Prepared for Jesus' Unexpected Arrival
1st Sunday in Advent
December 3, 2017
Lincoln Heights Lutheran Church
Prepared for Jesus’ Unexpected Arrival
Mark 13:32–37 (NIV84)
No one knows about that day or hour, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father. 33 Be on guard! Be alert! You do not know when that time will come. 34 It’s like a man going away: He leaves his house and puts his servants in charge, each with his assigned task, and tells the one at the door to keep watch. 35 “Therefore keep watch because you do not know when the owner of the house will come back—whether in the evening, or at midnight, or when the rooster crows, or at dawn. 36 If he comes suddenly, do not let him find you sleeping. 37 What I say to you, I say to everyone: ‘Watch!’
Dear Friends in Christ,
Did you notice anything different when you walked into church today? People have been making preparations for this month of December. Maybe you noticed the Christmas lights outside or the nativity scene. Maybe it was the tree you saw or smelled as you entered the sanctuary. Something is about to happen and all the signs are pointing to the fact that Christmas is near. Of course, in the stores, Christmastime has been upon us since August. The stores get a little ahead of things when they want to sell to you. But we in the church also get excited because Christmas is this month. So we prepare.
But I wonder if you noticed a different type of preparation that was made at church recently. As you enter the main doors and look to your right you would notice a few things that you haven’t seen for some time. Two shovels and some containers of ice melt are ready to go into action. Unlike Christmas, we don’t have a certain date and time when we will use these preparations. The weather forecasters can give us a good guess but the snow is not completely predictable. We could, I suppose, have thrown away the shovels from last winter and just hoped that we wouldn’t get any snow this year but that would be foolish. Instead, we prudently prepare for the snow that will likely fall.
Jesus warns his disciples then and all believers today to be prepared as well. This Advent season, the sermons will focus on being prepared. Today we are prepared for Jesus’ unexpected return.
No one knows about that day or hour, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father. 33 Be on guard! Be alert! You do not know when that time will come.
Old Testament believers like Abraham and David, Rebekah and Eve, were in a similar situation to ours today. God promised to send them a Savior but God did not tell them when the Christ would be born. God promises that one male offspring of a woman will be this Savior. Does Eve think one of her boys will destroy the work of the devil? She soon discovers that Cain is not the promised Savior. A sinner will not be the Savior. Centuries pass and Abraham and Sarah have son in their old age. But Isaac is not the Savior. The people wait. Centuries later a mother gives birth to a child who is rescued from certain death in the Nile River. God uses Moses to rescue his people from Egypt but Moses is not the Savior of the world. They must wait. A shepherd boy becomes king of Israel but David is not the Savior and the people must wait.
About one thousand years after King David, the angel Gabriel appeared to a virgin named Mary. He announced what so many had waited so long for. She would give birth to the Savior, the Son of God and Jesus would save people from their sins. The long wait was over. The Savior has come!
In our text today, Jesus talks to his disciples on the Tuesday, just a few days before he is crucified. All of history has waited for the arrival of the Christ. Now the Christ tells his disciples that they will need to wait again. And just like the first time, his second coming, his return for judgment will be unexpected.
Put yourself in the disciples’ place. God has recently revealed to you that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God. You get to follow along with Jesus and see his miracles, hear his teaching and learn from him. But recently Jesus has been talking about his upcoming suffering and death in Jerusalem. He says he is going to rise from the dead and return to his Father in heaven. History waits thousands of years for the Christ and he is leaving after a few decades on the earth!? Plus, Jesus tells them that he is coming back but won’t tell them when. They have to wait and so do we.
Waiting may be one of the most difficult things to do in life. The Old Testament gives example after example of how hard it is to always be prepared for God’s promise, to wait for God to keep his promise. The people of Israel were not content to keep the 10 Commandments, to offer the sacrifices prescribed by God and to wait for the Messiah to arrive. They got distracted by life and forgot to give sacrifices and didn’t always celebrate things like Passover. They got pulled into the ways of their pagan neighbors and lived immoral lives apart from the Lord. They were not prepared for the arrival of Christ the first time.
