The Bridegroom soon will call us; shake off your drowsy sleep! Lest carelessness befall us, a watchful vigil keep! May all our lamps be burning with oil enough and more that we, with him returning, may find an open door! (CW 10:1)
First Wednesday of Advent
11For the grace of God that brings salvation has appeared to all men. 12It teaches us to say “No” to ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright and godly lives in this present age, 13while we wait for the blessed hope–the glorious appearing of our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ, 14who gave himself for us to redeem us from all wickedness and to purify for himself a people that are his very own, eager to do what is good.
First Sunday in Advent
Are you familiar with the book Utopia? It was written many years ago by a guy named Thomas More. Utopia is a fictional tale of a made up land where farming was the most sought after occupation. Where people got along. Where people knew their place in society. People had religious differences but the sorted them out amicably. The idea of money was despised. In fact if there were criminals in the Land of Utopia, they were shackled by golden chains. All in all, people got along, they helped one another, they were selfless. Seemingly, quite a rosy and optimistic concept
I think many in our society would crave living in such a harmonious place where cares and worries were easily taken care of and folks just got along and hardship was limited or nonexistent. I mean, how often don’t you hear someone say, “It’s 2018 and we haven’t solved world hunger yet? We haven’t stamped out racism of any and all kinds yet?” But Thomas More was a smart guy. He realized how unrealistic such a place was. He put the great irony of the book right in the title. Utopia. It’s a made up Greek word and it means “No Place.” Thomas More realized the Utopia cannot exist in this world. He realize that such optimism was unfounded.
But I’m obviously not up here today to talk to you about a book or a fictitious society that was dreamed up in the 1500s! It’s the season of Advent! It’s a season of anticipation and a season of Hope! And not just a rosy optimistic outlook on the future or the coming year, but real God given hope.
This is where the Holy Spirit would center our thoughts for this morning – He directs us to be watchful and careful so that our Hope Always Trumps Optimism.
See, as usual, as we ponder the Word of our Savior Jesus here in Luke 21 it’s helpful to consider where and when he said this. It was holy week, mere days before Jesus’ crucifixion. He and his disciples are walking the streets of Jerusalem. And his disciples are marveling at the massive and beautiful stones of the temple!
Part 1: Watch
As they saw that huge structure, as they marveled at the construction, the weight and size of those blocks – they were also pondering something else, as well. They are musing and day dreaming about their very own Jewish Utopia.
And let’s not be to hard on them! We might have done the same thing in their sandals! They had just came into the city, their capital city, with their Lord Jesus! The rightful Heir of King David! At the moment, from their perspective they thought they were watching their rosy optimistic vision of the future come true!
Here Jesus kind of dumps a bucket of cold water over their head. In so many words, Jesus tells them, “You know, a day will come when not one of these Stones is left on the other?” What a sock in the gut! “The optimistic future you’re hoping for, it won’t happen!”
Instead Jesus directs there minds and their eyes to where they should be. That they should be watching not with an earthly optimism, but they should be watching the world with a Godly hope. He says a time will come when not just the stones on that temple will be upset, but all creation would be in confusion! There would be signs or wonders in the sun moon and stars, nations would quake in fear and the heavens would be shaken! He wanted them to watch those things like the changing of seasons, as he says, “Look at the fig tree and all the trees.30 When they sprout leaves, you can see for yourselves and know that summer is near. 31 Even so, when you see these things happening, you know that the kingdom of God is near.”
Watch your future with Hope! As though you are watching the seasons change. This is what you and I are directed to think about here when we see a country in turmoil. When we here of tragedy. You know that for about 93% of it’s existence our country has been at war – fighting in some way shape or form for 242 years! And not a single year goes by without some devastating natural disaster.
And yea, our country our society is not what it used to be. I’m still rather young, and it’s not the nation that I grew up in as a kid. So I can’t imagine the change that has happened, or the change that many of you who are older than me have witnessed.
I think that just goes to prove Jesus’ point, that he makes to his disciples here! No matter how optimistic we might be about our immediate future, Utopia is nowhere! As you watch a changing world remember that your Hope always Trumps optimism.
