Second Sunday in Advent December 6, 2020
66, 56, 72, 70
Hymns from The Lutheran Hymnal (1941) unless otherwise noted
+ In the Name of Jesus Christ. Amen. +
Let your waist be girded and your lamps burning; “and you yourselves be like men who wait for their master, when he will return from the wedding, that when he comes and knocks they may open to him immediately. “Blessed are those servants whom the master, when he comes, will find watching. Assuredly, I say to you that he will gird himself and have them sit down to eat, and will come and serve them. “And if he should come in the second watch, or come in the third watch, and find them so, blessed are those servants. “But know this, that if the master of the house had known what hour the thief would come, he would have watched and not allowed his house to be broken into. “Therefore you also be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an hour you do not expect.”
Dearly Beloved Fellow Believers,
All of us have surely had the experience of forgetting an event or appointment. For one reason or another it completely slipped our mind. When the hour arrived, we went about our business, unaware that we were expected to be somewhere else. Then came the phone call, with a voice at the other end asking, “Are you coming?” There was nothing to do but admit that we forgot all about it.
We don’t like to be caught unprepared. We consider it important to be ready for work on time, so that we aren’t late or hurrying in at the last minute. When we are expecting guests, we want to be ready for them when they arrive. We don’t want to be straightening up the house or getting dressed when the doorbell rings.
Today, Jesus speaks to us about readiness for something far more vital than work, school, or an appointment. If we want to be ready for ordinary everyday things and are distressed at the thought of being caught unprepared, then how much the more will we want to be ready for the Second Coming of our Lord Jesus Christ? How much more will we want to be ready for the hour of our passing from this world, if that should come upon us suddenly, as we know it could?
Jesus shows us the urgency of these things by means of a parable. And we very much need this, because all of us are inclined to let our attention wander from the Last Things. Jesus awakens us and brings us to a state of attention. He doesn’t do this just by fear, though there is an element of law here. He encourages us to be ready for His return by reminding us of why we should be eager for His coming. If we remember that Jesus is our Savior, our beloved Lord and Master, we will be glad to do as He says here and “KEEP THE LAMPS BURNING.”
In His parable about His Second Coming, Jesus pictures His disciples as that of household servants. Their master is away on a journey; he has gone to attend a wedding. He will be coming home, but they don’t know exactly when that will be. They want to be ready for His return so that as soon as he arrives they can welcome him home and take care of his needs. So they stay awake; they stay dressed for work; they keep the lamps burning in the house.
The servants stay in this state of readiness late into the night, even into the second and third watches of the night. The Jews divided the night—from 6:00 p.m. to 6:00 a.m.—into three watches of four hours each. That means the second watch would be from 10:00 p.m. to 2:00 a.m. But the master might even arrive so late as the third watch, between 2:00 and 6:00 a.m. The wait for the servants could be a long one, so long that they would surely grow tired and feel the inclination to fall asleep. They might be tempted to give up on his return that night, reasoning that it was too late for anyone still to be traveling. Might it not make sense for them to retire for the night?
With this picture Jesus implies that His disciples’ wait for His return might be a long one. They should not expect that He would come again right away after His ascension into heaven. Jesus implies a long period between His ascension and return in another place where He warns His disciples not to be deceived by early claims that He had returned: “And they will say to you, ‘Look here!’ or ‘Look there!� Do not go after them or follow them.” (Luke 17:23) He is preparing His disciples for a long wait so that they wouldn’t become discouraged and fall away. We can see that when Jesus spoke of His Second Coming He had in mind not only the disciples who stood before Him but also the Church through the ages. He had us in mind, who are still waiting and looking for His coming though centuries and millennia have now passed.
But even if Jesus’ disciples knew that the wait might be long, they would not know how long. The day and the hour of His coming would not be made known to them. To teach this Jesus uses a second illustration here, that of the thief in the night. It’s such a strange picture. We are surprised that Jesus would compare His coming to the coming of a thief. Clearly, He wants the picture to be a very striking one. And the point of comparison is clear: just as a thief doesn’t announce in advance when he plans to break into a house, so Jesus will not tell us the day or hour of His return.
