A fresh calendar — the first day in a church year or calendar year — offers believers seemingly endless opportunities to look to the future to consider changes our Lord might implement in our life.  Look ahead one year to December 2013.  Could God possibly change Good Shepherd’s landscape again, as he has since December, 2011 – normal changes in births & deaths, marriages & moves into or out of our city; also unique changes in the expansion & alteration of our building – expanding our gospel ministries, with an emphasis on reaching new families with young children; adding called workers like Mr. Hunt & Miss Nass?  Looking ahead, we may anticipate changes & improvements in our worship space – growth in our kindergarten class & increasing enrollment in our elementary grades – we may personally anticipate births, deaths, marriages or moves affecting our family – we may anticipate…

A new church year or calendar year – the first day of the rest of my life — offers seemingly endless opportunities to look into the future.  But if that Mayan calendar is correct, I better adopt a short rather than long term view of life.  If our world will actually end December 21, you & I are living in the last days.  Without a doubt, we do live in the last days.  Not necessarily our last nineteen days!  Only God almighty – not Mayans; not politicians predicting doomsday if we foolishly race over a financial cliff we face – only God almighty knows when our world will end, a day Jesus addresses as he moves from predicting the destruction of Jerusalem to talk about the end of time, the end of our earth; the day we will be publicly judged – eternally judged — by Jesus.

Do we see Jesus’ signs of the times?  Wars; rumors of war — earthquakes; famines in various places – hatred; persecution of Christians even as the gospel is preached in the ends of the earth, like birth pains telling a mother a baby is about to be born, tell us our world is coming to an end.  Are you ready for Jesus’ return?  Are you ready to be judged by Jesus? Living in these last days – after Jesus has ascended into heaven, but before he will return to finally judge the living & the dead – our Lord would prepare us for this future by turning us to the past.

In the past, prophet Jeremiah promised David’s descendant would be “the Lord our Righteousness.”  Born of Mary, a distant daughter of David, Jesus will live an absolutely perfect life.  Refusing to fall for any one of Satan’s many temptations to sin, Jesus our Savior can now credit us with his righteousness.  In the past, prophet Isaiah impossibly predicted our Savior would be born of a virgin; would be put to death in our place as the Lord made him responsible for our sins, but would rise to life in triumph.  In the past, prophet Malachi pictured a humble king who appears Palm Sunday as Jesus rides into Jerusalem on a donkey.  Every little note a past psalmist sang corresponds completely with Jesus’ crucifixion (crowned with thorns, mocked; ridiculed, his clothes distributed by lots, he thirsts & is pierced in the side but no bones are broken).  Jesus’ birth in Bethlehem, flight into Egypt, his home in Nazareth, Jesus opening blind eyes, making the lame walk, exorcising demons & raising the dead — any detail any Old Testament prophet ever noted (from Moses to Malachi) appears in Jesus’ life!

Can there be any question Jesus is the Savior God promised Adam, Eve & Abram he would send to defeat the devil for us, to pay our sins’ penalty, to free us to live an eternal life with our Lord?  No!  Preparing to again celebrate Jesus’ birth in Bethlehem, we celebrate our Savior’s arrival on earth.  Now, remembering how Jesus put all his Father’s past promises into action, will we doubt God’s prediction Jesus will return to end time; to judge the living & the dead?  No!  We know Jesus will return, as promised, as our Redeemer — as our just & justifying Judge.

Anticipating Jesus’ second coming, our “last days” life-style as Christians is different from worldly souls around us.  Getting ready for Christmas, our spiritual emphasis differs from our world’s materialistic attitude.  Getting ready for Jesus’ return, an attitude of anticipation & a life of discipleship characterizes Christians.

As Jesus describes his return, fear is near.  “There will be signs in the sun, moon & stars” — not general signs saying our world is dying (wars, earthquakes; famines),  but specific signs – the sun stops shining; stars fall from the skies — signs telling everyone Judge Jesus is returning right now.  “On the earth, nations will be in anguish & perplexity at the roaring & tossing of the sea.  Men will faint from terror, apprehensive of what is coming on the world, for heavenly bodies will be shaken.  At that time they will see the Son of Man coming in a cloud with power & great glory.”  Notice, when Jesus returns, everyone will see him for he will not arrive as an easily overlooked baby in a Bethlehem stable but will come in glory with all his holy angels, announced by an unmistakable trumpet call from God.  Fear, terror, apprehension will be the emotion of the moment for worldly people who realize their eternal destiny is about to be decided.  Guilty consciences souls tried to quiet or ignore will shout out the sins in fearful people who know they have no acceptable answer for life.

