mercy, and peace to you from God our Father, and from our Lord and Savior,
Jesus Christ. Amen.
on guard! Be alert! Stay awake! Watch! No matter how you say it, the
message is clear. There are dangers we need to look out for. Some lurk in the
shadows and some stand boldly and defiantly in the sun, but if we’re not
careful, they’re going to do us in.
of you may remember the classic police drama, “Hill Street Blues”. The show
featured a great cast, fine writing, and a good blend of both the tedium and
terror that law enforcement officers have to deal with every day.
of the more memorable scenes that occurred on a regular basis in the “Hill
Street Blues” episodes was the daily briefing. Some of you may recall that I
made mention of this scene in another sermon, some months ago. The grizzled
old desk sergeant would give an update to the patrol officers, just before they
headed out to start their shifts. He’d go over many humdrum administrative
details. He’d cover progress on particular cases. He’d give them information
about certain suspects.
after he had covered his list of items, this veteran officer would dismiss the
patrol teams to go to their cars. Chairs would scrape the floor, chatter would
break out, a little horseplay would begin, and then he’d raise his voice above
the din: “Hey, hey, hey!” he’d interrupt. The room would fall quiet again,
and he would give them his parting words in a subdued, sober tone that made
everybody know just how serious he was: “Be careful out there.”
13 of St. Mark’s gospel is Jesus’ sober and serious warning to His disciples.
Although the desk sergeant’s daily warning to the patrol officers was important
to their physical safety, Jesus’ warnings to watch and stay alert have far
greater importance for us. Failure to heed Jesus’ words will endanger not only
our health and our lives, but our very souls. This entire chapter, which is
sometimes referred to as “The Little Apocalypse” because it contains Jesus’
revelation of what will happen at the end times, is the Lord’s longest
discourse in the entire gospel of Mark.
to some of the lengthier lectures Jesus gives in the other gospels, it’s rather
modest, but do not underestimate its importance: St. Mark places it
immediately before the Passover at which Jesus would be crucified. In fact, the
very next section in Mark’s gospel is the plotting of the chief priests and Pharisees.
Here, though, Jesus takes the opportunity to give the disciples fair warning about
what will happen at the end times.
hear much about the end times over the final few Sundays of each church year. We
hear about the separation of sheep and goats. We hear about the judgment
against those who do not treat the least of Christ’s brethren—our neighbors—as
they would treat Jesus Himself. Jesus also tells us about the destruction, and
persecution, and deception, and disasters that we can expect when the end is
approaching. There is the telling of the preparations that the wise should
take, to be sure their spiritual lamps have adequate oil as the bridegroom
these words inform us that the times leading up to Christ’s harvest of His
elect will be troublesome. Yet we can also be confident in the assurance that
He will sustain and support us through our own final days.
as Advent begins, we prepare for the celebration of Christ’s coming as a human
baby: humbly, quietly, reflectively. We wait and watch once again with the
prophets and all the people of the new Israel, the Christian Church.
are hopeful that our Savior, our Messiah, is coming soon. Yet it is fitting
that Advent, too, includes a focus on the end times and the judgment of God.
For, even as Christmas approaches, we must keep watch also for His coming as
triumphant heavenly king, victorious over sin, death, and the Evil One.
message of Jesus’ discourse in today’s reading—the message, in fact, of the
entire chapter—may be summed up in Jesus’ final words of the reading: “Watch!”
This word is clear. It is emphatic. It is imperative. Taken at face value,
the reading can strike deep fear into even the most faithful Christian—and well
it should. Uncertainty is always something that gives us anxiety, whether it’s
about job or school, family or finances, safety or health.
about all the uncertainties you face every day; all the concerns for yourself
and your loved ones; all the precautions you take. You try to prepare for and
minimize the negative consequences of whatever you think might affect you and your
family. Now, multiply all that uncertainty by more than six billion people on
this earth. Now, increase it yet again, for all the dozens and dozens of
generations that have lived since our earthly father and mother corrupted
themselves and brought worry and fear, sin and death, into this world. That’s
the sort of uncertainty that surrounds the end of time.
and I have no idea when that’s going to happen, do we? Your neighbors don’t
know; your bosses and teachers and friends don’t know. Anybody who claims to
know is selling you a very smelly bill of goods. The angels don’t have a clue,
either. Even our Lord Jesus Himself, the very Son of God, does not know when
the end will come. Therefore, Jesus gives everyone fair warning: “Watch!”
early Christians took Jesus’ warning seriously. Two of the most common names
in the early church were Gregory, which comes from the Greek word for “watch”,
and Vigilantius, the Latin equivalent for one who is vigilant, who keeps watch.
early believers knew and understood what we sometimes forget: That although
Jesus had physically ascended to heaven, He would return unexpectedly, and
would take account of His servants. He would see just how they had acted and
taught and conveyed His word to their fellow Christians and to the heathen as
He had commanded them.
apostles not only obeyed, they repeated the commandment of the Lord to their
own disciples. St. Peter admonished his readers, “Be sober, therefore,
and watch and pray.” St. John said, “Blessed is he who watches.”
