Monday, December 4, 2017

Sermon -- 1st Sunday in Advent (December 3, 2017)

MARK 13:32-37


In the name + of Jesus.

     “What are you waiting for?”  Usually when you hear that question, it comes from someone who is strongly suggesting that you do something.  Sometimes the task is obvious.  When the child sits there watching the birthday candles melt down to tiny little stubs, the parents might ask, “What are you waiting for!?  Blow out the candles!”   Other tasks seem evident, but how to carry out the task is not.  Citizens look to our President and Congress to improve the tax code, health care, and immigration.  Most people think these things need to be improved.  But demands of, “What are you waiting for?” seem to be met with posturing and shoulder shrugs more than anything.  It is easy to say “reform.”  I suspect that all the wrangling with regulations makes it harder than we want to think.
     In the bitterness of life, we may look heavenward and ask our Lord, “What are you waiting for?”  If this is your plea to the Lord, good.  This is what the Church has always prayed for.  The word Advent means “coming,” and we know that our Lord will come.  “He has ascended into heaven.  He sits at the right hand of God the Father Almighty.  From there he will come to judge the living and the dead.” (Apostles' Creed)  The Church has been confessing that since Jesus ascended into heaven.  Our Lord is coming.  But meanwhile, the Church waits. 
     What are you waiting for?  You know.  We are waiting for our Lord to come.  That means we are waiting to be delivered from stress of work deadlines and the strife of world affairs.  We are waiting to be delivered from the pain of relationships broken in anger and the tears of relationships broken by death.  We are waiting to be delivered from the frustrations of our own weakness and sins, and from being the victims of other people's self-serving words and actions. 
     But as long as it is Advent, as long as our Lord delays his coming, we wait.  Still, waiting does not mean doing nothing.  This is what the Lord says: “Be on guard, keep awake.  For you do not know when the time will come.  It is like a man going on a journey, when he leaves home and puts his servants in charge, each with his work, and commands the doorkeeper to stay awake.” (Mark 13:33-34)  The Lord Jesus Christ is the man who has gone on a journey.  He has ascended to heaven where he has gone to prepare a place for you.  And he will come again at a day and hour you do not know.  But while he is gone, he has also given you, his servants, tasks to do.
     What are you waiting for?  Yes, you are waiting for Jesus to return, but none of us has the luxury of sitting around and doing nothing.  “[The kingdom of heaven] is like a man going on a journey, when he leaves home and puts his servants in charge, each with his work....” (Mark 13:34)  We all have work which the Lord has given us to do.  You do not need to go out and invent works, as if the message of the Bible is: “Jesus is coming; look busy.”  Our Lord has called you to be his servants, which means that you order your life according to his will.  If God has been pleased to give you children, then you serve as dutiful parents to feed your children, discipline them, and bring them up in the training and instruction of the Lord.  If God has given you employment, then you show up for work on time and give your employer an honest day's work.  If God puts you in contact with people who are nasty toward you, then you get to demonstrate patience, to love your enemies, and to have mercy upon others.  What are you waiting for?  God gives you daily service to perform according to your vocations and according to his word.
     Of course, our daily service also reminds us daily that we are sinners.  We don't live up to the standard of love, mercy, and goodness which the Ten Commandments make.  Day after day, we struggle against our own sinful flesh.  This fighting against temptations does not end, and it can get tiresome.  The devil knows which sins you are prone to do, and he will continue to entice you and give you reasons to give into them.  “After all, Jesus has not returned,” he argues. “You can afford to be negligent.  You can take a break from being sober, honest, chaste, or respectful.  Indulge yourself and join the world.  They are having fun.  Why shouldn't you?”  But, Jesus warns you: “You do not know when the master of the house will come, in the evening, or at midnight, or when the rooster crows, or in the morning—lest he come suddenly and find you asleep.” (Mark 13:35-36)  The devil is a tireless foe.  Your sinful flesh will always be sinful.  What are you waiting for?  Keep watch.  Pray.  Be alert.  Know your enemies.  Resist them.  And repent.
     While the reading we are considering is from the Gospel according to St. Mark, there really is no Gospel in it.  It is a stern warning from Jesus to us all: “Be on guard, keep awake.  For you do not know when the time will come.  ...And what I say to you I say to all: Stay awake.” (Mark 13:33,37)  Jesus knows that we are weak.  He knows that we are sinners.  And he knows that we can get tired of waiting and lazy while keeping watch for the Lord's Advent.
     The master of the house is coming.  That would sound like an ominous threat, except that we know what our master is like.  When the master in the parable returns, he returns to his own house.  He returns to that which is his own, and that is you!  We are servants of a Savior.  When Jesus first came to earth, it was to deliver you from the devil.  The devil first leads you into temptation and sin, and then he accuses and inflicts guilt upon you for the sins you have done. 
     But Jesus sets you free from this horrible cycle.  Jesus has taken your guilt from you.  He had all the charges against you transferred to him.  Once Jesus bore your guilt, Satan could not help himself.  He pressed on to see the Son of God crucified, thinking the death of Jesus would put an end to Jesus and make you his forever.  But it was that very death of Jesus which saves you.  Jesus has purchased and won you from all sin, from death, and from the power of the devil—not with gold or silver, but with his holy, precious blood and with his innocent sufferings and death.  Since Jesus died in your place for your sins and has taken your punishment, you are now acquitted.  The devil's charges against you cannot stick because they were taken by Jesus.  You are free, and you are no longer duty-bound to follow the devil's ideas.  Jesus Christ, who overcame the devil for you, gives you strength to overcome the devil's temptations.  You are no longer servants of sin, but of righteousness.  You do not belong to the devil; you dwell in Christ's house.
     What are you waiting for?  The Lord Jesus, who redeemed you, has called you to serve him in his kingdom in everlasting righteousness, innocence, and blessedness.  In Christ, you are innocent of all your sins.  You are righteous before God.  And you are blessed.  For you do not have to wonder if you are good enough for heaven or if you have been busy enough to please God.  God is pleased with you.  Jesus assures you of that.
     If, however, you recognize that your service in God's kingdom is short of perfect—and it is—then you still have reason to come to God's house for the forgiveness of your sins again and again.  For, salvation is not found in the one who is busy, but in the one who believes.  And the one who believes continues to come to the Lord to hear the word and to feast on the heavenly meal.  It is through these that God imparts his grace to save.  It is through these that Jesus gives us strength to serve and to stand firm.  These are what preserve us in the truth faith as we wait for our Lord's return.
     What are you waiting for?  The master of the house is coming.  We are eagerly looking forward to it, because we know why the master comes.  When the Lord Jesus comes again, unbelievers will lament, “The fun's over!”  But God's people will see it as an answer to their prayers.  We will rejoice and say, “The grief is over!  We are forever free from our burdens.”  We long for Jesus' return, and we look forward to our place in a better home.  We not only look forward to Jesus' return; we join in the prayer of the Church: “Amen!  Come, Lord Jesus!” (Revelation 22:20)

In the name of the Father and of the Son + and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen. 

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