We're into Something Good
In 1964 Herman's Hermits sang a delightful song, "I'm into Something Good" about a boy meeting a girl. As the Church's New Year begins we look toward meeting our coming Lord; something tells me we're in to something good. How can that be? The Church's year begins with a season of repentance? True, but repentance doesn't come just from seeing how bad you are, but from seeing how good God is. Romans 2, "Don't you know the goodness of God leads you to repentance?" Something tells me we're into something good.
Part of the problem of seeing the good is our text. We don't get it. We have no experience being household servants. We don't know what it's like to be waiting for a master to come home. Because of the American ideals of freedom and individuality, we can only think that it's not a good situation. We think of servants expecting harshness, disapproval, reprimand as they wait for an evil Scrooge-like master. Do you think this is how Jesus wanted His beloved disciples to wait for Him? Just 2 days after saying these words Jesus is betrayed in Gethsemane and He goes away. Does He want them expecting bad things when He returns? What about you? When you have to leave your kids, do you want them expecting bad things when you return?
But Jesus says, "Be on guard! Be alert! Watch!" Okay, but what are we watching for? Is it a harsh, disapproving, reprimanding Master? If so, then how could Paul say in the Epistle, "You eagerly wait for our Lord Jesus Christ?" So, when we hear this text about watching, we're talking about watching for something we can be eager for. Think of how kids watch the calendar for Christmas. Think of kids waiting for their daddy to come home. Something tells me we're into something good here.
The goal of Jesus telling His beloved disciples this parable wasn't to make them constantly afraid. His goal was to call forth constant expectation, a leaning forward toward something good. The entire world whether it knows it or not, cares about it or not, is waiting for Jesus to return. When Hindus, Muslims, atheists, or agnostics die, none other than Jesus comes for them. When the last trumpet sounds, it is into the courtroom of our Lord Jesus that all creation is ushered, so all wait for Jesus. Here Jesus calls His disciples to watch for Him.
Isn't it true, that generally speaking you wait for something bad but you watch for something good? Kids watch for Christmas not dentist visits. They wait for school to begin in the fall and watch for it to end in the spring. You wait for the mail on ordinary days; you watch for it when you're expecting something good. In watching for Jesus, something tells me we're into something good. Our sin is that we don't see it as good.
The Collect describes us as watching for a Rescuer to deliver us from the threatening perils of our sins. Do you need to be rescued or are you doing just fine with your sins? Are your sins a threat to you or "just the way you are"? Is your Master coming home only to judge you and not also to deliver you? Then no wonder you're not watching for Him like Christmas, but at best you're waiting for Him joylessly and at worst your dreading His arrival!
You're not into something good if the beginning of your Church Year doesn't even have the expectation, the anticipation, that fresh new start feeling you have at the beginning of the world's New Year. This is your sin that needs to be repented of. You have no passion for the coming Jesus. You don't "implore" Him to "stir up His power and come and rescue you, because either you don't believe you need rescuing or you're not expecting Him to be a rescuer. You don't plead for Jesus as Isaiah does "to tear the heavens open and come down" because unlike Isaiah you're not expecting a God "who acts on behalf of those who wait for Him."
You think your sin is that you're not holy enough to meet Jesus. Of course, that is a sin. But it's an even bigger sin to believe that you could be holy enough by trying harder. If Isaiah is right and "all our righteous acts are like filthy rags," how would trying harder help? If our righteous acts are sins, we can't be any better prepared to meet Jesus by doing more of them, can we?
Furthermore, ask yourself this: Why did Jesus come the first time? To carry away the sins of the world. Why does Jesus come today in Words preached into your ears, in Water that touches your body, in Bread and Wine that you eat and drink? To forgive your sins. Why does Jesus come for us in the end? To rescue us from the threatening perils of ours sins. Jesus came, will come again, and comes today to forgive me of my sins, to rescue me from my sins, to deliver me from my sins, and you think what I need to be ready to meet Him is to be less sinful? All of His coming to me is about my having sins and needing Him to forgive and rescue me. So, what His coming the first time, His coming today, and His coming the last time call forth from me is an eager, passionate watching for something good.
