord will arise upon you, and his glory will be seen upon you.” In that Day that the Lord Acts once and for all we will be delivered and the wicked will at last be trodden under foot. The devil and all his works crushed under the heal of our glorious King.
It will be the great and Awesome Day of the Lord. Of that we can be sure. But how do we make sure we ready for it? How do we even prepare for such a thing? Malachi spells it out for us: (4-6) “Remember the law of my servant Moses, the statutes and rules that I commanded him at Horeb for all Israel. Behold, I will send you Elijah the prophet before the great and awesome day of the Lord comes. And he will turn the hearts of fathers to their children and the hearts of children to their fathers, lest I come and strike the land with a decree of utter destruction.”
We are ready for the great and awesome coming of our Lord when we realize that this interim time matters! We are well prepared for that glorious day when we take to heart that what we do with our time now is not a thing of indifference! While we wait we hold fast to the word of the covenant. The Gospel promises of our Lord and Saviour. We live each and every day of our lives in the comfort of the Word, and the blessings of the Sacraments. We live as one set apart from this world, one set apart for God and His Promises. We live a life of Worship, and prayer, of service, and study. We continually go back to the basics, to the faith of our fathers, and their fathers before them. We place our hopes for this life and the one to come, firmly in the nail-scarred hands of Jesus.
This does not mean the wait may not be long. It doesn’t mean we won’t be tempted to question whether it is worth it or not. It doesn’t mean there won’t be times when we are more interested in today, than in that day to come. But, it does mean that when that great and awesome Day finally does come, it will not slip through our hands, for it is in His hands alone. Yes, dear friends, the Day is coming, and it will be ours in Christ!