A Time to Watch
Text: 1 Thessalonians 5:1-11
Grace, mercy, and peace be to you from God our Father and from our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.
On these last Sundays of the church year, we have been focused on the anticipation of God’s new creation and His eternal kingdom. In this second-to-last week our readings contemplate the severity of judgement that is only escaped through the gracious intervention of the Lord. Our Old Testament reading from Zephaniah warns Israel about the approaching “Day of the Lord.” This will be a day of wrath against sin and sinners. Those who have been indifferent to God and His Word will be punished as the Lord comes like a mighty warrior to rain down vengeance on His enemies. The message here is that on the “Day of the Lord” there will be ruin and devastation, distress, and anguish for all who do not trust in Him.
In our Gospel reading, as Jesus is about to depart, He reminds His church in the parable of the talents that when He returns in glory, there will be an accounting. To His servants who have been found faithful in their appointed tasks there will be great reward. But for faithless servants who have failed to care for the faith they have been generously given, there will be a casting out into the outer darkness, where eternal separation from the Lord will be the fate.
As in the past couple weeks, our Epistle lesson has us hearing from Paul, who again offers practical counsel to the Christian church about living in this time of anticipation. The day of the Lord is approaching, therefore, children of the light are to wait in sober watchfulness. The day of the Lord’s wrath is coming, yet those who wear the helmet of salvation, purchased by Christ’s blood, are going to escape the wrath to come. Waking or sleeping, we watch alertly and we rest in peace, confident in God’s intervention on our behalf through the work of His Son.
THIS IS THE TIME TO WAIT AND THE TIME TO WATCH
FOR THE COMING OF THE LORD
I’ve found though, that I’m not all that good at waiting, or watching. I’m not sure a whole lot of people are good at these things. Especially this time of year. We’re four days away from Thanksgiving and the anticipation of family visits, time off of work, turkey, and our favorite pies and deserts can make these days pass more slowly than we’d like. And then there’s the entire month on the horizon where we’re constantly reminded of what’s coming on December 25th. The seemingly endless array of activities might make the time pass more quickly, but we often begin to think about the festivities so early that we end up in “hurry up and wait mode.” Hurry up and wait could be an accurate description of the Christian life as well.
While we find plenty of things to keep us busy in the meantime, our lives are really a waiting game for the appointed time of the Lord. The time He’s appointed for the number of days of our lives, or the time appointed when His promised return will occur. Whichever comes first. Our issue is that during this time of waiting and watching we either keep ourselves too busy, or not busy enough.
On the one hand we’re always pressed for time, busy and occupied with many things. It becomes hard to find time on our calendar even for the most important things. We’re like Martha, running and working and doing so much, but failing to focus on the one thing that’s most important. Sitting and waiting and watching at the feet of Jesus and being prepared for His coming. Because He is coming. And our text today tells us that it will be “like a thief in the night.” At a time that’s not for us to know. And yet, we don’t want to be caught unprepared because we’re busy with the busyness of life instead of focused where we’re called to be watchful.
On the other hand, we could very easily become complacent in an effort to always be ready and forget to be about the business God has called us to. They say a watched pot never boils, and perhaps that’s true for those who do nothing but wait and watch for the Lord’s return. Of course we’re called to be watchful and prepared, but God is calling His church to be busy doing His work in the time He’s blessed us to have in this world. We walk a fine line during this time to not become complacent, while at the same time not be too busy that we miss out on the Lord’s coming.
A few years ago, the licenses of two airline pilots were revoked by the FAA because the airplane they were flying flew for 91 minutes with no contact with ground control as they flew 150 miles past their destination city. Their licenses were taken away for “inattention” because it turns out they were researching information about their changing job roles and conditions while they left the plane on autopilot. While it’s understandable that they would want to stay up to date on their jobs, they took their eyes off their primary responsibilities and gave their attention to something of lesser importance.
We too need to remain focused on the most important things as the end nears. And the most important things are what Christ has called us to do. Be watchful. Be vigilant. Don’t become children of the night, Paul says. Don’t fall asleep at the watch. Remain children of the light. Children of the day. Of course this doesn’t literally mean that we can’t sleep, but rather that we are always to be prepared. Paul says to live clean and sober lives in Christ. Put on and fully embrace the breastplate of faith. The faith bestowed in baptism and cultivated by the work of the Holy Spirit. This faith is one that clings to Christ and His work. It’s a faith that’s lived out in love for our neighbor. Faith is not a passive thing. We receive it passively, but it’s lived out actively. We who wear the helmet of salvation need not fear the “Day of the Lord” and the wrath of God since Christ has borne that for us. We can now live in the hope of a glorious eternal future, not the dread of unknown numbers of months or years, waiting to find out our fate. It’s sealed and we of faith are on the right side of eternity.
So, we live soberly in the light of day, anticipating the day when the ultimate goal of our faith is realized. The day when Christ comes to claim His own. And without the fear and anxiety of wondering what our fate will be, our waiting and watching can be characterized by the lives we live for Christ. Lives which show love to those around us. Lives which reflect the sure and certain hope of the resurrection. And lives that build one another up in faith. “Therefore, encourage one another and build one another up, just as you are doing.” That’s encouragement from Paul that we can take to heart today. This is how God would have us live today, whether the end is near or still far off. For we “know neither the day nor the hour.” Be watchful. Be prepared. But also, live as God has called you to live. Amen.
The peace of God which surpasses all understanding guard our hearts and our minds in Christ Jesus.