And what is that hope exactly? Jesus says, “28 When these things begin to take place, stand up and lift up your heads, because your redemption is drawing near.” This is what the season of Advent is all about! It’s a season of anticipation! Not just for Christmas time and presents. Not just because we have an optimistic outlook on the coming new calendar year. Advent is a season of anticipation and Joy as we are reminded that Jesus is coming again! That is our great Hope, our great anticipation! Just as the ancient Hebrew people Hoped for a promised savior to take away sin – and he came! We hope for the second Advent, and we can have the same surety, the same certainty that he will come again. Not to carry the weight of sin in humility – but in glory to bring his people home. Jesus says, “Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will never pass away.” Let your hope in him trump all earthly optimism.
Part 2. Take Care!
How timely all these words to the disciples would have been! They’re in holy week! In a few short days, unbeknownst to them – at the moment – their whole world is about to be turned upside down! In a very short time. All the cares and worries of this world and this life would mean very little to them – if anything at all. Jesus says, ““Be careful, or your hearts will be weighed down with carousing, drunkenness and the anxieties of life, and that day will close on you suddenly like a trap.”
Jesus wanted them to take care and be mindful of the things that were going on in the next few days. Because not even the last day, but for many of the disciples Good Friday would come upon them like a trap. They would flee and deny and hide out in fear. Their optimism for a better future here on earth with their friends, and lives and families would be shattered.
In our daily lives we fret and worry about a great many things. We are always seemingly driving at life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness in the here and now. But should the Lord come back, should we find our selves on our dying bed – think about how little our earthly accomplishments really matter. I’m not trying to give everyone here an existential crisis – or I don’t know maybe I am! The point is, do our lives reflect the fact that the Lord could come back at any time? Or are we always so focused on this life, on our optimism for our future? What happens when those things don’t work out? What happens when our optimism is shattered? Jesus says take care! Jesus talks about drunkenness here – I don’t think that is so much a denunciation of drinking as it is a call to have a sober mind. And ultimately how do we do that?
We stay in the Word, His words that endure even though heaven and earth should pass away! His Words that remind us of our real hope, our sure hope.
Brothers and sisters, you know life between the two Advents of Christ is not easy! There are plenty of hardships, suffering, and strife – especially for the Christian. Yet, because of Jesus and the Hope we have in his 2nd Advent – we can endure! We can live joyful and purposeful lives. We know that Utopia is nowhere on this side of Glory. That peace and harmony is found only in Heaven. Believers have more than optimism for the future. We have Hope in Christ. So watch and take care! And always let your hope in Him trump optimism for this life. Amen.
3rd Tuesday of Advent
Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ! In the name of Jesus, dear friends in Christ, We don’t like losing, do we? We all know that in life there are wins and there are losses. And while we can be a good loser and take the high road and complement the winner, deep down, I’m guessing that none of likes to lose. We would much rather like to win. But what would it be like to lose at everything and to know that in the end you will lose completely? That’s where Satan is at. He battles against God and His Church, loses time and after time and faces total loss in the end. But what about us? As we live in this sinful world, yes, we experience many losses, some wins, but in the end we know that the victory is ours.
We’ve been working our way through Revelation chapter 12 in our midweek Advent services. Today we’re looking at the final verses. But let’s take a moment to review where we’ve been. Revelation 12 is about a dragon, a woman, and a child. We have an enormous red dragon- this represents Satan or the devil. He’s red, he’s bent on war and blood. And this dragon stands in front of a woman. The woman is clothed with the sun and wears a crown of 12 stars. And the woman is pregnant and about to give birth. The child whom she is about to give birth to is a son, a male child, who will rule the nations with an iron scepter. The child is a picture of Jesus, the Messiah. So who is the mother? We talked about the truth that the woman isn’t just the virgin Mary, but is representative of the whole people of God, the Church, through whom God brought the Savior into the world. The child was born and although Satan tried in numerous ways leading up to even inciting Judas to betray Jesus, the Jewish leaders to sentence him to death, and the Romans to carry out the crucifixion- the devil’s scheme backfired when God used Jesus’ death on the cross to actually save humans from their sin. Then the child, Jesus, was snatched up to heaven – he ascended in all glory and Satan can never touch him anymore. But the woman fled into the wilderness for 1,260 days to be taken care of by God. In other words, the church remains on the earth for the whole NT era, until Jesus returns.
