You're familiar with "getting" something or not. It's great finally to understand, finally to "get" something. Our text is a hard one to get, though it might not seem so at first. Using 4 imperatives with 3 different verbs Jesus commands us "Be on guard! Be alert! Keep watch!" But for all its shortness and simplicity, do you really "get it?"
First, get the scene. That's part of the problem with getting it. What do we know of servants and masters, of doorkeepers and watches of the night? We may have maids and employees but we don't own servants. We may have a security guard patrolling our neighborhood, but we don't have a butler at the front door, and we don't divide our night into 4 watches. We don't know what it feels like to have these, and more importantly, we don't know what it means to be a servant or doorkeeper waiting for a master.
We understand what the words servant, doorkeeper, master, and waiting mean, but we don't "get it." Some of you would if I changed it to a solider on guard duty. Waiting for Jesus is like being placed on guard duty and being told, "Be on guard! Be alert! Keep watch because you don't know when the enemy is coming." If you've had the experience of being on guard duty, you know you can't sleep; you don't dare close your eyes even for a second.
Still not all of you will get that either, but all of you will get being on guard, being alert, watching for a tornado. Waiting for Jesus to return to end the world is like the weatherman saying we've just gone from a tornado watch to a warning. He pinpoints where the tornadic activity is. You go to the window. You're alert; you're on guard; you're watching closely, carefully. Not only dare you not sleep, there's no way you could sleep.
Do you get it now? Do you get the crisis? Augustine states it plainly: "The last day will find unprepared anyone whom this day finds unprepared." You can't say, "I'll be on guard tomorrow." You can't say, "I'll watch for the approaching tornado next week." Right here is the crisis. Jesus has left us with our assigned tasks. He has left the doorkeeper at the door. He has promised to come back. We've been placed at our guard posts already. The weather warning has already sounded on TV. If you're not as alert as a guard on duty today, if you're not as watchful as homeowner in the path of a tornado today, you won't be on the last day.
Wait, wait, hold on there. I get the scene, but I don't get the crisis. I may be on guard duty, but Jesus doesn't approach as my enemy. He's not the "man" with the gun over there telling me that I must beware. And neither is Jesus a storm. Paul says in 2 Timothy 4, "Henceforth there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous judge, will award to me on that day, and not only to me but also to all who have loved his appearing." No, guard on duty loves the appearing of an enemy. No homeowner loves the approach of a tornado. But doesn't everyone love the appearing of Jesus? Before you give the knee jerk Sunday School answer, make sure you "get" your situation.
Dropping the parable the facts are this. Jesus has ascended into heaven, and He has left each of us our assigned tasks. What are they? Lutherans list them in the Table of Duties which is part of the Small Catechism. From Scripture we state the assigned tasks of a pastor, member, government official, citizen, husband, wife, parent, child, employee, employer, youth, and widow. Read them for yourself. That's what Jesus expects each of us to be doing when He returns for us. Now do you get the crisis? When we're not doing these duties, then we're not prepared, not ready, not on guard, alert, or watching. How then can you love the appearing of Jesus? How then can you not hope He doesn't appear anytime soon?
Jesus has ascended into heaven leaving us our assigned tasks, not things we get to pick and choose, not our "own" thing, but His things. And He has left us with warnings about falling asleep, warnings about apathy towards spiritual things and despair over physical things. We do not love the coming of Jesus when we're more focused on someone or something else. When my wife and I were engaged, we were separated over Christmas. It was a "Blue Christmas" for me. I can still remember the date and time I picked her up at the train station after Christmas. I even remember the temperature. I looked right past Christmas to the one I loved.
We can't say we will love His appearing, when we look right past Him to our things: our Christmas, our gift giving or getting. Neither can we say we love His appearing when we're apathetic toward spiritual things and/or in despair over physical things. When the things of this life eclipse the things of the next, then all that matters is the visible not the invisible, this world that ends not the world without end. Then our despair, loneliness, or worry that is looms larger than the hope, joy, peace that will be when Jesus appears. If the Jesus who is coming weighs little compared to our pains, worries, and fears, we love Him little. How can we love a God who appears powerless, unconcerned, or unwilling to come to our aid? Get the crisis? St. Paul says the righteous Judge awards the crown of righteousness only to those who have loved His appearing.
