Sermon audio here.
I’ve yet to meet a child who doesn’t look forward to Christmas morning. No child is afraid to go to bed on Christmas Eve for fear of what Christmas morning will bring. No matter how rotten they’ve been, they never seem to worry that Santa will actually make good on his threat and leave coal in their stocking. No—they’re so excited by the thought of opening gifts in the morning they can hardly sleep! Maybe it was just my imagination running wild, but one year I could have sworn I heard reindeer on top of my roof!
If your house is anything like ours, one quick glance inside will tell you that Christmas is near. The decorations are out, the tree is up, and our house is practically a FedEx distribution center! Every day, it seems, something new shows up at the door (we don’t go out on black Friday, we order just about everything online). Jesus talks about the “sign of Jonah,” but in my house, you can tell Christmas is coming by the sign of FedEx. When the boxes start piling up, there’s no mistaking it. Christmas is near.
No sooner does Thanksgiving end than they’re making their lists and checking them twice. The radio’s been playing the songs of the season since November 1st. Families rehearse the story of Santa, who he is and what he comes to do. They know he comes to give gifts and make children happy. What else would they expect? And so they count down to Christmas morning with eager anticipation. They know the nature of the one who’s coming.
There will also be signs of our Lord’s Second Advent: signs in the heavens, the distress of nations, roaring of seas, and people fainting with fear. Like the budding of leaves and the song of the sparrow which signal the end of winter, when you see these things happening, you know the Kingdom of God is near.
But then our Lord says something strange. He says, “Watch yourselves.” You might expect Him at this point to elaborate on the signs or tell us to watch for them. But He doesn’t. He says, “Pay attention to yourselves.” It seems counterintuitive. Why tell us about these signs if what you’re really supposed to watch is yourself?
But think about it. All of the signs Jesus mentions are very ordinary things, things you see and experience every day. When aren’t there signs in sun, moon, and the stars? When aren’t the nations in distress and perplexity? These things are always with us. You can’t tell by looking at these signs when Jesus will come. Only the Father knows the Day and Hour. So don’t worry about the signs, worry about yourself. Be ready.
You certainly don’t want to be on the wrong side of the Judgment when our Lord returns. Malachi said that day would be like one big cremation party for the arrogant and evildoers, only they’ll be thrown into the furnace while they’re still living. Christ warns that the Day will come upon some suddenly, like a trap.
The way to avoid this is to watch yourself so that you will not be caught by surprise when these things take place. Make sure, as St. Paul said in our epistle, to “Live in harmony with one another… that you may with one voice glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.”
But how often, instead of taking these things to heart, have you filled your life with discord? The stain of conflict is found on all of our relationships. Not even those closest to us are exempt. Instead of lifting up our voices together in unity, we often raising them up against one another, against spouse, children, family, friends, coworkers, even brothers and sisters in Christ.
Conflict is a bitter fruit of failing to watch yourself. To make no effort to reconcile, whether it’s with friend or foe, is to fail to heed Christ’s warning to prepare for His return. There were lots of people who didn’t like Jesus, but He loved even them, and He calls you to do the same and love your enemies.
Reconciling conflict, watching your words and keeping evil thoughts about others in check, is essential to living by faith. When you make no effort to embody the love of Christ, you behave as the demons. How would you feel if your Lord returned right in the middle of an argument you were having or while you were treating someone poorly?
Whether or not Christ returns in the heat of the moment isn’t the point. He sees and knows about it all whether He returns to catch you in the act or not. Christ is risen, and while this is good news in terms of knowing He’s overcome death, it also means He’s aware of everything that’s going on in your life now. So He warns, “Stay awake at all times.” Repent, and be ready. Glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ with one voice.
This is one of the reasons our liturgy & hymns are so wonderful. They keep us lifting up our voices together. Even though congregations are prone to conflict—yes, even ours—still we gather together, still we glorify Christ in unison, with one voice, when we confess the creed, sing the hymns, and pray the Lord’s Prayer. Together we hear His Word. Together we are called to repentance. No one is exempt from our Lord’s discipline.
It’s difficult. We tend to be more concerned with the bad things others have done to us than with the bad things we’ve done. When it comes to the sin of others you’re hyper-vigilant, but lethargic when it comes to your own.
Though, like the disciples in the Garden, you’ve become sleepy and haven’t watched yourself, the Psalm reminds you that there is One who neither slumbers nor sleeps, who always has His eye on you for good. Christ has gone ahead of you to make all the necessary preparations, to prepare a place in heaven for you. By His death and resurrection, He has ransomed you back from the power of the evil one, and by His Holy Spirit, He grants you repentance and faith that you might be found ready at the time of His Coming.
Even today, He’s preparing you for His return. His discipline and call to repentance are signs of His love. He has already claimed you as His own in Holy Baptism. You heard His voice again this morning speaking His gracious Word of Absolution. If you want a sign, look no further than His true Body and Blood, given for you. You need not fear Christ’s return any more than a child fears Christmas.
Somehow we’ve gotten this strange notion that our Lord’s Second Advent will be terrifying, even for those whose scarlet sins have been made white as snow. Not so! The cross shows you the nature of the One who is Coming. Christ’s Second Advent will be no more terrifying than the First. For Christians, the Last Day will be Christmas 2.0, even more joyful than that holiest of nights when shepherds kept watch over their flocks. On that Day, Christ will set you free from everything that troubles you—for good. Like Christmas, but even better.
Soli Deo Gloria