Then last week we heard about a war that broke out. It seems that this war took place in the spiritual realm between the good angels led by Michael and the devil or the dragon and his angels. The dragon was hurled to the earth and was no longer able to accuse our brothers and sisters. They triumphed over him by the blood of the Lamb and the Word of God. The devil was no longer able to accuse. What took away the devil’s ability to accuse God’s people? It happened when Jesus died on the cross. Since all sins were paid for and forgiven by Jesus, the devil can’t accuse us anymore. But that doesn’t mean the devil doesn’t try. He’s a defeated enemy but he’s fighting hard to take down as many as he can before he’s doomed forever.
Now we’re on the verses for tonight. He sees that he’s hurled down and so he pursues the woman. He’s after the Church, God’s people, you and me. But the woman we see is given two wings of a great eagle, “so that she might fly to the place prepared for her in the wilderness, where she would be taken care of for a time, times, and half a time, out of the serpent’s reach.” Now, an eagle is used often as a symbol of God’s protection of his people, we sing, “He will raise you up on eagles’ wings.” So, while the devil is bent on destroying, God provides supernatural means to save His people. Some suggest that these two wings are the two sacraments – baptism and the Lord’s Supper- that could be, but we really can’t pinpoint it that specifically based on the text. The time, times and half a time are again 3 ½ years, the same time as 1,260 days, half of 7, which symbolizes the NT era from Jesus’ first coming to his second coming.
Then we’re told that the serpent spewed water like a river out of his mouth to overtake the woman, but the earth swallowed the water up and it wasn’t able to destroy the woman. In other words, the devil will try any means in order to destroy God’s Church, but God remains to protect her. It’s most likely that this river spewing out of Satan’s mouth are the plethora of false teachings that he spreads in order to lead people away from Jesus. But false teachings come and go, they have a way of going away after time. God’s people remain.
The devil continues his rage. Continues to try to lead people away from God, doubt God, stray away from God. He wages his war, but in the end he knows he loses. The warning remains: The devil continues to try to distract us, lead us away from God. He tries to get us to focus on everything else this Christmas season rather than the real, glorious meaning of Christmas.
But here’s the comfort: The reason we rejoice at Christmas is that the Christ child came. He came in order to crush the serpent’s head. He did so with His perfect life and innocent death and glorious resurrection from the dead. Our sins are forgiven. Satan can’t accuse us any more.
We cling in faith to Jesus, we keep Him close to our hearts and lives through His Word and Sacrament. Then come what may – Satan and all his demonic forces – he can’t win, he will always lose. And our comfort remains as Martin Luther composed it in his great hymn: “This world’s prince may still scowl fierce as he will, he can harm us none. He’s judged, the deed is done! One little word can fell him.” Because of this Christ child born in Bethlehem we know that ultimately “our victory is won; the kingdom’s ours forever.” Hold fast to Jesus. Amen
2nd Wednesday of Advent
Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. In the name of Jesus Christ, dear friends in Christ, things aren’t always what they seem to be, are they? What we see with our eyes is not the full reality, is it? What we are able to see with our eyes is only a small section of what really exists. For example, we can’t see radio waves around us, but they are there. We can’t see air or wind, but we know it’s there. We can’t see atomic particles, but we know they are all around us. We can’t see gravity, we can’t see oxygen, but we know we need it in order to live. There’s a reality beyond that which our eyes are able to detect. That’s also true about something else that is going on around us that we can’t see with our eyes, but God can and has told us about in the Bible. God tells us that there was a war and there continues to be a war in the spiritual realm around us that our eyes do not have the ability to see.