You "get" the scene and the crisis now; don't leave here until you "get" the Gospel. You don't "get" the Gospel if you're determined to love the appearing of Jesus more than you do anything else. You don't "get" the Gospel if you identify it with your renewed determination to do the things Jesus left you to do. And you're not getting the Gospel if you think now you can, "Keep awake! Be on guard! Be alert!"
The sweet Gospel of Advent can be scented in that passage from Paul. Did you notice the past tense? Jesus awards the crown of righteousness to all "who have loved His appearing." Actually, it's a perfect participle so it reads something like "all who have loved, are loving, and go on loving." Do you "get" how this meshes with the 3 comings of Jesus we celebrate in Advent?
Jesus appeared the first time when few were watching for Him and no one was ready. And who loved His appearing outside of His family? Grubby shepherds, foreign wise men, and old Simeon and Anna. But Jesus came that first time not just to save those who were ready, watching, and loving His appearing, but all humanity. Jesus kept the Law for all those who cannot keep it. If you think you can, have, or do, then Jesus didn't come for you, so you can't love His appearing. He didn't do anything for you. But if the Law is a burden, if the constant "do this" and "don't do that" is too much for you, if you can't bear your life being one long list of do's and don'ts, then you love Jesus' appearing because He has taken the burden of all those laws off you for good and forever.
But still there's the guilt of all that we do wrong. Jesus didn't appear to bear just the guilt of those who welcomed Him. He appeared to bear the guilt of us all. Now if you can bear your own guilt, if you have a way to take care of it yourself, Jesus didn't come for you, so you can't love His appearing. His coming didn't save you from a guilt that devours you. But if the guilt of your sins is too much to bear, know that Jesus carried it away from you in His body. He suffered, sighed, bled, and died for your guilt. God the Son paid off your debt, you won't be, you can't be made to pay again or more. Jesus appearing the first time to remove guilt is a lovely sight to guilty sinners.
Jesus appeared once for salvation. Having won salvation for every sinner you can think of, Jesus ascended to heaven but He didn't disappear. No, Jesus appears today in the Waters of Holy Baptism, in the Words of Holy Absolution, and in the Bread and Wine of Holy Communion. He appears in these 3 things not only to give us the holiness He won by His innocent life and death but to keep us on guard, alert, and watching. St. Paul tells us as often as we eat His Body and Drink His Blood we actively proclaim the Lord's death until He comes. Every Communion service is us calling out to each other to remember the coming Lord.
"I love the habitation of Thy house and the place where Thy glory dwells," sang David in Psalm 26. Sinners who find their sins floating in the Font, sinners who see them sent away in Absolution, and sinners who eat and drink the Body and Blood of the One sacrificed to pay for their sins, love this house because Jesus appears here for sinners.
You "get" the Gospel of His first coming and the Gospel in His continual coming in Word and Sacraments, but what about His Second Coming? You don't really "get" the Gospel there unless you love this appearing, and you can't love it if He comes as your enemy or as a storm. But He doesn't; He comes as the rightful Master of your house. Things haven't been right without Him. Error tramps around as if true. Skeptics and doubters are the wise. Obvious, egregious wrongs are treated as rights. What can us poor, weak, frail servants do when the foundations of our dear Master's House are being destoryed? Unless our Master, our Stronger Man returns for us, the Strong Man will triumph.
We know the rest of the story. We "get it." We know He's on the way that's what we're watching, waiting, praying for. When our Master returns He will destroy the Devil, vindicate the truth, expose the skeptics and doubters as the fools they are, and right the wrongs eternally. On that day Jesus our Master who we have hoped for, watched for, and loved will be visible. All that we got in His first coming and all that we get in His continual coming will be there for all to see, for us to love, and for us to get. Amen.
Rev. Paul R. Harris
Trinity Lutheran Church, Austin, Texas
First Sunday in Advent (20081130) Mark 13: 33-37