Grace, mercy, and
peace to you from God our Father, and from our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ,
who is our hope and our strength—today, for all time, and forever.
So… we’ve gone
through several weeks at the end of the church year in which our lessons often
spoke of the end times. Then we passed through the Advent season in a new
church year which also spoke of preparations to receive the Savior, both as the
Christ-child and as the triumphant Lord and King. Are you fed up with hearing
about Jesus’ return? I sure hope you’re not, because, if you stop and think
about it for a moment, that promised return is really the only certain source
of joy and safety that we have, isn’t it?
We’ve had quite a
ride this calendar year on Planet Earth. Ongoing strife in many places around
the globe, some of which are still heating up and threatening to explode beyond
their current boundaries. Financial meltdowns, fueled in part by greed, in
part by nonchalance, and in part by sheer ignorance and incompetence. A year
of politics such as has never been seen before, the drama of which continues
even well beyond Election Day.
As we gather this
evening for worship, it’s fine to acknowledge that New Year’s Eve doesn’t
really have a particular theological importance to us. We come together,
though, because gathering in worship is what Christians do, the more often, the
better. Doing so when reflecting on the events of this earthly life, and upon
both the dangers and opportunities of the future, as many do around the turning
of the New Year on the secular calendar, is a good thing.
It’s a way to keep
us grounded upon those things beyond this life which give us hope and certainty
in the midst of the chaos and anxiety which daily surround us. Hearing the
bold but quiet comfort of God’s promises, and receiving the sure and eternal
benefits of His seemingly ordinary gifts, help us to turn down the volume of
those shrieking in panic and gloom from every direction.
Our Savior Jesus
Christ promises us in the text for tonight that he will come again, and he
wants us to be ready. Like a little child running into his or her father’s
arms as he returns home from work, so also can we receive Jesus with joy, if we
are ready for his return. For Christians, this will be a day we can look
forward to with joy and expectation. It is the day that everything we have
believed in without seeing will become fully visible and fully realized.
Many people do not
think of the second coming of Christ as something joyful. Even many Christians
live in constant fear of the second coming of Christ. They cannot sleep at
night because they do not know whether they are ready to meet Jesus.
Unfortunately, many preachers have fed into this fear by preaching about the
second coming of Christ in a scary way. Maybe they believe they can threaten
people into becoming Christians if they remind them that Jesus will come again
to judge the living and the dead. But those important words from the creeds of
our faith are not a threat to believers—they are a promise; a certainty; a
If you look at the
Bible, neither Jesus nor the apostles tried to scare people to faith by
threatening them with Jesus’ second coming. When they spoke the Gospel and
invited others to receive Jesus, they did it by describing salvation, not
condemnation. They spoke of the identity and life of Jesus Christ, and the
love God has showed us in becoming a human being like you and me. When Jesus
talks about his second coming, it is in order to encourage those who already
believe in him, not to threaten those who don’t. It is to tell them that all
the promises that he has given them will one day be fulfilled.
The text for
tonight contains a beautiful image of what is going to happen when Jesus comes
again: “It will be good for those servants whose master finds them
watching when he comes. Truly I tell you, he will dress himself to serve, will
have them recline at the table and will come and wait on them.” (Luke
Imagine this: You
show up for work one day, and your boss meet you at the door and says: “Today,
I’ll do your job. Instead you can go over to the golf course or the shopping
mall, and enjoy yourself, on me. Here, why don’t you take my car?
sounded just as unbelievable when Jesus told his disciples this parable. This
is just not the way things work in the world, right? It’s the servants or
workers who have to wait on the master or boss, just like Jesus says in another
of you has a servant plowing or looking after the sheep. Will he say to the
servant when he comes in from the field, ‘Come along now and sit down to eat’?
Won’t he rather say, ‘Prepare my supper, get yourself ready and wait on me
while I eat and drink; after that you may eat and drink’? Will he thank the
servant because he did what he was told to do? So you also, when you have done
everything you were told to do, should say, ‘We are unworthy servants; we have
only done our duty.’” (Luke 17:7-10 TNIV.)
That’s how it is
supposed to be when we’re in this life: We serve the master, in gratitude for
all the blessings he provides us. But when Jesus comes again, it will be
different. Then it is the master who will be waiting on his servants. Then
God’s own Son will wrap his apron around him and be the servant of those who
have been expecting him.
Jesus tells his
disciples about his second coming because he wants them to be ready. But he
also tells them that it may take a while before he comes again. And even in
the early Church, there were people who made fun of Christians because they
were walking around waiting for the second coming of Christ. The apostle Peter
was familiar with this situation. He wrote: They will say, “Where is
this ‘coming’ he promised? Ever since our ancestors died, everything goes on
as it has since the beginning of creation.” (2 Pet 3:4 TNIV.)
In response to the
question of the delay of Jesus’ second coming, the apostle Peter continues: “But
do not forget this one thing, dear friends: With the Lord a day is like a
thousand years, and a thousand years are like a day. The Lord is not slow in
keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. Instead he is patient with
you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance. But the
day of the Lord will come like a thief. The heavens will disappear with a
roar; the elements will be destroyed by fire, and the earth and everything done
in it will be laid bare.” (2 Pet 3:8-10 TNIV.)
The fact that
Jesus’ second coming may be delayed is something He wants us to be prepared
for. But he also wants us to be ready to receive him when he comes. He
predicts that there will be some people who are not ready, and they will
receive their punishment.