Last week we looked at the first 6 verses of Revelation 12 and were told about this great dragon which represented Satan, a woman which represented the church- all believers, and this child who would rule with an iron scepter- the child represented Christ. The dragon wanted to devour the child, but the child was taken up to heaven out of the dragon’s grasp. The woman, the church, fled into the wilderness to be taken care of by God for the rest of the NT era, until Jesus returns. Now we’re told about a war that took place. And the translation that is used says that it took place “in heaven.” But in the Greek the word for “heaven” and the word for “sky” are the same word. Some commentators immediately assume that this war that took place between the good angels and the dragon and his angels was what took place shortly after creation when Satan rebelled against God. That’s possible, but there seems to be a better explanation of this. The defeat of this dragon we’re told later on was that he was no longer able to accuse God’s people. That seems to imply that for a time he could, but not any more. They overcame him by the blood of the Lamb. When did that happen? That happened on Calvary. The defeat of the devil happened with the death of Christ. In John 12 just before Jesus’ death on the cross, Jesus said, “Now the prince of this world will be driven out.” When Jesus died on the cross, the prince of the world, Satan, the dragon, was cast down. This fight seems to be one that took place when Jesus died on the cross.
Michael is called in the Bible an archangel and the name means “Who is like God?” Michael and the good angels fought against Satan and his evil angels. And the battle is over the souls of people. The devil was cast down, hurled down, defeated and he was hurled to the earth. He lost the battle, lost the war, but he’s still fighting, he’s still trying to take as many with him as he can. And how does he do that? We’re told here that his name is the “devil” and “Satan.” Those names are very instructive on the devil’s tactics. The devil’s number one goal is to lead you and me away from God. His number one goal is to try to get as many people to suffer misery in hell with him. He wants to lead people into unbelief. So what does he do? He hates the fact that you are here tonight to worship God and hear his Word. He hates it when you open up your Bible at home. He hates it when you pray to God. He hates it when you reject temptation and don’t sin. He loves it when you’re too busy for God. He loves it when God’s Word becomes less and less a priority for you. He loves it when you doubt God. He loves it when you think sin is pleasurable. He loves it when you break God’s commands. And what does it do to get you to do those things? He lies. That’s what the name “devil” means. He’s a liar. He will try to get you to believe lies. But, he doesn’t stop there. He’s also “Satan.” Satan means that he’s the accuser. Not only does he lie to get your to sin, but he’s also the prosecuting attorney before God. “God, you need to punish those awful people, look at their shameful sins, your justice demands that you send those sinners to hell.” “How could God love such a wicked, immoral, worthless sinner such as yourself?” Satan accuses to drive us into despair. He’ll fight anyway he can to lead you and me away from God.
But what do we see here? Jesus came as a little baby, lived a perfect life in our place, died on the cross satisfying God’s justice that demands that our sins be paid, and rose from the dead winning our full forgiveness. “Now have come the salvation and power and the kingdom of our God, and the authority of his Christ, the accuser…has been hurled down. They triumphed over him by the blood of the Lamb and by the word of their testimony.” The devil will always fight a losing battle. You see, he can’t accuse you anymore. Jesus already died for all your sins, you are forgiven by God Himself. Every time the devil accuses, God says, “What sins? I don’t see any sins anymore. They have been washed clean in the blood of the Lamb.” The blood of Jesus purifies us from all sins. The devil can’t say anything anymore. The devil lies, he tries to accuse, because he knows that his time is short.
Our eyes can’t see everything. There’s right now a battle waging all around us between the forces of light and the spiritual forces of darkness, good angels and the evil angels. God calls on us to be vigilant, to stay close to the word of testimony, God’s Word, the gospel message. Why so? Because through it God strengthens our faith and assures us that salvation is already ours, the battle has already been won, Satan stands defeated, and we look forward to ultimate triumph in heaven. Why? Because it’s been won for us by our Champion, our Victor, our Savior who came born into our world and placed in a manger. Amen.
1st Wed of Advent
Grace and peace to you from God our Father and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ! In the name of Jesus, dear friends in Christ, when Adam and Eve disobeyed God in the Garden of Eden they took fruit from the tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil. Ever since then there has been this battle between good and evil raging in the world and even inside of us. I think that perhaps this is portrayed to a certain extent in various forms of entertainment. It seems to me that most shows or movies or novels or books have this good and evil opposition. There’s the good person whom we identify with, who we want to win, to triumph, but then there’s the antagonist, the wicked witch, the evil villain, the enemy who wants to destroy the good person. I’m always amazed – whether it’s a children’s movie or a grown-up drama – how they can make the bad guy out so bad, that you just detest him, can’t stand him, want nothing less than for him to lose and be destroyed. What’s the worst villain, the scariest enemy you picture in your mind?