St. Paul exhorted his readers, “Watch, stand fast in your faith, be
how are you doing on this? Are you watchful? Do you keep this command of our
Lord? Are you on guard and alert, watching over the master’s house with due
diligence, carefully performing your assigned tasks? Or do you want to do some
other task of your own choosing? The one assigned to some other worker in the
house—to the doorkeeper, perhaps? Or do you not want to do your work at all,
but rather ease off, let down your guard, and fall asleep? The owner may
return suddenly, and find you not as He ought, but sleeping.
difficult as it sometimes is to stay awake physically and mentally in this
world, that is nothing compared to the difficulty of following Lord’s
imperative that we should all stay alert, spiritually speaking. Stay awake. Just
how do we do that, faced with all the challenges of this life?
of all, there is our human need for physical sleep. How does one possibly
maintain spiritual alertness if our conscious minds are switched off while we
are fast asleep? Then there’s the matter of our daily responsibilities, which
often require every bit of our concentration. We are largely incapable of
meditating on spiritual matters at the same time we are attending to worldly
then there’s the honest admission that, even when we do turn our attention
to spiritual things, even here in God’s house, it is still all too easy for our
minds to drift so that our thoughts and devotion are not as pure as they should
be. No matter what we do, we always seem to fail somehow at the Lord’s
instruction to “Stay awake.”
a conscious, effort-filled viewpoint, this is entirely true. WE can’t stay
awake, not according to our own dedication or efforts.
face it—even if we could forego sleep, and willfully concentrate all of
our thoughts upon spiritual things around the clock, we are still, by nature,
sinful and unclean. That corruption runs through every fiber of our being.
it is something we can’t change. While we might be able to confess some
specific known sins, and by the strength of God the Holy Spirit overcome a few
wrongful habits, we can never conquer what we are through and through—poor,
miserable sinners, who deserve nothing but punishment, now and forever. It is
hard for us to follow Christ’s warning to “stay awake” when there are so many
things in this world that would lull us into the drowsy slumber of unbelief.
name one common failing, we are not spiritually awake when we opt for
physical sleep rather than worshipping on Sunday morning or at other worship
opportunities. We find excuses or other priorities that sometimes keep us from
returning to the Lord’s house to listen to His promises, and to be nourished again
and again by His body and blood.
also fall spiritually asleep when we do come to the Lord’s house, or
when we do conduct personal devotions, yet allow our worship to be
mindless and automatic. Often the words get repeated simply out of rote
habit, like modern-day Pharisees, without thought or care or understanding.
are not spiritually awake when we focus on the things of this life, building up
a false security for ourselves in our work, or our studies, or investments, or
possessions, or even in human friendships. We shouldn’t expect that these are
somehow going to endure any more than the magnificent temple the disciples saw
its own end, even that massive and solid structure was thrown down to rubble
and dust. Not one stone was left upon another. Are the edifices we carefully construct
for ourselves any more likely to last?
are not spiritually awake when we don’t apply the same forgiveness to others
that Christ has applied to us. We often don’t see the need or feel the
inclination to convey the blessed Gospel message of salvation to those outside
the Church. Don’t ever think that there is anyone who is beyond your love,
beyond your forgiveness. They aren’t beyond God’s love and forgiveness,
when He is perfect and you are not, so it’s a much shorter reach for you.
you may very well find that some people in this world will mistreat you. But
what kind of message about Christ and Christians do you convey to them, if you
refuse to forgive them when they repent of what they have done against you?
does that say for your own belief in the mercy and grace of God? God snatched
you out of the eternal fire, in spite of your own faults and stubbornness. Shouldn’t
you also forgive those who have trespassed against you, as God has freely
we are not spiritually awake when we do not recognize and resist and reject the
evil of the world around us, and when we end up accepting or acquiescing to
it. We hear in the headlines about individuals literally getting away with
murder. Society gives approval and bestows rights so that people may legally
engage in things God has deemed abominable. Sinful behavior is foisted on our
culture as just an individual choice. Celebrities advocate false,
human-centered religions, and people flock to their concerts and movies. Through
it all, many Christians just shrug and remain quiet.
an ice-cold splash of water in the face of a sleeping person, we must be
awakened to the fact that what so much of the world now deems normal,
acceptable, or even admirable is in fact deviant, destructive, and demonic.
warning alarm, our spiritual wake-up call, begins here, in this place. Right
here, where God shows us His love most clearly—in the cross of Jesus.