A few verses
further down from our text for tonight, we read: “The servant who knows
the master’s will and does not get ready or does not do what the master wants
will be beaten with many blows. But the one who does not know and does things
deserving punishment will be beaten with few blows. From everyone who has been
given much, much will be demanded; and from the one who has been entrusted with
much, much more will be asked.” (Luke 12:47-48 TNIV.)
No doubt, verses
like these have caused much fear and worry regarding Jesus’ second coming.
Jesus makes it clear that it is necessary to be ready when he comes. But,
exactly what does it mean to be ready?
First of all, one
thing must be emphasized, and that is what being ready does not mean.
To be ready does not mean to know when Jesus is coming. Jesus makes it
crystal clear that no one knows when he comes again. His second coming will be
equally surprising as his first coming, and we’re just going through the time
of year when we recount how unprepared the world was for him, even among the
chosen people of God. “But understand this: If the owner of the house
had known at what hour the thief was coming, he would not have let his house be
broken into. You also must be ready, because the Son of Man will come at an
hour when you do not expect him.” (Luke 12:39-40 TNIV.)
More than that,
when he was walking around on the earth, Jesus himself did not even know when
he would come again. “But about that day or hour no one knows, not even
the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father” (Matt 24:36
people think that to be ready means to know when Jesus is coming. They make
themselves busy trying to interpret the signs of the times, attempting to
figure out the countdown of the days—almost like an Advent calendar for Jesus’
second coming. It appears that the purpose is to scare people: They claim
that we have now progressed this far according to the schedule of the end times,
so now we have to be looking out. This is a great heresy, a false teaching. A
few years ago, many people tried to tell us that the new millennium would
trigger the return of Christ. But lately, we haven’t heard so much about that,
What does it truly
mean to be ready?
In the verses
following our text, Jesus explains his parable. The servant who is not ready,
he says, is the one who “says to himself: ‘My master is taking a long
time in coming,’ and he then begins to beat the other servants, both men and
women, and to eat and drink and get drunk” (Luke 12:45 TNIV)
In other words,
the unfaithful servant is living his life as if his master would not return.
He thinks he can abuse his power and autonomy as much as he wants, because no
one will hold him accountable. But that’s not the case at all. Jesus says, “The
master of that servant will come on a day when he does not expect him and at an
hour he is not aware of. He will cut him to pieces and assign him a place with
the unbelievers.” (Luke 12:46 TNIV)
Not exactly the
sort of situation most of those who reject Christ are expecting, is it? For
those who are not ready, Jesus’ second coming will be an unpleasant surprise.
The servant who is
ready, on the other hand, is the one who constantly does what his master
entrusted him to do. “The Lord answered, ‘Who then is the faithful and
wise manager, whom the master puts in charge of his servants to give them their
food allowance at the proper time? It will be good for that servant whom the
master finds doing so when he returns. Truly I tell you, he will put him in
charge of all his possessions.’” (Luke 12:42-44 TNIV)
servant does not have to make any special preparation when the master comes.
He is always ready. He does not need to know the time of his master’s
arrival. He is ready, regardless. That is how Jesus is encouraging us to live
our lives. And the good thing is: We know what Jesus expects of us. We know
from the Scriptures what Jesus wants us to do.
The apostle John
tells us about some Jews who came to Jesus and asked him: “What must we
do to perform the works of God?” Jesus answered them, “This is the work of
God: That you believe in him whom he has sent.” (John 6:28-29 NRSV)
It is helpful to
consider what it means when Jesus compares his relationship to the church with
the relationship between a bridegroom and his bride. When Jesus comes again,
he comes to get his bride. That is why the thought of Jesus’ second coming is
not a scary thought to me. Because of the perfect love Jesus has, it means
that nothing will keep me from being together with Him.
In general, we
have a lot of practice in preparation. Our entire lives, in a sense, are about
being prepared. Being prepared to have something to say. Being ready to react
in a certain way to a given set of circumstances in our work. Being ready for
that presentation or that class project or test or quiz. It can be quite
stressful to have this on us at all times.
Do you sometimes
have nightmares about not being ready? I had a dream a few times that I’d
forgotten to drop a class one semester in college. It was coming up on finals,
and I kept dreaming that I still had to show up and take that exam, without
having done any of the readings, attended any of the lectures, or done any of
the homework or prior quizzes or tests. My grade for that class for the entire
semester depends on my lack of preparation. I’ve got nothing.
How can we be
ready for Jesus when he comes again? For us who believe in him, it is not
hard. Thanks to God’s working upon me, I know what I am going to say. I also
know what Jesus will say. That’s why, unlike that dream about the exam, I am
not worried. Because I know that he wants me; he has said so. I know that
he’s prepared me. I know that he came to the world, not to save the righteous,
but to save the sinners. And therefore I know with absolute certainty that he
came for me, and for people like me—sinners. He has done all the necessary
preparations for me.
He called me to
faith through the working of the Holy Spirit in Word and Sacrament. He uses
the power of that same Holy Spirit to continually call me to repentance. He
gives me and He assures me of the reality of His forgiveness, and He
strengthens my faith and equips me to serve him through service to my neighbor.
All this keeps me
in the faith that makes me ready for His joyous and triumphant return, whenever
that happens, in my lifetime or beyond.
As His precious
child, that description fits you perfectly, too. For you, this night—like
every other time of your life in Christ—is indeed the beginning of a very Happy
New Year. When Jesus, your bridegroom comes, you will be ready to run into his
arms, united once again with Him who loves you and gives you the peace which is
beyond all human understanding. In His holy name, Amen.