Last Sunday of the Church Year
I think all of us at some time or another have taken part in a surprise party. Back when I turned 40, the church I served before this one threw me a surprise party, but it wasn’t much of a surprise. When I got a call that night that I needed to come to church because the alarm was malfunctioning, that was a clue. When I got to church and the parking lot was full of cars, that was a clue. And when I went up to the door and heard people saying, “Here he comes!” that was a clue. But that is the way these parties work. Someone is on the lookout, and when the “victim” arrives, it’s announced. Until that person arrives, there is tension and anticipation.
The Gospel lesson refers to tension and anticipation, the kind we get while we are waiting for Jesus to return. When that happens, all of Jesus’ promises will have been fulfilled, and the party will begin for those who believe in Him. As His people, we are called to anticipate the day Jesus is to come back and watch for His arrival. Today we are told, to “Watch!”
Every so often these days there is some program or special on TV that talks about “ancient prophecies” regarding the last days and judgment. People like to make a big deal out of these things. Some years ago, there was an unusual alignment of the planets that a lot of preachers thought was going to be the day of Jesus’ return. They were wrong. There were a lot of people who thought Desert Storm was the beginning of Armageddon. They were wrong. There were a lot of people who thought Y2K was going to be the day of Jesus’ return. They were wrong. (Remember how everyone was going nuts about that? Turned out to be a big, fat, nothing.) Apparently all these people had forgotten when Jesus said, “No one knows about that day or hour.” Jesus gives us the information He did, not so that we could predict His return, but so that we would not be spiritually lazy and be on the watch instead.
Jesus tells His followers “Be on guard! Keep awake! You do not know when that time will come.” (Mk. 13:33) Too often we forget that Jesus is coming again. We get too caught up in our day to day lives. How often do we think of these things? Back in college when I had a paper due, and I had procrastinated, I would often think, “Now would be a great time to come back, Lord!” (Those of you who know me know I am a reformed procrastinator, I don’t do that anymore.) Usually, though, days or weeks or months will go by, and we don’t even give it a thought. You may pray “Come, Lord Jesus, be our guest…” and not even think about what would happen when Jesus REALLY answers that prayer.
Now perhaps you know people who think that Jesus’ return is a myth or fairy tale. Or maybe you are thinking He has waited this long, He will keep on waiting. I am not going to give you a prediction. I believe that is time and effort wasted. My point here is that we do not know when He will return. God is not slow in keeping His promises. He hasn’t forgotten it. Peter reminds us, “With the Lord a day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years like a day. The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise as some understand slowness. He is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance.” (2Peter 3:8-9) God created time. He stands outside of it. It doesn’t affect Him.
While it is true that we are to watch for the time of Jesus’ return, it isn’t necessarily true everyone is looking forward to Jesus’ Second Coming. For people outside of Christian faith, the day of Jesus’ return will be a Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day. There are those who can’t look forward to the Second Coming of Jesus when they are not repentant or think they need no Savior.
Now obviously since we are talking about a Second Coming of Jesus, there was a first. What will make His Second Coming a joyous event for us was what happened on the first. The first time that Jesus came He wrapped Himself in the chains that enslaved us, then broke them for us. He paid the price of our fall into sin so that we could stand before Him, perfect, without blemish, ready for His Second Coming. The eternal Son of God, Jesus Christ, entered into human history and became a helpless infant. He grew up and lived a sinless life to fulfill the law for us, died and rose for us. He did all of this to rescue you and me from eternal judgment.
So what do we do between now and when Jesus comes again? God wants two things. First He asks you to receive the time He’s given you as a gift, using it wisely in faith toward Him and in service to each other. That means doing positive things with our time, time used for love, service to one another, growing in faith and knowledge. (As opposed to mindlessly surfing the internet and reading the latest goofy thing Miley Cyrus did or spending hours working on a Christmas list.) Knowing Jesus is coming back someday gives us perspective in life, an end toward which to work with whatever time we have.
Second, God also calls us to watch for the time of His return. Jesus even gives us an illustration. Jesus says the time of His return will be like a man who goes away, puts the servants in charge, each with their task, and tells the one at the door to keep watch. Jesus, our Master, has gone away and can return at any time. But He has given us, each of us, important work to do. We each have our assigned tasks in the church. We live and work and witness, knowing that He will be coming, sometime. In His grace, He equips us to be His faithful servants.
I read a story about a little boy who wanted a watch. You know, a wrist watch. Day after day he pestered his parents, as kids can do. (Erica and I have NEVER experienced a child with a one track mind. NEVER.) His parents finally had enough and told their little boy they didn’t want to hear one more word about a watch. So for the rest of the week he did just that. Sunday rolled around, and in the evening the family gathered for devotions. Everyone in the family each week was supposed to learn a new Bible verse and recite it at Sunday night devotions. Everyone in the family took their turn, and then the little boy looked up with a very solemn face and quoted the final verse of our text perfectly (In another translation), “What I say to you I say to everyone: Watch!”
Now I do not know if he got his watch. But I do know God wants us to be that persistent while we watch for His return. Washed with His mercy and forgiveness in Baptism, and reassured by His Word, we are to be vigilant while we wait for that day when He appears. When our Lord Jesus comes, sin, death, and the devil will be banished from our lives forever, and the joys of the new heaven and new earth will be ours forever. We will celebrate the unending feast we anticipate every time we partake of the Lord’s Supper, as the Bible says, “Whenever you eat this bread and drink this cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes.” (1Cor. 11:26) What I say to you I say to everyone: Watch!