Prepare(d) to Meet Thy God
In our Detroit inner city neighborhood flashed a neon sign bearing the words of Amos 4:12. "Prepare to Meet Thy God." It was surreal. Its eery blue glow pierced through darkness, snow, and rain ever preaching to a city that didn't seem all that concerned. How about you? Are you concerned with being prepared to meet your God?
The God we're to be prepared to meet is none other than the Son of Man. That's what Jesus says in our text. "As it was in the days of Noah, so it will be at the coming of the Son of Man." Acts 10 says, Jesus "is the One who has been appointed as Judge of the living and the dead." John 5 says that the Father "has given all judgment to the Son," and that "He gave Him authority to execute judgment because He is the Son of Man." Acts 17 says the Father "has fixed a day in which He will judge the world in righteousness through a Man." On that last great day when the trumpet sounds the Bible says we'll look up and see the Son of Man, not God the Father on the judgment seat.
As the Church begins her year, we remember we're not waiting for a Baby but a Man, not for a God who veils His divine power in humble flesh and blood, but for a God who uses all His divine power as a Man. We're not waiting for God the Son to descend into the womb of the Virgin Mary but God the Son to descend to judge the living and the dead. We're waiting for One we caused immeasurable pain and suffering.
Now doesn't this put a whole different spin, texture, feel to this time of year? Think how different your lawn would look if was decorated with an adult Jesus standing with a lightening bolt in His hand rather than a Baby Jesus in a manger. Think how different the malls would be if instead of Christmas carols playing shoppers heard, "But sinners filled with guilty fears,/ Behold His wrath prevailing,/ For they shall rise and find their tears/ And sighs are unavailing;/...They trembling stand before His throne,/ All unprepared to meet Him." Christmas would be a lot more serious wouldn't it? It would be time for preparing more than gifts, meals, and trees because more than a holiday is closing in on us; an eternally important day is.
"Prepare to Meet Thy God" the neon sign shouted over that populated Detroit neighborhood. The houses were so tightly packed together that from my second story it looked like you could walk from rooftop to rooftop with no jumping. In all those houses there were only 2 groups who would be meeting Jesus. There were sheep and goats; wise and foolish maidens; the taken and the left. Just as it was in the days of Noah so would it be in the days of the coming of the Son of Man. As in Noah's day there were only 2 groups, those inside the ark and those outside. So on the last day there will be only 2 groups: those inside the Church and those outside the Church.
What you need to repent of today is believing that there are 3 groups. In addition to the saved and the damned, there is a group that is neither. You will not place those who have and want nothing to do with the Church, do not worship at the cross of Jesus, do not bow before the God/Man Jesus, outside of the Church where they really are. And you will not place them inside of the Church where you know they aren't, so you place them in a 3rd group.
Under the banner of "who am I to judge," what you're really doing is confounding Law and Gospel. You don't clearly share either with them. You don't let the Law in all it's fury land on them. You say, "You should go to Church." Or, "You ought to come to Church." You don't tell them the truth they will hear on the last day: Those who won't hear His Word in time will hear in eternity, "Depart from Me; I never knew you." You don't tell them that all their excuses mean nothing to Jesus. You don't tell them Jesus the Groom will reject those who despise His beloved Bride, the Church, as a loving husband does a person who despises his wife.
You don't speak true Law to those in your third group, and you don't speak true Gospel either. You try to woo them into Church with food, fellowship, friendship, direction in life, purpose for living, or better feelings. None of these are the sweet Gospel of the forgiveness of sins. All of these are a great reason to join a social group, but a lousy reason to go to Church.
There are only 2 groups on their way to meet the returning Jesus. Right now they can be as close as 2 men in a field or 2 women in a kitchen, and though we choose to make no distinction, the Lord will. But stop wondering what group the person next to you is in. Jesus doesn't direct you there. He directs you to your own preparation not that of others. It's like when you're on a plane. The safety briefing tells you to first put on your own oxygen mask before trying to assist someone else. So it is with preparing to meet God. First see to yourself; then from the safety and certainty that the oxygen of salvation is flowing to you, help others.
