Sunday of the Fulfillment
November 25, 2012
It’s a difficult position our Lord puts us into today. Directing us to stand guard. To keep watch. To stay awake and alert. There’s nothing here about what we’re to do, how we’re to go about it, how to occupy the time our Lord gives us on this earth. It would be much easier if He were to lay it all out, as in some other passages of Scripture where it’s clearly defined of actions we are take, ways we are to think, things we are to do for one another.
But here today it’s a simple, “Don’t fall asleep.” Picture the security guard working the night shift. Picture soldier stationed on a remote island with no sound or movement around him.
There’s but one duty here: stay awake and remain alert. Dozing off could get someone killed. Not paying attention could invite treachery. And Jesus in today’s Gospel reading is not talking about some matter of keeping these things about the Last Day in mind. He’s talking about being vigilant. Always on guard. Always awake. Always alert.
He gives no indication about how you are to make use of your time and what things to do with your time. You are to keep watch.
That might make for a very short sermon, in that, what else is there to say about it? Jesus pretty much leaves it at that. So what are we to do with it? Just sit around and wait? From a purely practical and physical standpoint it’s impossible to stay awake. We need sleep. We can’t go, go, go. We have to rest and need to recuperate on a regular basis. The guard and the solider themselves take shifts in their guard duty.
Jesus is waking us up. The fact that we have to ask how to do this shows that we are asleep at the wheel. We are not alert, we are focused on getting by day to day. We are spiritually asleep, concerned more with our problems and being unsatisfied with things in our lives. There’s no time for Jesus to lay out what we should do, He’s gotta wake us up! He is rousing us from our drowsiness. He is shaking us so that we don’t sleep through and be unprepared for when the Hour comes.
Judgment Day is not on our radar. It needs to be. If you’re not prepared, you will stand under the Judgment. You will be judged. Only He knows when He is returning in glory. And only He knows when your life will come to an end on this earth. When you die, if Christ has not yet returned in glory, you will face your Judgment Day. You need to be prepared now. If you’re asleep, wake up! If you’re thinking it’s not a big deal, you need to be alert. It is an eternal deal.
So how do you be ready? What do you do to stay awake and remain alert? As it happens, it’s not just that our Lord says, “stand there like a guy who’s the doorkeeper and keep watch.” It’s true that what He gives us to do is compared to the doorkeeper keeping watch. This is the way Jesus says it in the Gospel reading:
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.
But a careful hearing of what He’s saying is not that we’re just to stand around and make sure we stay awake. He’s saying we need to be vigilant; just as a security guard would, just as a soldier stationed at his post would, just as the doorkeeper Jesus spoke of would. The way they keep watch is by standing there guarding what they have been given to guard.
What we are to keep watch of is our very lives. We need to stay awake and alert in the life God has given us here on earth to live. The only way you can do that is by being focused, the same way a guard is. Concentrating on the task at hand, which is to keep watch, to stay awake, and remain alert. What Jesus is not saying to us in His warning and exhortation on the coming of the Last Day is to consume our thoughts with it every waking hour. The Bible gives us the calling of actually living out our lives in service to one another, so we can’t take our Lord’s words here and conclude that we need to think of nothing else than when He’s coming back again in glory.
At the same time, we need to take our Lord’s words here to heart and not just go about our everyday lives without realizing the earnestness of this for our daily lives. We can’t become complacent, apathetic, unaware of the urgency—Judgment Day could come at any moment and our death could come at any moment.
But how do you be awake and alert for it if you are not to constantly think about it? The first thing is to listen to Jesus in today’s Gospel reading. It is a sobering and compelling description of what will happen. It is also a warning that it could happen any time. We don’t know when it will happen. We need to be vigilant. It would do us well to go back and read the words again on our own slowly and consider them as something we should not forget.
The second thing, as already stated, is not to take this for granted. Don’t fall into apathy, stay alert!
The third thing, and this is where you get into what our Lord has given us to do in this life, is be in the things that He has given us to be in where He is the one who wakes us up and sustains us so that we don’t fall asleep spiritually.