Here, where the benefits of Christ’s crucifixion become ours personally, in the
promises and power of His Word and Sacraments. Our faith, our strength to stay
alert and perform our assigned tasks, God builds up right here, where He
blesses us with His gifts.
we are shaken out of the slumber of a monotonous, mindless spirituality when we
pray not for what we would wish to have, but what Almighty God would
have for us. That is why we pray in the name of Jesus. It is His mercy
and His shed blood, not our own worthiness, which pleads for us before
the throne of the Father.
one comes to the Father except through Jesus. And that’s how we can know that
our prayers are Spirit-led and not self-centered: when they focus on the person
and work of Christ, and on the will of the Father.
we are tempted to doze off in the foggy bliss of chasing and enjoying worldly
things, He won’t let you be lulled into thinking that this world is all there
is. Christ redeemed you to be His own so that you might be with Him—not just
for an hour or so every so often when you can reluctantly drag yourself here,
but forever. You are His treasure, His pearl of great price. The focus
of our faith is Christ, and the end result of that gift of faith is eternal
life with Him.
we forget our assigned tasks in the Master’s household, He reminds us that we were
reached by the power of His Word. He helps us carry out our mission to reach
others with the Gospel, because we live for others by living for Him.
to what the apostle Paul said: “He died for all, that those who live
might no longer live for themselves but for him who for their sake died and was
raised,” (2nd Corinthians 5:15).
then, Christ stands with us before kings and governors and powers of this world.
He helps us to speak out against the evil and sin that constantly tries to
advance against His church, and tries to lead away the saved and unsaved alike.
We are not to conform ourselves to this
world, pretending that unrighteous behavior is irrelevant to Him. The
unchangeable God has not changed His own view on any moral issues over the
centuries based on our cultural changes.
God calls us to holy living, and to reject evil and unrighteousness, in
recognition of the holiness that Christ gave to us at the cost of His life. To
put it simply, each of us is to walk in a manner worthy of our callings, and to
use our callings as a conduit for His truth and righteousness and mercy.
be spiritually awake means to be honest in our repentance, to recognize our
weaknesses in the face of all that would do harm to our faith. It doesn’t
matter whether it’s our apathy about our need to feed our faith here in the
Church, or if it’s that seductive and sedating temptation to quit fighting
against the world’s corruption and simply “go with the flow.” In either case,
the results will be deadly. We would be found asleep when the owner of the
calls us to alertness. He rouses us to readiness. His call is anchored in the
trust He has bestowed on us through what He has done—not what we ourselves are
able to do. Our only hope to remain truly alert and about the Master’s
business is to cling to the promises of God’s grace through Jesus Christ, which
assures us that Jesus died to take away all of our sin.
that is precisely what it means to be alert and awake—that we are clear-minded
of that fact that Jesus has done it all. There is no more rousing, stimulating,
jubilant thing to awaken our spiritual lives than to know that Jesus is our
only Savior, and that His saving work has been fully accomplished for us.
can take great comfort that there is One who has stayed awake and kept the
vigil for us, and will continue to do so. He is our strength to perform our
assigned tasks in His household, in the midst of all our weaknesses and all the
world’s distractions. When we are weary, He is watchful. When our minds are
clouded with confusion, He sees the truth with clarity. He safeguards each of
us, His precious ones, for the glorious day of His return.
that instant—whether we are sound asleep in our beds, or awake and preoccupied
with the tasks of the day—when the Lord returns with all the suddenness and
jolting shock of a phone call in the darkness of night, we need not worry that
we will be caught unawares and with no time to gather our wits.
readiness for heaven is not dependent upon Your own watchfulness and preparations;
it depends on Jesus Christ alone.
His life, death, and resurrection, He has made you worthy. By His ascension,
He has gone before you into heaven to prepare your place. In the gift of
faith, He has applied His righteousness to you, and made you His own.
therefore; be awake. It is the Advent of your Savior. Amen.