Waiting is difficult for us New Testament believers too. Too often we are distracted by the urgent and leave the important for another day. The project at work or the school assignment has to get done soon. Something urgent comes up and we may put aside our time in God’s Word at home or at church to get the urgent done. It happens to everyone once in a while that something comes up that takes us away the important business of preparing our hearts with the Word of God. But once can become twice and twice can become a habit so that hearing the Word in our daily lives becomes a rare thing.
Jesus’ words today make preparing our hearts for his return urgent because his return will be unexpected.
It’s like a man going away: He leaves his house and puts his servants in charge, each with his assigned task, and tells the one at the door to keep watch. 35 “Therefore keep watch because you do not know when the owner of the house will come back—whether in the evening, or at midnight, or when the rooster crows, or at dawn. 36 If he comes suddenly, do not let him find you sleeping. 37 What I say to you, I say to everyone: ‘Watch!’
The times Jesus lists for the possible return of the owner of the house are the four watches of the night. If a soldier is assigned one watch during the night it is urgent that he stays awake during his watch. Nothing is more important than the soldier staying alert. His fellow soldiers and citizens depend on him doing his assigned task. The servants in Jesus’ story are not soldiers but their tasks are also assigned and important. It is urgent and important that these servants do their assigned task up to the day the owner arrives. Do not let him find you sleeping!
What is your assigned task as a servant of Christ in this world? What is it that God has given you to do while you wait for Jesus’ return? As children of God through faith in Jesus, our first task is to believe in Christ. That is the main work of a believer and this is not our work. The Holy Spirit creates and sustains our faith in Jesus through the Word of God and through the Sacraments. Our task is to stay close to the Word and Sacraments so the Spirit continues to strengthen our faith in Jesus. But we also have various assigned tasks that involve obeying what God has commanded.
In the Small Catechism there is a section labeled, “Table of Duties.” It summarizes our assigned tasks depending on who we are in this life. Since we are citizens of a nation, we are to submit ourselves to the governing authorities. A husband’s assigned task is to love his wife as Christ loved the church. A wife’s task is to submit to her husband as to the Lord. Parents are to bring up their children in the training and instruction of the Lord. Children, obey your parents in everything for this pleases the Lord. Employees obey your earthly masters with respect and fear as you would Christ. Love your neighbor as yourself.
Advent is a time to really examine our Christian lives and ask ourselves if we have been carrying out our assigned tasks or if we have been sleeping. If there is an activity in your life that serves no godly purpose, repent and replace it with something God does want you to do. But especially examine your heart. Am I going to the gym to work out so people tell me how great I look or because I want to take care of the body God gave me? Do I try my best in school so people tell me how smart I am or because I want to use the gifts God gave me? Do I put in extra hours at work and excel in my career so I have lots of money to spend on myself or to use my abilities to provide for my family and give generously to those who don’t have the same ability to work? Look at your heart this Advent and prepare for Jesus’ unexpected arrival. Repent and throw away the bad and sinful. Hold to and strive for the good and godly.
Jesus is the owner who is coming back one day as the Judge of all the world. But don’t ever forget that Jesus is also the Son of God who was born to be our Savior. While we have not and cannot always be awake and alert as we carry out our assigned tasks in this life, Jesus was. He was always doing his Father’s business. Every minute of every day he lived on this earth was done in line with the will of the Father. He taught God’s Word perfectly covering for all of us whose task is to teach the Word. He loved every person covering for us who are to love all people. He obeyed his mother and his adopted father, Joseph, covering for us who are to obey our parents. Jesus submitted to the governing authorities as we are to do. He carried out every task assigned to him including suffering and dying to cover your sin and my sin and the sin of the world.
One day soon, the dreaded snow will fall and we will have to shovel snow again. But we are prepared. The shovels are ready. One day soon, in God’s time, Jesus will return. If our salvation depended on us always being alert and always doing what God commands, the return of Jesus would be terrifying. We would not be prepared. His return would be a day of terror because we have not done everything well. But Jesus has and he prepares our hearts by continually cleansing us from sin through Word and Sacrament. Therefore the day of his return will be a day of joy for all believers.
The church is decorated for Christmas to express the joy we have because Jesus Christ was born for us. Imagine the glorious scene when Jesus returns and brings us into heaven! Until then, adorn your life with faith in Jesus and carry out your assigned task as a child of God with thanksgiving for your Savior.
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