The first way is, as they say, preaching to the choir. You need to be here. You need to be in this House, the House of God, hearing the Gospel, receiving the Lord’s Supper, being filled up with all the blessings your Lord gives you. You can’t stay awake and alert if you are not receiving what He gives you to spiritually enliven you and sustain you.
This is the blessing of what God gives us to do. It’s stuff to do but it’s really not stuff we do. We’re in this House of God; we’re hearing what is proclaimed; we’re eating and drinking the very body and blood of Christ; but we’re not the ones doing the things that are being done to awaken us and keep us awake and alert. The Holy Spirit is. He’s the one doing the work. He is always vigilant in His work of creating and sustaining faith in you. He is also on guard to forgive you of your sins in the Gospel that is proclaimed and applied to you in your Baptism, and in the Absolution, and in the Lord’s Supper.
The second way is similar in that each day you need to be in this same way of living in which you are receiving. Beginning each day in prayer. Closing each day in prayer. Making some time each day to be in the Word of God. Here again, in these things you are doing things, but really you are receiving. God is the one who is active when you are in His Word and when you are remembering that you are a Baptized child of His.
The third way seems the one most about what you do and not what God does. It is called various things, such as serving, doing good works, vocation, sanctification. Whatever people might like to call it, it is active, and dynamic, and anything but standing around waiting. It is God’s people in service to others. It is His children loving others, caring for others, and submitting to others. It may seem the opposite of standing there at the door keeping watch, being the doorkeeper. But it is the same thing. When you serve—carrying out your vocation, your calling—you are staying awake, remaining alert.
You are not just standing around. You are not idle. You are living in the way your Lord has called you to live. If you live to yourself you will fall into spiritual sleep and apathy. You will not be awake and alert. You will forget about the urgency of Christ’s Return in glory even as you will forget about the calling and the opportunity to serve others. You will forget and even begin to disdain the Gospel, that it is your very life and sustenance.
Part of being awake and alert is being awakened by the Law. God’s Law comes in like a freight train and wakes you up. If you’re near train tracks and a train comes rushing by you are startled and you have to catch yourself at the force of the wind. The Law of God wakes you up to the realization that you have sinned against your Lord in thought, word, and deed. The Ten Commandments shine more brightly as a mirror the more you peer into them and see that you have fallen short of the glory of God. You have fallen asleep at the wheel, not trusting in your Lord and His good gifts to you but rather seeking out your own pleasure and glory.
Wake up now before it’s too late and your own death comes or your Lord returns in glory at any moment! Be alert and repent.
But the other part of being awake and alert is being awakened to new life by the Gospel. The Law wakes you up to the reality of your spiritual death but the Gospel wakes you up to new life. The Gospel actually spiritually awakens you. Think about the warning, or rather, the prophecy given that Christ would go to the cross. He was alert as ever, refusing any sort of alcoholic mixture on the cross to deaden the pain. He was wide awake to the reality that He was taking on Himself the sin of the world. He was aware that His Heavenly Father was bringing upon Him the judgment of holiness against sinners, all on His shoulders; His very life being claimed.
It is in this suffering and death that sinners are brought to life. In your Baptism you are awakened to this life. When you receive the body and blood of Christ in the Lord’s Supper—the very body and blood that were given and shed at the cross—you are sustained in that new life, awake to the eternal life your Lord secured for you and will bring you to the glory of when He returns on the Last Day.
These are the things it means to be awake and alert. These are the things your Lord gives to you in order to be awake and alert. As you see this world go by with all its end-time devolution you remain awake and alert. As you see yourself daily slipping back into the ways of your sinful flesh, wake up; be alert. As you become more and more aware of the devil hitting you hard each day with temptation, be awake; stay alert.
Your Lord is the one who is coming again in glory. This is what you know because He has told you. You have His promise. Your Lord is the one who sustains you in the life He has given you and called you to. Your Lord is the one who forgives you and never forgets you. He is always awake, always alert, always with you, both now when you fall asleep and forever when He comes again in glory to take you home to heaven. Amen.