What Jesus says here and elsewhere about His Second Coming makes us wonder how anyone claiming to be a disciple of Jesus can claim to know what day he will come. And yet there are those who make such claims. Some years ago, a radio preacher claimed to have figured out from information in the Bible when Christ would come. He announced it on his own radio stations, on billboards, and in ads taken out in newspapers. The day arrived and passed, and nothing happened. The only thing the man accomplished was to provide a lot of ammunition for scoffers. There is no excuse for what that man did. What Jesus says here could not be clearer: “The Son of Man is coming at an hour you do not expect.”
God has withheld the day and hour of Jesus’ coming so that we may live in a constant state of readiness and expectation. There is no time for indulging in the sins of the flesh. There is no time for neglect of the Word and Sacrament while we are distracted on the things of this world. There is no time for holding onto grudges and nursing old grievances against others. It is time rather for repentance, time for striving against temptations, time for forgiving those who have sinned against us, time for hearing the word, time for prayer.
We should also notice that Jesus here refers to Himself as “the Son of Man.” That name which Jesus used many times identifies Him as the majestic figure who appears in the book of Daniel (chap. 7:13), in a scene which is a portrayal of the Last Judgment. Christ’s coming in divine glory as the Judge of all, like everything else about Him, was foretold in prophecy. His Second Coming must take place, just as His birth, His miracles, His passion and death, and His resurrection and ascension had to take place because “the mouth of the Lord has spoken it.” (Isaiah 40:5)
The thrust of Jesus’ parable about His coming is not “Be ready, or else.” The servants are not staying up and waiting for the master out of fear of what he might do to them if he caught them sleeping. The picture the Lord draws for us is intended to remind us of the character of the good Master for whose return we are waiting. The servants in His story are completely devoted to their master. They love their master and are looking forward to his return. The last thing they would want to do is to fall asleep and to miss his arrival. He is an extraordinarily good master, one who has been kind and generous to them. He’s the kind of master who when he arrives late and finds his servants faithfully waiting for him will tell them to sit down and rest while he serves them.
The master-servant relationship in the parable is important to keep in mind, for Christ is our Master and we are His servants. But our relationship to Him, and His to us, is also a most cordial and friendly one. Jesus called His disciples friends (Luke 12:4; John 15:14,15) and brothers (John 20:17). So we are right to think of those aspects of our relationship to Jesus as we wait for His return. It is a wait for one who is not only our Master but also our best and closest Friend and our dearest, most beloved Brother. With all of this in mind the idea of waiting up for Him and being ready to serve Him becomes not just easier but a pleasure. Have you ever waited up for a good friend who was coming to visit? A beloved family member, perhaps? Surely all of us have done that, staying up later than usual, making sure the house was in good order and the guestroom ready, putting aside food that could be quickly put on the table in case the guest hadn’t had anything to eat. We do all that not because we are afraid but because we love the person who is coming, we are looking forward to seeing him, and we wouldn’t want him to come to our door without a proper welcome.
That is the way we feel about Jesus, only much more so. His coming is in every way an event to be looked forward to with joyful anticipation. He promises that at His coming He will seat us and treat us to a lavish banquet (Rev. 19:9). He promises that the Father will honor us who serve His Son (John 12:26).
So keep the lamps burning for Christ is coming. We do that by hearing and learning the Word. That is where we get the fuel to keep our lamps burning. It is by the Word that the Holy Spirit preserves and strengthens our faith in Jesus. It is by the Word that the Spirit leads us to do good and show the love of Christ in our daily life. As long as we are in the Word we will not forget that this world and this life are passing away. Christ’s coming is what we are really waiting for. Amen.
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All scripture quotations, unless otherwise indicated, are taken from the New King James Version®. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.