It was April of 2020. We in this state were still in the midst of a lockdown, and yet my wife and I were still trying to get important things done. And so we found ourselves in the office of a banker about to finalize a refinance on our home. Interest rates were (and still are) quite low – it made financial sense. Anyways, we are sitting there talking to our lender – she knows I’m a pastor – and she says to me, “Do you think this is the end?” I said, “What do you mean?” And, she replied, “Is this pandemic the beginning of the end time, Judgment Day?” That struck me.
That struck me because here I was working on a home loan refinance and this woman was thinking about Christ’s second return. Here I was excited to get a lower mortgage payment, but now I realized I might not get to enjoy that savings because, well, Jesus might be coming. Here I was waiting in the back of my mind for Jesus’ return, when I should have been watching. But honestly, how was I to know? And, as we all have now seen, Jesus still has not come back, no, not yet at least, but he will come. But, when?
That’s that question, isn’t it? When will Jesus come? Jesus himself is pretty clear on that topic. In our lesson today, he says, “No one knows.” Even Jesus, according to his human nature, did not know the day when he would come back. So, what’s his advice? “Be on guard! Be alert!”, and later he says in verse 35, “Keep watch!” Maybe you’ve noticed, but those are all action words. God wants us to actively be ready and watching for Christ’s return. Watching is exciting; waiting is boring. Watching is expecting something to happen; waiting is, well, waiting to see if anything does happen. So, are you watching or waiting?
That brings me back to the bank. That woman was watching for Christ’s return. It was on her mind. I was waiting. I didn’t consider that maybe something like a global pandemic might be the next step before Christ’s final return. Martin Luther once said that he only had two days on his calendar today and that day. Not me I have today, holidays, vacation days, workdays, birthdays, and just about every other day on my calendar except that day. I am willing to guess your own calendars look similar to my own, which is a little scary because in two different sermons Luther doesn’t have nice things to say about those who aren’t watchful for Christ’s return. In one sermon he preached, “The sin which God considers the greatest sin of all, the one he condones or tolerates less than any other, is the sin of His people not acknowledging His Day of Judgment.” In another sermon, Luther quotes St. Jerome saying, “‘If there is any joy in this present life, then one should enjoy it in such a way that the gravity of the coming judgment does not leave our mind not fall from our memory.”
We might think Luther is being a bit harsh here, but did you know that, according to Dr. Charles Sweeting of the Moody Bible Institute, in the 260 chapters of the New Testament there are 318 references to the second coming of Christ. That figures out to almost 1 verse of every 30 being about Christ’s return. It obviously is an important topic. And that’s the case here. This entire section is about Christ’s second coming.
Finally, all of this really brings us to yet another question, “How?” If this coming of Jesus is such a big deal, how are we to always be watching and not just waiting for it? Well, let me ask you this question. Did you have anyone over for Thanksgiving this year? Maybe you did maybe you didn’t, but either way, if you are inviting someone into your home for the day, or for several days, do you just sit and wait for them to come? Or do you prepare? Plan some meals out, clean some bathrooms, vacuum, dust, that sort of thing? Watching means being prepared; you get ready. Jesus says something similar – take a look – while he is gone, he left his servants, left us “each with an assigned task,” but then notice in verse 36, he says, “If he comes suddenly, to not let him find you sleeping.” Jesus wants us to be ready.
Think again of when you invite someone into your home. You want everything to be pristine, you want the food to taste good, for your guests to be comfortable, and you think you’re ready. But then your kids bust out some toys and make a mess, you overcook one of the main dishes, you miscounted how many chairs you needed and now an adult is sitting with the kids…you weren’t ready. That brings me to this point: the real sin, the real failure in this lesson is thinking you are watching and prepared to meet Jesus when you are not. So, how can you and I watchfully-prepare to meet Jesus?
It can’t mean that we are literally always awake and never sleeping as Jesus indicates here. It doesn’t mean that we just ignore the day-today occupations of life to only watch for his return. It cannot be a matter of having enough faith because each of us are plagued with doubts, fears, and worries and what, honestly is “enough faith?” That sort of faith measuring leads either to self-righteousness or self-doubt. Nor then can being prepared consist of never sinning – that’s not possible for us. So, where does that leave us?
I’m thinking of our second lesson for today. I’m thinking of Noah and the flood. Between that day he first heard that the world was going to be destroyed and the day those flood waters arrived a hundred years later, Noah lived in the same world in which he always lived. Yet, everything was now different for him personally. “In his mind he saw the shops where he gathered supplies, the town square where the important matters of the community were discussed, the homes of people he knew – he saw everything, under water.”
That likely clarified things for Noah, and I hope it does also for us. Everything here, every possession we enjoy, every luxury we have worked for, our homes, our cars, our retirement funds – all of it, means nothing when Jesus returns. Ultimately, that means this, you have no future here. Part of our preparation as we watch for Christ’s return is removing those temporary things of this world that divert our eyes and attention from the one who is coming back. But that is only part of it – go back to Noah. What do you think he saw when he looked at his family, at his own children? He didn’t see them underwater, these he got to keep. “He could see his family lifted up by the water, salvaged out of that condemned world, and set down in another.” There was a future for them and for him, and this is what it means to be prepared.
While our natural tendency, when thinking about the end of time, is to ask “when will this happen?” Today we are taught to ask a different question, not when but who? “Being prepared means looking around and knowing that everything you see will be destroyed sometime very soon. Everything…but you.” And the only reason this is a certainty is not because of you, it’s because of him, Jesus. Jesus is the one who prepares us for his second coming. By faith in Jesus you and I are snatched up and held already in the hands of God. And there, in his hands, God keeps us prepared, watching, not waiting, through the means of grace. By the waters of Baptism, we are inseparably bonded to Christ, lifted, Noah-like, by water. In Christ’s body and blood, we are given the guarantee of being heirs with Christ.
Notice in the words before us, the servants, the doorkeeper, they are not trying to get into the house, they’re already in the house. And so, they diligently do their assigned tasks, which, notice there too, Jesus doesn’t detail what those tasks are because the important point is that they are in the house watching for their master to return. they’re already in the house. now they are just watching for their master to return. That’s us, we already know heaven is ours – we are in! – so now we watch. And, in the Word, we are reminded of this again and again, so that we are never spiritually asleep when Jesus returns.
And so, to make it through this world and leave in your wake a life that has been well lived, you and I have learned to look out at this world and to want something else. “We want to know Christ.” And, you know what? That is why we also watch with bated breath each year for the announcement of the word made flesh, the birth of our Savior. Because there in that manger we are reminded that God was hear once; he kept that promise, which means he will keep his promise to come again. That is how we watch. We seek him every day. We seek his kingdom. We seek to find others whom we can bring with us, and we encourage each other. Then we will all be ready to meet Jesus…and he is coming! So, perhaps it is fitting to end with his own words, “What I say to you, I say to everyone: “Watch!” Amen.
 Paustian, More Prepared to Answer, pg 96,97