4. December 2022
“But take heed to yourselves, lest your hearts be weighed down with carousing, drunkenness, and cares of this life, and that Day come on you unexpectedly. For it will come as a snare on all those who dwell on the face of the whole earth. Watch therefore, and pray always that you may be counted worthy to escape all these things that will come to pass, and to stand before the Son of Man.”
In the holy Name of + Jesus. Amen.
Now that the Christmas decorations are up, the dissonance of Advent is complete. Some have been listening to Christmas carols since October. Some have already completed their gift-buying. Our community had it’s “Night of Lights” with a dramatized Christmas pageant. My son sang in the annual Christmas at Concordia last night. You’re all caught up in the hustle and bustle of holiday, hurtling toward it’s glorious conclusion in three weeks, when you can finally collapse in a chair on Sunday afternoon and relax.
And then you came to church and the dissonance of Advent rings in your ears.You hear no songs of angels, a manger, baby Jesus, and gift-bearing Magi. You hear about God coming forth with a devouring fire, and around Him a mighty tempest. You hear words of judgment against your sin. You hear rebuke for your self-appointed self-righteousness, idolatry of self. You hear about days burning like an oven, where the arrogant and evildoers are burnt to stubble by God, their ashes trampled under you feet. You hear about fear and foreboding of nations, cataclysmic events, and the heavens opened with the Son of Man coming in power and glory with His angel hosts.
You hear not the “O, Jesus, So Meek, O Jesus, So Mild” of Jesus’s nativity, but the of Jesus’s future apocalyptic Advent/Parousia. It’s a big interruption to the so-called Christmas season. It’s a gut-check before the sentimentality of sugar plums, reindeer, and elves overwhelms you. There’s a real danger that the church calendar and her appointed readings and hymns are warning you about. “But take heed to yourselves, lest your hearts be weighed down with carousing, drunkenness, and cares of this life, and that Day come on you unexpectedly.”
Jesus’s warning isn’t just for those distracted by all the Christmas celebration (minus the actual celebration of the Nativity in His church, of course). Feasting and revelry, family and work, can easily distract you from keeping your eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of faith. Jesus is warning you against all the distractions of this life, all the times the hustle and bustle of normal life distract you from the one thing needful, Jesus’s Word and its delivery for you in the Sacraments.
It could be the holiday season, the hunting season, the football season, the vacation season, the planting season, the harvest season, or the day-off season. Sunday morning service is the center of our life together as saints of God. And then, if God’s Word is true, the life received here in Jesus’s forgiveness would bear fruit in daily lives in keeping with repentance. Each day, we would not be distracted from His Word and our prayers but continue to have our eyes fixed on Jesus.
But church attendance and devotional life are easy distractions to pick on and for pastors to complain about. For one thing, I’m held to a higher standard simply because it’s my job to show up even if you don’t. Pastors are no more immune of being distracted by “carousing, drunkenness, and cares of this life.” For me, that’s fanatical devotion to the bloodsport of partisan politics, the latest controversy on social media, or trying to untangle the complicated web of intrigue, scandal, and secret societies that govern our lives. It’s a big distraction. It’s a mix of truth and lies meant to keep me from what only matters in the end. Christ is coming. Christ is coming soon. Your redemption draws near.
Distractions from attention to Jesus and His Word—big or small, seasonal or daily—are all the beginnings of unbelief. What begins as distraction, devolves into neglect, apathy, or obsession. Our excuses are lame, silly, and worthless. You remember the parable, “I’ve gotten a wife” and “I’ve gotten a yoke of oxen” or “I’ve bought a field.” Jesus knows you heart better than you do. He knows that you’ll take any of the gifts He has given—even the celebration of Christmas—and turn it into an excuse for idolatry.
Idolatry is giving your admiration, love, and reverence to anyone or anything that isn’t God. It’s the governing religion of fallen man. We love ourselves more than we love God. We love this creation more than the Creator. We are working hard to save ourselves and need no savior God. Thus, we fashion ourselves into gods, thinking ourselves responsible for everything, whether body, life, or even eternity.
It happens on a grand scale with fanciful notions of one world government or a massive biomedical state that hacks your body into chemical slave dependency. It drives the utopian vision of the trans-humanists who believe they can overcome the curse of God with technology and ingenuity. And it happens on a small scale when all the “dissipation and drunkenness and cares of this life” get in the way of Jesus and His Word getting into your ears and taking root in your heart.
It’s all distraction from what Jesus has said. “For whatever things were written before were written for our learning, that we through the patience and comfort of the Scriptures might have hope.” Your hope, confidence, and even future comes from Jesus and Him alone. Everything else can easily become distraction. Repent and return to Jesus.
“Look up and lift up your heads, because your redemption draws near… Heaven and earth will pass away, but [His] words will by no means pass away… Watch therefore, and pray always that you may be counted worthy to escape all these things that will come to pass, and to stand before the Son of Man.”
The peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, guards your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus. Amen.
Rev. Christopher R. Gillespie
St. John Ev. Lutheran Church & School – Sherman Center
Random Lake, Wisconsin