Well, the worst enemy that the world tries to picture is only the slightest glimmer of the arch enemy, the worst enemy, Satan. Satan wants nothing less than to tear you and me down, to make us suffer, to laugh at our misery. The entertainment industry – no matter how awful of an enemy they can picture – doesn’t even come close to evil and wickedness of our real worst enemy and that’s Satan.
Here, in our text this this evening, God pictures Satan in a way that helps us understand just how evil and wicked he is. He’s pictured as an “enormous red dragon with seven heads and ten horns and seven crowns on its heads.” The number 7 in the Bible is often used as the covenant number that represents God’s interaction with the earth. The fact that Satan has seven heads and seven crowns perhaps indicates that Satan tries to set himself up in place of God. The word “crown” in the Greek is “diadem” and it was the crown that the Roman emperor wore to claim that he was “Deus et Dominus” “God and Lord.” The horns indicate strength to hurt and harm. His tail swept 1/3 of the stars out of the sky. That probably is talking about how when Satan rebelled against God he took a bunch of evil angels with him and now are his demon minions.
Well, then we have this woman. She’s clothed with the sun, has the moon under her feet and wears a crown of 12 stars on her head. 12 is used throughout Revelation as the number of the Church, the sum total of all believers, 12 tribes in the OT, 12 apostles in the NT. We’re also told that the woman is pregnant and cries out in pain as she is about to give birth. Immediately our minds might take us to the Virgin Mary. She’s is included, but this woman is really the Church, all who believed in the coming Savior. The Savior would be brought into the world through the Church, God’s people, believers. But they endured many hardships leading up to the Savior’s birth.
Well, then we have this dragon, Satan, who stands in front of the woman who was about to give birth, so that it might devour her child the moment he was born. It looks very precarious doesn’t it? An enormous red dragon who’s about to devour a little baby. That was Satan’s intention. So what did he do? He instigated Herod to make an order for all baby boys in Bethlehem to be murdered, Satan tempted Jesus for 40 days in the desert, Satan caused all kinds of demon possession during Jesus’ ministry, Satan tried to even use Peter to dissuade Jesus from completing his mission. But what happened? “Her child was snatched up to God and to his throne.” After Jesus lived perfectly, died innocently on the cross, and rose gloriously from the dead, he ascended into heaven and Satan is no longer able to touch or tempt Him.
But the woman is still here. The woman, again, the church, the believers, fled into the wilderness to a place prepared for her by God where she might be taken care of for 1,260 days. As the Israelites wandered in the wilderness for 40 years before they entered the Promised Land, so we believers will wander in a place, this world, which isn’t our home, until God takes us to the Promised Land of heaven. 1,260 days is also 42 months is also 3 ½ years. In Revelation that number is used over and over again to represent the time of the NT, the time from Christ’s first coming to His second coming on the Last day.
So what does this all mean for us? As we watch, as we wait, as we prepare for Christ’s coming, we face this enormous red dragon, Satan. He wants nothing less than for us to be distracted, for us to be caught up with this life, for us to be captivated by fear of him, every day he wages a battle in this world and even on us in order to lead us away from God and His Word.
But the reality is, he’s a doomed enemy. It’s almost comical: This enormous red dragon and he can’t devour a little child.
I don’t know what kind of movies you like to watch, but I always enjoy a happy ending. Satan is a powerful red dragon, he’s not a pet kitty to play with, he’s not a harmless being you don’t have to worry about, he’s a ferocious lion looking for someone to devour. Don’t toy with temptation, don’t see how close you can get to sin before you’re burned. Satan wants to devour you.
But also, be relieved, be at peace, God has won the battle, Satan stands defeated, God is your protector from the evil one, your provider, he promises to take care of you and to bring you safely into the heavenly Promised Land. Be at peace, because of Jesus, we already know the ending and it’s a happy ending. Amen.
