I am optimistic that we’ll get enough people together to put up the Christmas decorations after fellowship today. I hope we get enough people to put up the Christmas decorations after fellowship today. Which one sounds better? It seems people say they’re optimistic when they want something that’s uncertain, but optimism gives them reason for confidence. I’m optimistic might mean a person is just that much more sure it’s going to happen. Hope comes with a thought of a wish and a prayer. It’s something that’s also uncertain, but with even less confidence.
Last week we closed out one church year and this week we start the next. But we immediately jump to the end. Advent causes us to look at the end of the world, the Last Day, when Christ Jesus returns. On the surface that gives us nothing to be optimistic about or hopeful about. Jesus talks about in the gospel some scary things. How can we be optimistic about those? How can we be hopeful about something that sounds so terrible? Any confidence we have in the future second coming of Christ is only because we understand the first coming of Christ. That’s where our hope comes from.
It’s hope, true Biblical hope, not just optimism. We’re not wishing this into existence. Jesus says this is the way it will be. But as Christians, we’re ready because he’s told us ahead of time. That’s why we can say …
Hope is better than optimism
Lift up your heads
Christ’s Word never ceases
There is almost nothing as certain as the sun rising. We count our days by it, look forward to it. We expect the sun to rise, the moon to make appearances where and when it’s supposed to, and the stars to shine brilliantly in the night sky. Those heavenly bodies are guaranteed to be there every time. Except Jesus said, “There will be signs in the sun, moon, and stars.” He doesn’t say here what those signs are. But in other verses, the Bible says these fundamental elements will be destroyed, torn down in a roar. These things that seem so secure, so stable, things that don’t really change, will all fail right before the end. At the same moment earthly elements that are foundational, like the seas, will show a side no one has yet seen. “On the earth, nations will be in anguish and perplexity at the roaring and tossing of the sea.” This is the next level beyond the big waves and destructive storms the ocean produces. And people around the world will be left wondering what’s happening.
Both of these descriptions seem to be of what will happen right at the end, on Judgment Day when Jesus returns. They’ll signal the moment. People will be watching the breakup of the universe. Forces that seem to hold everything together will come unpinned. And at least some people won’t know what’s happening. “Men will faint from terror, apprehensive of what is coming on the world, for the heavenly bodies will be shaken.” Fainting is already something that’s pretty strong. What we see could cause some of us to lose it and faint right on the spot. But it’s even stronger. People will become so discouraged, disheartened with fear, that it’s almost as they expire right then and there. And it makes some sense, that reaction. For those without any spiritual center who have lived their lives ignoring all the other signs that Christ is returning, when it actually happens it will be terribly scary. Total meltdown is the only response. They’ll have no hope and no optimism because everything they counted on will be getting torn down and destroyed before their very eyes.
We have reasons for hope because we’re not like them. But hope becomes optimism at best and nothing at worst when we get caught up in our sinfulness. We can lose that sense of hope. It can happen if we’re missing the signs Jesus gave that signal his second coming could come at any moment. Wars, earthquakes, and persecutions all were mentioned by Jesus as signs the end was near. But if we are stuck seeing war as a human problem that needs human solutions we might not associate it with Christ’s coming. Or if we’re busy assigning terrible hurricanes and devastation to Mother Nature, rather than seeing God’s controlling hand, we’ll lose hope. Scientists and others want to gain human control any way and are constantly searching for ways to do so. We might race to help and rebuild, not stopping to at least acknowledge that someday this will all be gone for good and there’s nothing we can do about it. The suffering we face is pesky and terrible and we wish it didn’t happen. But forgetting it’s the results of our sins, and that through these things God is reminding us this world won’t last forever, we might be caught unaware. We make plans, act like nothing will ever change, and see the foundational elements of our world as rock-solid.
You’ll see the same signs that make unbelievers cower in fear and look for places to hide. Your reaction will be different. “When these things begin to take place, stand up and lift up your heads because your redemption is drawing near.” You have no reason to run. No reason to fear. Christ promised you. Deliverance, relief, removal of all your suffering will have arrived. Christ will be there for you. You’ll have been waiting with hope, a sure and certain confidence that these things would happen, and that when they did you’d be ready. Jesus promised there would always be a generation of people, skeptics who wouldn’t believe. They would see the signs but reject them. That generation ceases only when Christ returns. At that same time, the heavens and the earth will cease. Everything we see will be gone. It’s coming to an end. That’s a promise of Jesus. We just don’t know when. Instead of that holding back our hope, Christ attaches a promise with hope. “Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will never pass away.” Even though everything around us will cease, one thing will never cease. God’s Word, his promises, what Jesus said, it’s all true. It will always be important, the most important thing for us.
Everything confirms for us the fact that this world is ceasing. That is if we look for it that way. Material possessions wear out because this world is passing away in the future. When things we own get stolen or lost, that too is a reminder this world isn’t going to last forever so there’s no need to get too attached. Our bodies breakdown as we get older. The aches and pains become hospital stays and surgeries. More proof this world wasn’t built to last because we weren’t. Marriages hit the rocks. Relationships with friends fade. Even our family relationships turn and sometimes become hostile. Depression, fights with anxiety, and the threats of substance dependence are all around. These all go to reminding us this world will end. Everything that happens to us and around us God uses as a sign that today could be the day. Christ could come back today.
Our hope is in God’s Word. It’s a Word that never ceases and is filled with promises. “Even so, when you see these things
happening, you know that the kingdom of God is near.” So near is God’s kingdom that it’s in your heart by faith. God rules in your heart through the Word which proclaims the promises of Christ. So the ruling activity of God is Christ’s rule by faith in your heart. He will never let you down. His is a relationship that can’t be broken because he made it with you. He holds on to you. Jesus addresses your troubles and fears. This world is coming to an end someday so don’t get attached to it. In hope turn to something that isn’t temporary, something that lasts, your Savior Jesus.
Living between the two great comings of Christ isn’t easy. Be alert and watching always. Recognize the temptations you face and avoid them. Be mindful of your need to stay connected to God’s Word and sacraments. Don’t avoid these, use them. Live expecting that today is the day. Pray that when it happens you will be able to lift your head, hopeful in Christ. Hope is better than optimism because you know you will stand before Christ in glory.