Sunday, December 31, 2006
Are you going to be awake tonight when the new year begins? It will happen whether you are or not. For some people it’s fun to actually be awake for it. For others it’s nice to be able to get a good night of sleep and be refreshed for the first day of the new year.
In the Gospel reading Jesus exhorts us to be awake for His return on the last day. Now for tonight you know exactly when the time is you need to be awake if you want to greet the new year with your eyes open. But how in the world are we supposed to know when Christ will come again? We’re not. And we won’t know because then we wouldn’t have any reason to be vigilant.
And that’s what Jesus is talking about in being awake. He’s not saying we have to lose sleep over it. He’s saying that we must be prepared for when He returns. The end of one year and the beginning of a new one always seems a time to assess your life. What went wrong? What went well? What can I do better in the year to come? What should I get rid of?
Jesus isn’t necessarily exhorting us to write out a list of new year’s resolutions. But He is calling us to take stock of our life. Are we being vigilant when we continue to wallow in the same desires of the flesh we’ve grown secure in? Are we prepared for His return when we take lightly the Word of God, treating it as something that we just hear now and then? Are we sleeping at the wheel spiritually when we don’t see the opportunity ahead of us in the new year to share the remarkable mystery of God becoming a man to save the world from sin?
Jesus says He’s coming at an hour we do not expect. He also says something about Himself that we perhaps expect even less: “Blessed are those servants whom the master finds awake when He comes. Truly, I say to you, He will dress Himself for service and have them recline at table, and He will come and serve them.” Businesses of course use incentives to get you to buy their product. If Jesus isn’t giving us incentive here, I don’t know what incentive is.
But it’s not the kind of thing where He’s saying, Look, all you have to do is live a circumspect life, be prepared, and then when I return you’ll have it real good. No, what He’s saying is that He is the Master. We are His servants. He has brought us into His Household through His redemption of the cross and resurrection. If we get lazy and take His blessings to us for granted then we may find ourselves wandering away from His eternal Household. He wants us to be prepared. To remain vigilant.
If a member of the household doesn’t pull his weight around the household what happens? The other members begin to despise him. But you know what else happens? He begins to despise the household and the members of it. And if he’s honest, he begins to despise himself.
We are the children of God. And children have to pull their own weight around the house, right? We’ve already pictured the scenario of what happens if they don’t. But this is not a joyless calling from God. It is a blessed one. He is our master, and what a master He is! He rules us not in tyranny but in grace. Unexpectedly, He serves us!
If we think it’s a burden to be a servant of God, then we are sadly mistaken by our sinful flesh. Our sinful flesh wants to be a lazy slob. Why is God always putting demands on me? Jesus tells us something very different from the delusion of our sinful flesh: “The Son of Man came not to be served, but to serve.” He delights in setting before us a banquet of grace. Coming in humility through the womb as we have. Suffering the humiliation of criminal trial and mockery by pagan soldiers. Suffering the consequence of our guilt and sin. Suffering the bitterness of being forsaken by His own Heavenly Father.
He lays before us riches of glory that we will fully realize in heaven. For now, they are a foretaste of the Feast to come. He in fact serves us so that we may be prepared. He comes to us so that we may be strengthened and lifted up. He blesses us so that we overcome in the time of trial and temptation and remain vigilant, awake. When He returns He will open for us the gates of glory, inviting us to dwell with Him face to face. Amen.