1st Sunday of Advent
Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father and our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. In the name of Jesus who came once to save us and will come again, dear friends in Christ. Many of you are aware that one of the jobs that I had while I was working my way through school was a job where I cleaned, serviced, delivered, and picked up portable toilets. Many of you probably think that would be a rather gross job to have, but I honestly didn’t mind it and it was a pretty good paying job, my boss was not only a close friend of our family but in my estimation one of the best employers there is. Well, for most of the summer we had a contract with the local Renaissance Fair to provide portable toilets for them and since the Renaissance fair took place on the weekends we had to go there early Sunday morning to service the over 100 porta potties there. We took 3-4 trucks there and most of my co-workers didn’t really mind this because we earned double time pay to do it. Well, I remember hearing a story about one of my co-workers before I worked there, that when he was there he finished his assigned work early, and if you finished early you were supposed to go and help another truck out so everyone could get done. But he didn’t. He took his truck into the parking lot, parked it, sit back, relax, and get paid double for taking a nap. But this particular Sunday morning something very unusual happened. Our boss decided to drive there to see how his men were doing. Well, I think my boss ended up pulling him through the driver’s window of the truck waking him up. He wasn’t ready, he wasn’t prepared. Probably one of the worst things that can happen to an employee is to be found by the boss sleeping on the job. But really, that’s also true of us as Christians. Don’t let the Lord find you sleeping on the job! Be ready! Be focused! Be watchful!
And that’s really the theme of the Advent season: Be ready. Jesus is coming. Jesus came once and He will come again. In our text the disciples had asked Jesus about when the end of the world would happen and about the signs of the end. Jesus described some of the signs when the end would come, but whenever Jesus was asked about the time of the end of the world, his answer was always the same: Watch! Be on guard! Be alert! Why? Because “no one knows about that day or hour, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father.” No one knows when the Lord will return. There is no hidden code we can decipher, no magical formula, no superstitious clue to figure it out. In fact, we’re told that Jesus himself didn’t know. While Jesus lived on earth he set aside the full use of his glory as God for a time and so He chose for a time not to know when the end would happen.
No one knows when Jesus will come a 2nd time. But what’s the purpose? “Be on guard! Be alert! You do not know when that time will come.” The very fact that no one knows when Jesus will return makes it imperative that everyone be on their guard, be alert, be watchful.
To illustrate this, Jesus told a short parable: “It’s like a man going away: He leaves his house and puts his servants in charge, each with their assigned task, and tells the one at the door to keep watch. 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” A man leaves to go on a journey and its not his duty to tell his servants exactly when he will return. It’s the duty of all of the servants to be actively engaged in their master’s work should he come home suddenly. One special direction is given to the doorkeeper- keep watch so he can be ready to open the door when his master returns. What’s the lesson for us? Throughout our earthly lives God has given each of us tasks that he wants us to be doing. Whether it’s being a Christian father, mother, husband, wife, child, student, employee, employer, citizen, member of a church, etc. God wants each of us to be actively serving him in every calling that we have. Because he may return at any unexpected hour, like any unexpected hour of the night.
“If he comes suddenly, do not let him find you sleeping.” The worst possible scenario for any servant of the Master is to be found sleeping on the job. God doesn’t want any of his servants to stop watching for his return, to grow spiritually dull, unresponsive. Don’t be sleeping on the job when God’s given every person the task of watching for his coming. What Jesus told his disciples is also meant for us: “What I say to you, I say to everyone: Watch!”
Jesus is coming, He could return at any moment. He wants the world to be focused and to be watchful and ready. But is it? The world at Noah’s time was not focused. God sent Noah to preach God’s Word to the world for 120 years. In incredible patience and love God waited, God did everything to rescue people from the coming judgment. 120 years God waited, but what did the people focus on? Themselves! They were too busy seeking earthly treasures and pleasures. But then God came, He came with waters to save His Church, Noah’s family, and waters to judge the unfaithful servants.
But what about today? Is the world ready for Jesus’ return? Is the world waiting patiently for Jesus’ return, actively seeking God’s will, actively honoring God with their lives? Or, do we see people in the world openly rebelling against God, wanting nothing to do with God. Romans chapter 1 gives us perhaps a good picture of the world we live in: “They have become filled with every kind of wickedness, evil, greed and depravity. They are full of envy, murder, strive, deceit and malice. They are gossips, slanderers, God-haters, insolent, arrogant and boastful, they invent ways to do evil.” Or 2 Timothy 3 gives us another picture of what people in the world will look like: “People will be lovers of themselves, lovers of money, boastful, proud, abusive, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy, without love, unforgiving, slanderous, without self-control, brutal, not lovers of good, treacherous, rash, conceited, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God.”