I can start the New Year today like the changed Scrooge greeted Christmas morning. The day he had either scorned or ignored year after year was now something good. So it is with us and the Second Coming of Christ. That day is nothing but good for disciples of Jesus, those believing in His First Coming. He came the first time in lowliness to take our place under all the do's and don'ts of God's Law that we've never followed completely. Even though He kept all those Laws, all those Commandments, all those demands, Jesus also bore the guilt and shame of our failures. That sinking, hopeless, despair you have when you realize that you can't be good enough to please God, Jesus, though He pleased God completely, bore for you.
And Jesus bore that bleak despair all the way to the cross to win your salvation. He suffered and died there as a sinner deserving damnation should die: alone, forsaken, in agony, guilt, and tears. That's how the Master of our house left us. He went away suffering and dying in our place. He went away loving us to the end even though that meant going to hell for us. But He didn't stay away. He rose from the dead and came to us breathing peace and the Holy Spirit in the forgiveness of our sins. Then He left again though this time He promised to be with us always to the end of the age. Believing that Jesus came the first time in order to give us forgiveness, life, and salvation, tells us we're certainly into something good when He returns for us again.
Ah, but that's a matter of faith, isn't it? All the while I'm watching for something good, bad things happen all around me and sometimes to me. Even if I'm not sick, I age. Even if I don't have pain in my body, I have pains in my heart. Things all around me preach of badness, yet I'm to believe that I'm into something good? How on a sinful, fallen, bad earth can I watch for Jesus expecting only good things? Only by meeting Him when He comes continually in Word and Sacrament.
Did you catch this is in the Epistle. First Paul says we "eagerly wait for our Lord Jesus Christ to be revealed." Then, Paul tells us how this is possible. "He will keep you strong to the end, so that you will be blameless on the day of our Lord Jesus Christ." How does Jesus keep you strong and blameless? By positive thinking? By making your feel good? By taking your mind of your problems with happy-clappy worship? No, those sorts of things are like crack cocaine, they work quickly, wear off quicker, and leave you in constant need of another hit of positive thoughts, good feelings, or distracting things. And friend, like crack cocaine there is no way you can get enough of them. In fact, the more you use them, the more you crave them. You become a feeling junkie.
So, how does Jesus keep you strong and blameless to the end? By coming to you in Communion. "May this Body and this Blood strengthen and preserve you in the true faith." The early Church referred to Communion as the viaticum which means in Latin "provision for a journey." Communion provides strength to make it all the way till Jesus comes and it preserves you blameless in Him regardless of how poor you feel, how sick you are, how far from God you seem.
Jesus coming to you in Communion is one way you'll be kept strong and blameless to the end. Baptism is another. Baptism is where Jesus clothes you with Himself. Your Baptism is the whole armor of God because in it Jesus Himself covers your flesh and blood. Returning to our Baptism every day in the Name of the Father, Son and Holy Ghost we put on the whole armor of God so that we're able to stand blameless in these evil days all the way till that Last Day when Jesus bids our conflicts cease.
I'm into something good as I start a New Year. I can watch with joy for Jesus to come for me this year because I know when He arrives He'll find me blameless. I'll be blameless because everyday He comes to me in His Word. Everyday the devil, the world and my sinful nature preach sin, guilt, and despair at me trying to weaken me, trying to make me think a harsh taskmaster rather than a loving Savior is coming for me. But Jesus preaches a stronger Word than they. Their words do not have the Spirit or life. Jesus Words have both and give both. They declare me righteous, forgiven, renewed, and prepared to meet my Savior.
The same goes for you. Your Communion, Baptism, and Absolution all tell you that you're into something good as you start a New Year this morning. Expect it; be rejoiced by it as a child watching for Christmas morning. Amen.
Rev. Paul R. Harris
Trinity Lutheran Church, Austin, Texas
First Sunday in Advent (20051127); Mark 13: 33-37