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Be Prepared

November 27th 2011 by Joel Schultz

Today begins a new church year with the season of Advent. Advent looks ahead to Jesus' comming and today we especially look forward to Jesus' second coming. In the gospel lesson, Jesus tells us that we should be prepared - stay awake - for His coming. How can we be sure that we are prepared for His return? Read more to find out....

Advent 1B - Mark 13:33-37 – “Be Prepared" - November 27, 2011

Today, the first Sunday of Advent, marks the beginning of a new Church Year. The mood and message of this season are expressed in the ancient hymn: “O Come, O Come Emmanuel and ransom captive Israel.” In fact, “Advent” means “coming.” It is a season of joyful anticipation as we wait for the coming of Christ Jesus C His coming as a baby, born to die for the sins of the world, but also His second coming as King on the Last Day, when the full consummation of His Salvation will be made manifest.

Today’s Gospel reading from Mark 13 focuses on the 2nd coming of Christ Jesus. This chapter in Mark’s Gospel is really a farewell speech in which Jesus prepares His disciples for the period of suffering and confusion that will ensue before His glorious return. The recurring theme throughout this chapter is that the disciples are ever to remain prepared for the end. They must not be deceived into thinking that the end has already come (v.5-8), nor be overcome with despair at the woes they will endure (v. 9-27), nor be lulled into complacent slumber by the duration of the time before His return (vs. 28-31).

So Jesus ends His address by reminding His disciples to be ever prepared. “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. Therefore stay awake – for 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. And what I say to you I say to all: Stay awake” (vss. 33-37).

The Boy Scout motto is “Be Prepared.” The idea is that a Boy Scout should be prepared for any and every situation they may face in life. This is done by learning and re-learning a great variety of skills. Well, how does a Christian go about being prepared for Jesus’ 2nd coming?

That question made me think of my 8th grade year. Our full time teacher was also the principal of the school. As a result, he obviously had many tasks outside of the classroom which required his attention. Frequently, after our lunch recess, we would return to our classroom and find that he was not there. At times, in fact, he was delayed for a significant amount of time. We knew he would be back. And we knew we should be doing the work we had been assigned.

However, the five boys in my class instead busied ourselves with inventing a new game – classroom basketball. It was really a lot of fun and we rarely broke anything. The problem, however, was that the game was so engrossing that we generally forgot to watch for our teacher’s return. It was very unpleasant when my teacher would return and find us playing classroom basketball. We were not watchful and we were not doing the tasks assigned to us.

This is how Jesus expects us to be prepared for His 2nd coming – to do the work He has given us to do, and as we work to be watchful and alert. But as it was for my 8th grade cohorts, so it is for us – it is easy not to be watchful and immersed in the work left for us to do.

But our Lord says, as we wait, we work. In the parable Jesus tells, each servant is given a task to do. The stress of Jesus’ words is on careful living each and every day – like the disciples after Jesus ascended into heaven. They did not sit around wondering about the time and season of His return, rather they went about their daily Christian tasks.

Whatever station we occupy in the home, church, community, and society, our responsibilities are God-given tasks to perform in His service. In the Small Catechism, in the section entitled “Table of Duties,” Martin Luther cites Scripture passage after Scripture passage dealing with our duties and responsibilities as pastors, church members, citizens, husbands, wives, parents, children, workers, employers, youth, widows – everyone.

And as we work, we watch – every day, 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Our text says we are to be on guard, lest we be found sleeping. (Look around) If we are to constantly be watching for His return, how do we do the work given to us to do? Well, Jesus is not talking about that kind of watching. He is talking about a spiritual watchfulness. A spiritual watchfulness which guards against Satan’s temptations. A spiritual watchfulness which keeps us from falling asleep and losing our faith.

Peter tells us the same thing in his first letter: “Be self controlled and alert.” Why? “Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour. Resist him, standing firm in the faith” (1Peter 5:8-9a). We are to flee from Satan’s temptations. We are to constantly make use of the means of grace – Word and Sacrament – to strengthen faith. We are to come here to hear the Word of God and receive the Body and Blood of the Word made flesh. We are not to neglect the gifts of God. We are to daily drown the Old Sinful nature within us through contrition and repentance.

It would be awful if Christ Jesus were to return and find us sleeping spiritually. Therefore, the faithful Christian is ever watchful, even in his sleep. That’s why in the children’s prayer we pray: “If I should die before I wake, I pray the Lord my soul to take.”

Rather than spiritual slumber, the writer of Hebrews entreats us: “[look] to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God” (Heb. 12:2).

Jesus went to the cross and died for all the times we fall into spiritual slumber. He died for all the times we immerse ourselves in the things of this world rather than His gifts of Word and Sacrament. He died for all the times we have not immersed ourselves in the work He has given us to do. He died to forgive all of our sinful failures.

And He rose victoriously proclaiming victory over sin, death, and the power of the devil. He ascended into heaven and promised to come again to judge the living and the dead. And in the meantime He has given us the Holy Spirit to help us work and be watchful.

Jesus’ return is a proclamation of Law for those who are spiritually asleep. However, for those who are in Christ Jesus, for you and me, the return of Jesus is the Good news proclamation of this season of the Church Year.

It is during this season of Advent that we are invited to stand back and marvel at what Christ has done for us. To stand back and marvel at the manger. To stand back and marvel at the cross. To stand back and marvel at the empty tomb. To stand back and marvel at what the Lord has done and will do for His people.

And so our working and watching are not fearful, but filled with eager anticipation: Our Lord is coming back! So we pray what the Church has always prayed: “Maranatha!” – “O Lord, Come!” And we cling to the promise of 1 Corinthians 1: “You are not lacking in any spiritual gift, as you for the revealing of our Lord Jesus Christ, who will sustain you to the end, guiltless in the day of our Lord Jesus Christ. God is faithful, by whom you were called into the fellowship of his Son, Jesus Christ our Lord” (1 Cor. 1:7-9).

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