Where are all the people hungering for heavenly treasure? Where are all the people alert and watching and excited and determined and focused on the day when Christ will return? Are they ready? The Master could return at any moment: “If he comes suddenly, do not let him find you sleeping. What I say to you, I say to everyone: Watch!”
But then, what about us? Are we ready? Are we focused? Or are we being lulled asleep by the world in which we live? God calls us to live self-sacrificing, grace-filled Christians in every station of life we’re in. But are we? Do coworkers, customers, children, friends, acquaintances, see us as self-less, caring, grace-filled Christians? Or, are we falling asleep on the job? Or maybe it’s a sin that I keep falling into, keep doing, even though I know it’s wrong, but, well, I’ve lost the battle so many times- what’s it hurting anyway? God warns us that He could return at any moment. Are we ready? Will he catch you sleeping on the job? Or maybe I’m harboring some bitterness, anger at someone, refusing to forgive someone in my heart, am I being lulled to sleep by the ways of this world? Am I ready for Jesus’ to return?
The answer is, by myself, no, I’m not ready. I’ve fallen asleep on my Master more times than I could possibly count. I deserve only one thing- to be fired and quite literally to be cast into the fire of eternal death. So, you see, the only way we can be ready for Jesus’ second coming is to be ready for his first coming. While our focus is so often on ourselves or on the glitter of this world, where’s God’s focus? God’s focus has always been and will always be on one place: rescuing sinful people like you and me. At Christmas we celebrate the miracle of God’s love that He came to this earth, He set aside His glory to be born into our world and placed in a manger. In the garden of Gethsemane when his disciples were sleeping on the job he had perfect focus on God and doing God’s will. When His disciples fled from him when he was arrested, he had perfect focus on going to the cross to make the full payment for our sins in full. Jesus never lost his focus, was never distracted, never slept on the job, but perfectly rescued us with his perfect life and death on the cross and glorious resurrection. Knowing that makes you ready for when Jesus will return.
So, take to heart the words of your Savior: What I say to you, I say to everyone: Watch! Be ready, He’s coming. Let Him not find you sleeping on the job, but let him find you in sorrow over your sin, let him find you in faith in Jesus as your only Savior, let him find you diligently serving him faithfully at your job, in your home, with your life. Let him find you diligently reaching out to friend, neighbor, relative with the good news of Jesus so they won’t be found sleeping when He comes. As you prepare for Christmas, be ready, be watchful, be focused, He came once to save us, He’ll come again bring us the full reality of what He’s one. Don’t be found sleeping…watch! Amen.
3rd Midweek Advent
Come, O Come, Emmanuel and ransom us, the captive Israel! Amen. In the name of Jesus, dear friends in Christ,
Keys are an important part of our every day lives. We need keys. We have keys for our cars, for our homes, for our safes, for our offices, for our work places, for our lockers. Keys are really important, but perhaps we don’t think about them much until they’re missing. I don’t know how much time I’ve spent over the years searching for where I put a certain key. Keys are important- they give us access to things. If we don’t have the key, we don’t have access. So what’s the key to life? What is it that gives you access to the “good” life? Or the “successful” life? Or a “happy life”? What’s the key? How do you get access to that? There are all kinds of things to which people might point- having a successful career, having a good family life, having great health or a lot of wealth, what’s the key to life? While those things might be nice, none of those things are the key, because none of those things truly satisfy.
The Pharisees and experts in the law thought they had “the key” to life, but didn’t. The Pharisees and the experts in the law were very religious people. They claimed to strictly adhere to all of God’s laws and even added extra ones of their own. They were very highly respected by most people because they were so zealous for God’s laws. They were also the ones who taught God’s laws to the people. Well one of the Pharisees had invited Jesus over for dinner. Sounds innocent enough, but if you know anything about the Pharisees, you know what kind of terms they were on with Jesus. Did this Pharisee invite Jesus over to try to find some fault with Jesus? Perhaps- at least at the end of the account we’re told they were trying to find some fault with Jesus. And sure enough, a Pharisee is surprised that Jesus didn’t do the ceremonial washing- that was one of the laws the religious leaders had come up with.
