Sunday, November 30, 2014

What preparations are necessary for the return of Christ?


Besides this you know what hour it is, how it is full time now for you to wake from sleep. For salvation is nearer to us now than when we first believed; the night is far gone, the day is at hand. Let us then cast off the works of darkness and put on the armor of light. Romans 13:11-12

The long awaited Savior, whose incarnation we mark with joy each Christmas, will come to earth one final time, not in poverty or humility, but with great power and glory, not to die again for sins, but to raise the dead.  On that day the long night of waiting will be over, and all who believe and are baptized will be incorporated into the glories of the Church Triumphant.  However far the devil, the world or sinful flesh has pushed us back a Great Reversal will take place when our God returns.  He isn’t coming to fix things or fine tune them but to hit the reset button, to create a new heaven and new earth filled with righteousness in which our every hope will come true.  May this good promise calm our troubled hearts and give us heavenly peace as we begin a new church year.

The opening words of our text are a bit curious.  St. Paul says “besides this you know what hour it is.”  He makes it sound as if God’s people have a special insight into the times, as if we know something the rest of the world doesn’t.  It’s no mistake that he speaks like this because we do.  We don’t know the day or the hour but neither does it matter because we do know the two most important things of all.  First that Christ will return, and second, how to prepare for His coming.

How do we know that our Lord will return?  Not from special revelations, or by studying the Mayan calendar, but from hearing and believing God’s Word.  Scripture teaches that the world had a beginning and that it will have an end; that it had a first day, and that it will have a last day, a day which will coincide with the return of our Lord Jesus Christ, but our Lord’s second coming is not only a future event for Christians.  In his first epistle St. John states that “the darkness is passing away and the true light is already shining” (1 John 2:8).  For Christians the return of Christ is as much a present event as a future one.  We experience it most fully whenever the Gospel is preached and the Sacraments administered.  In these gifts Christ truly comes, and imparts the merits of His death and resurrection to us.

The second thing we know is how to prepare for His coming; not by locking ourselves in our closets with our Bibles, but by dedicating our lives to all the things which Paul teaches in the thirteenth chapter of Romans.  We can think of this chapter as a catechism of Christian behavior while awaiting the Lord’s return.  He tells us here that, though we are citizens of heaven above, Christians are to be fully functioning members of society who obey the laws of the land, who love their neighbors, and who embrace the highest moral behavior.

It’s not only duty that drives us, but also a conscious awareness that our Lord could return at any time.  Every day that passes brings the event one day closer.  Every moment is pregnant with the possibility that Jesus could return and call an end to all the devastation sin has visited upon us.  Those who don’t know God’s Word don’t know where they came from so they can’t possibly know what their final destination might be.  They may have wishes and hopes, all men do, but they have no certain knowledge that can guide them when perplexed, or console them in life’s distress.  We do, Beloved, because we know that however bad things get, Jesus has the final word, and it will be a benediction for us.

We prepare for his coming by waking up from spiritual slumber and casting off the works of the flesh.  Why does Paul say it like this?  Because sin has a powerful sedative effect on us.  It puts us into a deep sleep regarding our present duties and our future destiny, so St. Paul sounds the alarm and pastors in every generation must do the same.

In biblical theology flesh is a synonym for sinful nature.  From its conception flesh is at war with God and there’s nothing that can be done to repair it, change it or even to improve it a little bit.  Flesh is like gasoline; if it gets too near a flame the result is always the same.  You can’t change gasoline by preaching to it or praying for it, and the same is true with sinful nature.  The only way to deal with flesh it is to drive the stake of God’s law through its grisly heart.  Flesh cringes at the law.  It fears it the way vampires fear sunlight and like Superman fears Kryptonite.  It doesn’t like to be hemmed in, told what to do or threatened with divine punishment.

What does flesh love?  It loves all the things the Apostle tells us to cast off in his little catechism.  It loves to party like there’s no tomorrow.  It prefers pleasure over duty.  It loves to get drunk and abandon self-control.  It’s devoted to fornication, adultery, casual sex, internet porn, orgies and every perversion it can think of.  It loves quarreling and jealousy until there’s not a scintilla of happiness to be found, and the whole world is at war with itself.  Is it any wonder, then, that our families are a wreck and our society a disaster?  These are the things that flesh loves, and the things that Paul sounds the alarm about.  There’s no human power strong enough to overcome them, but the Word of God is.  Therefore Paul, speaking as God’s apostle, instructs us to cast off the works of darkness and put on the armor of light!  Jesus is the Light; the light of the world and the light of life.  He is our armor against sin’s curse, death’s sting and the devil’s reign of terror in our lives.

He further instructs us to, “put on the Lord Jesus Christ and make no provisions for the flesh.”  This was done to us and for us in holy baptism.  The Bible says that all who are baptized into Christ are clothed with Christ (Galatians 3:27).  In that primary Sacrament we are dressed in the garments of salvation and robed with our Lord’s own righteousness (Isaiah 61:10).  We’re only baptized once but its benefits are everlasting, and we should remember that sacred event every day.  By contrition and repentance we should daily drown the Old Adam, with all his sins and evil desires, and emerge as new people to live before God in righteousness and purity forever, as we wait for history’s final and finest hour.

We don’t know when it will come, only that it will.  We know how to prepare for it by doing battle every day with temptation and living as new people.  Most importantly we have God’s ongoing Word of love to inform, pardon and empower us.  With these holy gifts we can wait calmly and patiently for the great and awesome day of the Lord to arrive.  Amen.

~Rev. Dean Kavouras

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