Christians, on the other hand, display anticipation, not apprehension.  Faith appears in place of fear, an already observable difference.  As individuals realize our earthly life is ending, death terrifies souls who do not know Jesus’ forgiveness.  Every possible effort is made to avoid or to delay facing God’s final judgment.  But believers may pray for Christ to come quickly, confident of God’s forgiving love; ready for our Redeemer to take us home to heaven.  When Jesus returns to end our world (not only our individual lives), when Jesus raises everyone from their graves & gathers us for his public judgment, souls who rejected Jesus will faint in fear, cry in terror, try to hide, but we saints, as Jesus instructs, “When these things begin to take place, (we saints will)  stand up & lift up our heads, because our redemption is drawing near.”

Judge Jesus will be Jesus our Redeemer, our Savior who already announced his decision, “Son, your sins are forgiven” … “Come, take the kingdom [I have] prepared for you” … “Come, share your master’s happiness.”  Living in these last days, anticipation is appropriate as we see signs our Savior is returning.  Jesus tells us, “Look at the fig tree; all the trees.  When they sprout leaves, you can see for yourselves & know summer is near.”  Today we face winter, but when green buds appear on our trees, we will know summer is approaching again.  “Even so, when we see these things happening, we will know the kingdom of God is near.”  Signs of the times (natural disasters, disobedience in society, wide-spread preaching of the gospel despite rejection of Jesus’ truth) are not to be ignored.  If we will open our eyes to what is occurring in our world as we open our ears to hear Jesus talking to us in his Word, we will know without a doubt Jesus Christ is coming again & we will look forward to a day of absolute terror for the unbeliever, a day of total triumph for us Christians!

Anticipating Jesus’ imminent return, discipleship characterizes Christians.  Our Lord first sounds an alarm, “Be careful, or your hearts will be weighed down with dissipation, drunkenness; the anxieties of life; that day will close on you unexpectedly like a trap. For it will come upon all who live on the face of the whole earth.”  Knowing no answer for sin, worldly souls try to escape the question.  Drugs; alcohol offers opportunities to forget our responsibilities.  Intoxication, suspending one’s senses offers a fleeting feeling of care-free joy & happiness but eventually drops us back into reality with a conscience-shattering crash.  Souls attempt to forget the fact we must ultimately offer answers & suffer consequences for our sinful actions by burying ourselves in business, in shopping, in athletics, in television, in music, in a quest for worldly wisdom, but no one will never be able to evade Jesus’ final judgment.  Some souls today run from reality by convincing themselves their wrong attitudes & actions are actually ‘right.’  But even if society eventually reverses all of God’s values, you & I & everyone else will still be eternally judged by Jesus’ standards.

Not wanting us misled by a wicked world, Jesus warns disciples not to take leave of our senses, not to attempt to escape reality; not to be deceived by earthly influences trying to overturn God’s values.  Not wanting us sucked into Satan’s trap by people who pretend life on earth is all that matters, as if wisdom or power or possessions were all we had to live for, Jesus warns us not to be so wrapped up in earthly activities that we are surprised & sadly trapped when Jesus returns to judge us by God’s Word.  Not wanting souls to frivolously waste time or energy, nor excessively indulge in pleasures & passions, addicted to whatever in an effort to forget the absolute emptiness of a life without the Lord, Jesus desires a life of discipleship.  “Always be watching,” he encourages & instructs us,  “Pray that you may be able to escape all that is about to happen; that you may be able to stand before the Son of Man.

Watch & pray!  Please understand, evil in this world will increase — “this [wicked] generation will certainly not pass away,” not until Jesus returns in judgment.  We will never enjoy “heaven on earth.”  Wickedness will increase — another green leaf on the tree telling us our world is coming to an end.  But we are not part of this wicked world. Christians are different.  We are Jesus’ disciples.  So, watch & pray!  Listen & live Christ’s truth, the truth Jesus the Son of God became the Son of Man (at Christmas) to redeem & remove our sins with his innocent death, replacing our guilt with his holiness so God our Father declares us forgiven & adopts us as his faithful sons; heirs of heaven.  Listen & live the truth God already personally pronounced us alive in Christ, who came as our Savior & will undeniably come again as our Judge who loves us so much he already personally suffered the punishment our sins demand.  Not anxious nor apprehensive, live your life in Christ looking ahead, eagerly anticipating a final day when our Redeemer Jesus will return to publicly repeat his judgment of eternal life for you, for me, for every one of his faithful followers.

Amen.