Then reading their hearts Jesus issued them some stern warnings: you seem clean on the outside but are full of greed and wickedness on the inside, you religiously follow the tithe but neglect justice and the love of God, you love the most important and prestigious seats, you look innocent enough but inside you’re like dead and decaying bones! When Jesus spoke these words an expert in the law felt insulted. Jesus then addresses these experts in the law: you come up with these hundreds of laws that are impossible to follow and you don’t even keep them yourselves! You claim to be pious by building these nice tombs for the prophets but that doesn’t make up for the fact that you don’t listen to what they say or to whom they point!
The final “woe” that Jesus addresses them is the most serious. “Woe to you experts in the law, because you have taken away the key to knowledge. You yourselves have not entered, and you have hindered those who were entering.” You see, they totally abused God’s law. They had turned God’s law into a means by which they thought they could earn God’s love, earn eternal life. Instead of opening up the way to life, they were shutting it and hindering others from entering.
What about you? What if you or I had been sitting at that table with Jesus, what might he have said to you or me? You see, there’s a hypocritical Pharisee that resides in each one of our hearts. Deep down each one of us has this idea that if I’m just a good little boy or a good little girl God will have to love me. There’s a part of us that wants to treat God like Santa Claus – if I just stay off his naughty list and being a good boy or girl, God won’t have an option but to make things work out in my life. I deserve it. I’ve earned it.
But the door to real life, to eternal life is like a massive door with hundreds of deadbolts on it. And on each of these deadbolts are things like “Always generous, never greedy, always having proper priorities, never being hypocritical, always humble, total purity, always compassionate, always just, always kind, never selfish.” Do you have the key to unlock even ONE of those deadbolts? You see, there isn’t one sliver of your life or my life that isn’t totally corrupted by sinful motives, sinful attitudes, and imperfection.
But what did Jesus do? Sometimes love has to be tough. People often get the wrong idea that the opposite of love is anger. But that’s not true. If you really love someone, you’re going to get angry, you’re going to get angry about anything that threatens your loved one or your relationship to your loved one. The opposite of love is hate and the worst kind of hate is apathy, indifference. Jesus loves the Pharisees and the law experts enough to confront them with the truth of their sin. Jesus loves you like he loves the Pharisees. He comes with His law to shatter anything that threatens our eternal life, to demolish anything we might try to use to prop ourselves up with or make us think we’ve earned or deserved anything from God.
He shatters our pride with the law so we’ll appreciate the key of the gospel. The key of the gospel is the key of life, a meaningful life, a purposeful life, a good life. In fact, if you have this key- you have a blessed life whether or not your rich or poor, healthy or sick, popular or unpopular, have a lot of friends or have few friends. This key makes all the difference.
So what IS that key of knowledge? What is the key to a good life? What is the key to a successful, meaningful, purposeful life? What is the key to having peace with God?
It’s knowing that Jesus has accomplished our salvation 100% Himself. It’s knowing that Jesus has accomplished what you and I could not do. It’s knowing that God was willing to come to this earth in order to save us, and that He did it, He accomplished our salvation 100%. In other words, the key to having peace with God is … to wait in stillness for the Lord, as our hymn put it. To be still, and know that God is God, and that He loves us.
And Christmas says that to you. Christmas says to you, “Spiritually you’re a helpless, hopeless human being, if left on your own. But God hasn’t left you on your own. Instead, He’s come to save you. He’s come to rescue you. For look, there in the manger is your God.”
And there’s the key! And that key isn’t just for a meaningful life here; that key opens the door to eternal life! And that key … is YOURS! So wait for Jesus is sureness. Knowing that Jesus came the first time on that first Christmas so that with His perfect life and innocent payment for sins He could unlock the door of heaven for you! And one day Jesus will come back with the sole purpose of coming to carry you through that door into life forever in heaven! Indeed, wait in sureness for Jesus, the one and only Key. Amen.