Readings: Isaiah 1:1-9; Psalm 24; 2 Peter 3:1-10; Matthew 25:1-13
There is an old story about how, in the days leading up to the Christmas holidays, the ticket counter at a certain airport had become unusually overcrowded by those who had waited until the last minute to purchase their tickets. One of those in the crowd happened to be a parish priest who, after a considerable amount of time, finally made it to the front of the line.
Apologizing to the priest, the clerk said, “Father, I am sorry this has taken so long. It is not usually like this. But it seems like everybody, these days, waits until the last minute, for a trip they all knew, a long time ago, they would be taking.” That’s when the priest, not wanting to overreact, and certainly not wanting to embarrass the clerk, simply replied, “I know exactly what you mean. I have the same trouble in my business.”
Today’s story is about preparation. It’s about planning ahead. It’s about getting one’s self ready. It’s about not waiting until it’s too late to take care of what’s too important to put off. And it’s a story about the end times, about what it will be like when Jesus returns to this earth, and about what that will mean for you and for me, and for all who are still alive.
It has always struck me, on this first Sunday in Advent, the beginning of a new year in the life of the Church, rather than looking back on where this all started, to the birth of Jesus, what we do instead is look forward to where this is all going and the day when He will return. There’s an element of warning in our text. There’s an element of urgency when it comes to the message of our Lord’s return.
I often find myself feeling a bit uncomfortable when I see one of those “street-corner preachers” standing with a sign that says Jesus is coming back, so we need to be ready. It always seems so out of place, disconnected from real life, making those of us, in the church, appear to be so strange. I also find myself wondering, despite how strange it might seem and appear, why we actually do not spend more time with that message than we do.
The reality is that day is coming. History is linear. There was a beginning and there will be an end. Jesus will return. And when He does, if we are not ready, it will be too late.
This passage from Matthew’s Gospel is set in the context of a series of stories about the end times. “Then,” Jesus says, “the kingdom of heaven will be like…” From there, He goes on to tell the story of the ten virgins — five who were wise and five who were foolish. The wise were wise because they were prepared. The foolish were foolish because they put off what they knew they needed to do to be ready.
How easy it is in life to put off the things that matter and, as a result, find ourselves unprepared for what really matters when the time comes. Preparation for the essentials is essential. It is the reason we have fire drills in school. It is why we talk, ahead of time, about what to do when a disaster strikes. It is why we carry jumper cables, store up a supply of water, keep extra batteries or candles on hand. We do those things because, when the time arrives, if we are not ready, it will be too late.
There are many things in life that you can afford to put off. Many of us do. But there are some things in life where you cannot take the chance. Your relationship with Jesus is one of them. Your readiness for that day when He returns or when He calls you home needs to begin today.
John Wesley was once asked what he would do if he knew that Jesus was going to return at the same time the next day. He said, “I’d go to bed, fall asleep, get up in the morning, and then go to work, because I’d want the Lord to find me, when he returns, doing what I was created to do.”
Martin Luther said, “I’d plant a tree, because I’d want to be found using my life in ways that would matter and that would last.”
William Barclay said, “The best way to prepare for the coming of Christ is to live each day in the presence of Christ.”
All three are good directives for life, ways to prepare for Jesus’ return. Doing what you were created to do. Using your life in ways that matter and that will last. Preparing for the coming of your Lord by living each day in His presence. If that is how you are living, then you will be ready. If that is what you are doing to be prepared, then there is nothing to fear.
But if something needs to change in your life or in your habits, do not put it off. Time moves quickly, as does life. Between now and Christmas, make time for Jesus. Read you Bible. Spend time in prayer. Talk to the One who came into this world for you. There is no better day to start preparing than today.
A while back, there was a misprint in the weather forecast column of a small-town newspaper that read like this, “There is a 90% chance…of tomorrow.” Do you know what? I personally hope the odds are better than that. But who knows? Let’s not be foolish. Let’s be prepared. Jesus is coming, and He is coming soon. Now is the time to get ready. Amen.
Prayer: Lord Jesus, as we prepare to celebrate Your birth into this world, help us to not put off being prepared for that day when You will return, but to live each day in You. Amen.
Advent Action: Make a list of the things you need to do to be ready for Christmas, and then make another list of the preparations you need to make to be ready for the return of Christ.
Advent is a time of preparation! As John the Forerunner called people to “prepare the way of the Lord,” this Advent many Christians will look for additional opportunities to prepare inwardly while also preparing outwardly. As we prepare our homes and churches for celebrating Christmas, most hope to have additional time to read Scripture, pray, worship and meditate, and we look for quiet time to prepare our hearts and lives for the many ways the Lord comes to us.