This is where the problem is. Not with others who aren't in Church but with you, yourself who is in Church today. People always want to talk about other people's souls, sins, and preparedness, not their own soul, sins, or preparedness. If the Law in this sermon has put the fear of God in you about someone else, then you haven't really heard it. The desperate cry, "Lord how shall we meet thee," is to come from our hearts when we hear the command, "Prepare to meet thy God;" otherwise we haven't really heard it.
But to those of you who have really heard that sharp command, I say, "Lift up your hearts!" You're meeting one who has always been here. The phrase "coming of the Son of Man" translates the Greek word parousia which really means "presence." On the Last Day, Jesus reveals, unveils what has always been here. He doesn't make sheep or goats but reveals who are the sheep and who are the goats. He doesn't bring the Church on earth with Him but reveals who's inside and outside of her. God tells us in Scripture that the return of the Son of Man is really a parousia because once the Son of Man descended into the womb of the Virgin He never left earth again.
You know at His first Coming, God the Son took on flesh and blood in the womb of the Virgin Mary. You know that by doing so God the Son put Himself under all the laws of God that men are required to keep. All the do's and don'ts, the ought to's and should's that hang over your head, Jesus did perfectly. Jesus did them so perfectly that God the Father is satisfied. He says, "Yes, My holy Law has been kept." But you know that's not all Jesus did. Keeping the Law wasn't enough. God's wrath against sinners who break the Law also had to be satisfied, not just the pain but the shame. All the guilty fears you feel have been endured by Jesus. You are not to endure them any longer. All the accusations you hear about how you have lived your life, raised your kids, been a church member, husband, wife, or child, you are to no longer listen to. Those guilty fears and accusations Jesus heard and bore His whole life and particularly on the cross, so you don't have to.
Now friend, if you carry a load for someone up a hill, would you want that person to go back down the hill and carry it up too?. No, that would be a waste of your effort and love for them. That's how it is with Jesus. You worship Him best, thank Him properly for what He did, when you don't listen or respond to guilty fears or accusations and enjoy being safe on top of the hill of salvation.
You know what Jesus did when He first came. He met God carrying all your responsibilities and all your sins and He satisfied God eternally. But don't think when Jesus ascended He left earth. No, He promises that when 2 or 3 are gathered in His name, He's right there, and that He's with us always even to the end of the age. He promises to be as close to us as our Baptismal waters saying, "As many of you who have been baptized, you have put on Christ." He promises to be as close to us as our ears are to our pastor's lips saying "He who hears him hears Me." And from Maundy Thursday on Jesus locates His Body and Blood for us on earth in the Sacrament of the Altar.
The only way you can be prepared to meet your God is by that God. He doesn't prepare you to meet Him by putting you on pins and needles, and that's what you'll be if you look for Jesus as you would a thief in the night. Every creak, bump, and noise in the night will frazzle your nerves. This can't be what our Lord is calling us to because just 6 verses from now He tell us the parable of the 10 maidens waiting for the Groom where all 10 fall asleep. Preparedness can't be a matter of never sleeping. It is a matter of knowing the God who never sleeps. You are prepared to meet your God by living with that God daily, by seeing that He is not a long way away from you at all but always present with you.
You are prepared to meet your God by having God's Word of forgiveness ringing in your ears rather than the accusations of the devil, the world or even yourself. You are prepared to meet your God by having God's Water continually washing over your heart bearing your sins away from you. You are prepared to meet your God by using His Body for Food and His Blood for drink.
"Prepare to Meet Thy God" haunted that Detroit neighborhood's night. That law ought to haunt you too when you're caught up in the eating and drinking, the marrying and giving in marriage of this world and ignoring the ark of the Church. But when you're fleeing for refuge to your Baptism, for forgiveness to the Absolution, for salvation to Christ's Body and Blood, you are to hear thundering in your ears: "You have been and still are prepared to meet thy God." Once you hear this reverberating in your ears, then turn to help those unprepared. Then you'll be doing so not to relieve your guilt but because your guilt has been relieved. Amen.
Rev. Paul R. Harris
Trinity Lutheran Church, Austin, Texas
First Sunday in Advent (11-28-04); Matthew 24: 37-44