Lessons: Song of Solomon 2:8-14, Romans 15:4-13, Luke 21:25-36
Hymns: LSB 348, 334, 341, 337, 336
Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father and our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Amen.
Last Sunday we began the new Church Year with Christ, hearing that Jesus rode into Jerusalem as our glorious King. He entered the Holy City to serve as the sacrificial Lamb to take away the sin of the world. There’s no other way for sinners to be reconciled to God, for no other Person rendered the right sacrifice to atone for our many sins. Hearing that Jesus made His entrance with us into a new Church Year indicates that Jesus is yet again coming to us in this new year of grace with mercy through His Word and Sacraments.
This Sunday, we hear some of Christ’s teaching during Holy Week between His triumphal entry and His crucifixion. In addition to driving out the moneychangers from the Temple, Jesus silences the Pharisees and Sadducees, prophesies the destruction of Jerusalem and the Temple, and teaches concerning the End Times.
Advent is a season of preparation. In preparation to celebrate the birth of Jesus, we come before the Lord’s presence with penitent hearts, recognizing that we do not deserve to have Christ make His entrance among us. But He is gracious, and He comes into our presence. And, on the Last Day, Jesus will again graciously come. So, we, as Jesus teaches in our Gospel, stay awake at all times. As we stay awake, Jesus teaches us to watch and pray. To watch and pray—this is how we prepare to meet the Lord when Jesus comes again in great glory on the Last Day to judge the living and the dead.
Why should we watch and pray? After all, that won’t cause Jesus to hurry things up, would it? And isn’t it more fun to do other things?
You see, Jesus will come back. That is a fact. Just as Jesus came as God had promised in the flesh to redeem the world through His sacrificial death, so also our risen Savior will return on some day that we do not know. It could be soon. It could be after we rest from our labors and are with the Lord. The prophecies Jesus made are all in place. There are signs in the sun and moon and stars. There’s distress of nations. There are roaring seas and waves. Fig trees and all the trees bud out indicating that summer is near. Because the signs Jesus spoke of are taking place, know, my friends, that the kingdom of God is near.
We watch and pray because the return of Jesus will be sudden. Do not listen to all those false prophets who try to determine a day, time, and place when Jesus will return. They have all been proven wrong so far. Instead of listening to false teachers, listen to Jesus. Know that He will return suddenly like a trap. He will come when many are not expecting Him to come. Suddenly the Son of Man will come in a cloud with power and great glory. All the dead will be raised. Jesus will separate the believers from the unbelievers. He will usher with Him all who believed in Him into the new heavens and new earth. Those who rejected Jesus will be condemned forever in Hell. They will not be given second chances; no one will be saved apart from faith in Jesus.
We watch and pray to be prepared. Being ever vigil means we will not be caught unaware when Jesus returns. It means we will constantly look for the resurrection of the dead and the life of the world to come. It means we will not replace the confidence we have in Jesus with the fleeting things of this life.
We watch and pray because we desire salvation. If we did not trust in Jesus that He is going to fulfill His promises, we would not watch nor would we pray. We would carry on each day as if nothing will happen—that nothing could happen. If we did not trust that Jesus were coming back, we would replace watching and praying with carousing and drunkenness and cares of this life.
The Church in her wisdom has chosen today’s Gospel to remind us what we ought to be doing throughout this holiday season. There are lots of parties that take place this month. It is good for family and friends and coworkers to get together. But we need to remember our Christian identity as we get together. Is it a time of gluttony? Too much food, sugar, alcohol, and expensive gifts? Is it a time in which we lose focus on our Savior? And so, Jesus reminds us to watch and pray so that the return of our Lord does not come upon us like a trap.
As we consider our Lord’s return, remember why Jesus is coming back and what He will do for all who remain faithful to Him. God had created a perfect world that was free of sin and death. Our world was truly paradise. But when Adam and Eve rebelled against God, replaced God’s Word with lies, and ate the forbidden fruit, they brought the entire world into sin. With sin came deep corruption and death. What we have now is a fallen world, filled with sorrow and heartbreak and misgivings. We endure many crosses. We see so much evil, as we have done evil ourselves through our thoughts, words, and deeds.
