Advent 1 + Nov 30 & Dec 3, 2017
Text: Mark 13:33-37
This year, Black Friday started early on Thanksgiving Day and extended throughout the weekend. Cyber Monday began weeks ago and the deals are still on line. This past week, Americans spent a record amount of money on holiday shopping. We can thank God that our economy is strong. But, as Christians, the ultra-commercialism of our culture still bothers us—even while we participate in it.
Even though the excessive commercialism of our time offends us, we Christians can learn something from retailers at this time of year: they are prepared for Christmas. They advertise. They have huge sales. They keep their stores open extra hours. Amazon and all the other online retailers offer free shipping, overnight shipping, and low, low prices. Retailers go all out at this time of year because they know that holiday shopping will either make or break their business. A successful holiday season means profit instead of loss. So that’s why retails prepare so thoroughly for this season.
This season before Christmas - the season of Advent - also has one dominant message: Prepare, prepare, and prepare even more. We are not preparing for hordes of shoppers. Instead, we are preparing for something far more important. We are preparing to welcome the King of kings and Lord of Lords. We are preparing our hearts, our souls, our whole lives for the arrival of Jesus Christ. And that’s what Jesus says in our Gospel lesson. He issues three commands: be on guard, be alert, and keep watch! So on this first Sunday in Advent, we listen to Jesus tell us: "Keep watch! Your master is coming soon."
Hear again Jesus' words: "Be on guard! Be alert! You do not know when that time will come. 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. 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. If he comes suddenly, do not let him find you sleeping. What I say to you, I say to everyone: 'Watch!'"
Now, the master of the house is Jesus. When Jesus ascended into heaven, it was like the master of a household going away on a business trip. He puts his servants in charge while he is away, but he tells them, “Make sure you keep doing your job because I will come back suddenly. So, do your job and always keep watch for my return.” Jesus is up in heaven now, but he has promised us that he will return. So, what job does Jesus give us to do while we wait for his return? Well, we manage his household. That means that we take care of his Church on earth.
But how do we do that? We manage and take care of what makes the Church the Church. The gospel, the Word of God, is what makes the Church. Saint Paul says in Romans, "Faith comes from hearing the message and the message is heard through the Word of Christ." (Rom. 10:17)
So how do we guard and protect and take care of the gospel? We do that by proclaiming the Word of God in its truth and purity. Again, Saint Paul says, this time to the pastor Timothy, "In the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who will judge the living and the dead, and in view of his appearing and his kingdom, I give you this charge: Preach the Word; be prepared in season and out of season; correct, rebuke and encourage—with great patience and careful instruction." (II Tim. 4:2) We keep watch for Jesus to return to judge the living and the dead by proclaiming the Word of God. Specifically, we proclaim the law that condemns sin. We also proclaim the gospel that promises forgiveness of sin in the name of Jesus Christ.
Therefore, the work of the Church on earth must always sound like this: "All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God." (Rom. 3:21) You have broken God’s law. Every human must confess what Isaiah said: "All of us have become like one who is unclean, and all our righteous acts are like filthy rags; we all shrivel up like a leaf, and like the wind our sins sweep us away." ( And for the filthy rags of our sinfulness we deserve to have the mighty hand of God sweep us away and dump us in the burning heap of hell.” (Isaiah 64:6) That’s the law that we must proclaim from now until Judgment Day.
And yet, along with that law, we must also always preach the Gospel. And in that sense, the work of the Church on earth must also always sound like this: The best Christmas gift does not come from Target, Macy’s, BestBuy, Walmart, or Amazon.com. The best Christmas gift is not a huge TV, an iPhone X, a new set of clothes, an exotic vacation, or even a new vehicle. The best Christmas gift is a little baby who is also the almighty God. The best Christmas gift is Jesus himself. Jesus is the best gift because he came to wash the filthy rags of our lives in his pure and holy blood. With the cleansing of Christ all who believe in him share in his holiness. With faith in Jesus you have forgiveness of all your sins. With faith in Jesus you will pass the test on Judgment Day and enter eternal life in heaven. That’s the gospel that we must also proclaim from now until Judgment Day.
In a way (and I am not totally comfortable making this comparison), when the Church proclaims the Word of God it is like the advertising that stores do this time of year. If you watch TV, listen to the radio, skim through your mail, read your email, check Facebook, or drive around town, you face a constant barrage of advertising. Every store, business, and charity is pleading for your business.
By that comparison, I am not suggesting that the Church should stoop to annoying and manipulative gimmicks. But we can learn a lesson from the stores at this time of year. They know that Christmas is their most important season, and they do everything they can to make sure they get their message out to as many people as possible. Jesus wants us to do the same thing with the gospel. And we have even more reason to do that than the stores have. To use business terms, we have the best product. We have the good news of Jesus Christ, the one and only Savior of the world. And we have the best price: free. The Gospel is free. Forgiveness is free. Salvation is free. Jesus paid for it all by his life, death, and resurrection.
So, be a faithful and diligent servant in the household of Christ’s Church on earth. Proclaim the Word of Jesus Christ. Invite your friends and relatives to our Divine Services. Include the grace of God and the gift of Jesus Christ in your conversations—not in a pushy, holier-than-thou way, but in a humble, gentle, and respectful way. Send out Christ centered Christmas cards. Put up Christ-centered posts on Facebook and other social media. Include a Christ-centered Bible passage at the end of all your emails.
But also do something else. Remember that the good news of Christmas is not just something to share. It’s also something for you to believe and treasure for yourself. Jesus came to be your Savior, too - to forgive your materialism, your greed, your selfishness, and your failures to share the gospel. So, rejoice in the best Christmas gift of all. Rejoice in Jesus, your Savior. And look for his coming again. He is coming to take you to the everlasting joy of that perfect peace in heaven. So, yes, keep watch! Your master is coming soon.