The return of Jesus means He is going to set everything right. At His first coming, Jesus made the payment for our sin through His death, He offered the payment of His innocent Blood as our ransom, He swallowed up death in victory through His resurrection, and He defeated the power of the Devil. And God in His mercy chose to let the world continue, just as He did for the thousands of years between the Fall of Man into sin and Christ’s first coming. Now the Gospel is being preached to all the nations. The light of Christ is spread all over the globe. And when Jesus returns, He will recreate the heavens and the Earth. He will make death impossible. He will raise our bodies so that they will be glorious, incorruptible bodies. He will make us perfect in every way, and we will live in a perfect place with Him. All tears will be gone. All suffering will be removed. All temptation to sin will be gone. We will see God face to face, and we will live! What glorious things await us! And so, our desire is to watch and pray.
But what does it mean to watch and pray? Those who watch pay attention. God gave us our eyes, ears, and all our members; our reason and all our senses. Our God-given eyes will see the return of Jesus. In preparation for His return (or in preparation to depart this life in peace), our eyes are used to see the Word of God. Our eyes are used to safely navigate ourselves to Church. Our eyes see colorful depictions of the Christian faith. Until we learn them all by heart, our eyes are used to see the text of hymns and so our lips can sing God’s praises.
God gave us our ears to hear the Word of God. As it is written, “Faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ” (Rom. 10:17). Our ears hear the Word, and the Holy Spirit works faith in us through that Word. Our ears hear the lovely sounds of music which aid in the expression of the Christian faith. Our ears are, in fact, the primary instrument of God to watch and be ready for the return of Jesus. Therefore, we diligently listen to the Word as it is read, preached, and sung.
God gave us all our members, which are also instruments of God to watch. God is preparing us to meet Him when we go to the altar to receive the Body and Blood of Christ. With our mouths, we receive Christ who feeds us of Himself for the forgiveness of our sins. In this Sacrament, the Holy Spirit strengthens our faith so that we are ready to meet the Lord when He comes in great glory.
Part of watching involves examination, just as we examine ourselves before receiving the Sacrament. We confess our sin. We admit our guilt. We reconcile with our neighbors. We forgive others. We turn away from the temptations of the devil, the world, and our sinful nature. We watch over our lives and conduct.
Jesus also teaches us to pray. We are to pray without ceasing. Pray when you get up and when you lie down, when you eat, when you are sorrowful, and when you are joyful. Cast all your cares on Him. Give Him thanks for all that He has done. As Christians, we pray throughout the day. But prayer is not meant to be solely a solitary act. While it is good to pray alone, we must also pray as families. Pray together. Use a family altar. Have devotions together. Read the Scriptures together, which gives plenty for us to pray about. And then, of course, we gather in God’s house for prayer. That is one of the primary aspects of our various church services. Just consider all the portions of the liturgy and hymns that are prayers. By being attentive in our frequent attendance, we are, my friends, watching and praying.
Ultimately, to watch and pray means to have faith. This does not just mean head knowledge about Jesus’ birth, death, resurrection, and return. Saving faith involves trust—trusting that Jesus will truly do as He says—that He alone is our Savior from sin—that He will shepherd us through the time of Judgment—that He will acquit us and judge us righteous. Many do not actually trust in Jesus to do these things. They show their lack of trust when they do not watch and pray. For if they truly trusted in Jesus and not in their own devices, they would cling to Him and go where He promises to be found.
Jesus said, “Heaven and Earth will pass away, but My words will never pass away.” Jesus is found in His Word. His Word is truth. He does not deceive us. He teaches what is truly good, right, and salutary in His Word. The Holy Spirit works saving, trusting faith through this Word. That way, when Jesus returns and all these things take place, we will have strength to stand before the Son of Man. We will be ready.
In fact, if we are ready to receive Holy Communion, then we are also ready for Jesus to return. For we are meeting the same Jesus in the Lord’s Supper as when He will come back to judge. Therefore, be watchful. Come to the Lord’s house for prayer. Be prepared to commune with Jesus, both in this life and the life to come. For He is your loving Savior who comes to give you eternal life. Amen.
The peace of God which passes all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus to life everlasting. Amen