These devotions are for home and personal devotion, in addition to communal Advent worship. Our prayer is that they provide the reader with a brief, accessible devotional to deepen the Advent journey. They are written for those who may regularly spend in-depth time in Scripture and prayer but are also prepared in the hope that those who do not have a practice of daily devotions may find them a useful tool in developing a holy habit that may continue on long after Christmas.
This Advent daily devotional booklet, appropriately titled, Prepare the Way of the Lord, is based on the two-year daily lectionary provided in the Lutheran Book of Worship, Year I. This series of daily lessons is intended for Advent prior to odd-numbered years. The daily lectionary appoints three lessons for each day, and a seasonal psalm. For the purposes of this booklet, one reading has been chosen as the basis for each day’s reflection. The entire reading is usually provided, although there has been some verses left out due to space available. When the biblical text is longer, we have provided that entire text with a shorter devotion because the Word of God is more powerful than our humble reflections.
The Rev. Dr. Dan Selbo, bishop of the North American Lutheran Church (NALC), has prepared a bit longer devotion for each of the Sundays in Advent, along with a devotion for Christmas Day. The Rev. Dr. David Wendel, NALC assistant to the bishop for ministry and ecumenism, has prepared the brief weekday and Christmas Eve devotions.
The prayer following each devotion may be seen as a “prayer starter,” encouraging your thoughts to go deeper into prayer, or you may find them sufficient as printed. After each prayer is an Advent Action, encouraging an appropriate and thoughtful simple response to the reading and reflection.
For your information, these devotions are available in a variety of formats at thenalc.org/advent.
READING THE WORD OF GOD GUIDE
64:1 (63:19b) If only you would tear apart the sky and come down!
The mountains would tremble before you!
2(64:1) As when fire ignites dry wood
or fire makes water boil,
let your adversaries know who you are,
and may the nations shake at your presence!
3When you performed awesome deeds that took us by surprise,
you came down, and the mountains trembled before you.
4Since ancient times no one has heard or perceived,
no eye has seen any God besides you,
who intervenes for those who wait for him.
5You assist those who delight in doing what is right,
who observe your commandments.
Look, you were angry because we violated them continually.
How then can we be saved?
6We are all like one who is unclean,
all our so-called righteous acts are like a menstrual rag in your sight.
We all wither like a leaf;
our sins carry us away like the wind.
7No one invokes your name,
or makes an effort to take hold of you.
For you have rejected us
and handed us over to our own sins.
8Yet, Lord, you are our father.
We are the clay, and you are our potter;
we are all the product of your labor.
9Lord, do not be too angry!
Do not hold our sins against us continually.
Take a good look at your people, at all of us.(NET Bible)
80:1 For the music director, according to the shushan-eduth style; a psalm of Asaph.
O Shepherd of Israel, pay attention,
you who lead Joseph like a flock of sheep.
You who sit enthroned above the cherubim, reveal your splendor.
2In the sight of Ephraim, Benjamin, and Manasseh reveal your power.
Come and deliver us.
3O God, restore us.
Smile on us. Then we will be delivered.
4O Lord God of Heaven’s Armies,
how long will you remain angry at your people while they pray to you?
5You have given them tears as food;
you have made them drink tears by the measure.
6You have made our neighbors dislike us
and our enemies insult us.
7O God of Heaven’s Armies, restore us.
Smile on us. Then we will be delivered.
8You uprooted a vine from Egypt;
you drove out nations and transplanted it.
9You cleared the ground for it;
it took root
and filled the land.
10The mountains were covered by its shadow,
the highest cedars by its branches.
11Its branches reached the Mediterranean Sea,
and its shoots the Euphrates River.
12Why did you break down its walls,
so that all who pass by pluck its fruit?
13The wild boars of the forest ruin it;
the insects of the field feed on it.
14O God of Heaven’s Armies, come back.
Look down from heaven and take notice.
Take care of this vine,
15the root your right hand planted,
the shoot you made to grow.
16It is burned and cut down.
May those who did this die because you are displeased with them.
17May you give support to the one you have chosen,
to the one whom you raised up for yourself.
18Then we will not turn away from you.
Revive us and we will pray to you.
19O Lord God of Heaven’s Armies, restore us.
Smile on us. Then we will be delivered.(NET Bible)
1 Cor. 1:3–9
1:3 Grace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ!
4I always thank my God for you because of the grace of God that was given to you in Christ Jesus. 5For you were made rich in every way in him, in all your speech and in every kind of knowledge— 6just as the testimony about Christ has been confirmed among you— 7so that you do not lack any spiritual gift as you wait for the revelation of our Lord Jesus Christ. 8He will also strengthen you to the end, so that you will be blameless on the day of our Lord Jesus Christ. 9God is faithful, by whom you were called into fellowship with his son, Jesus Christ our Lord.(NET Bible)
13:24 “But in those days, after that suffering, the sun will be darkened and the moon will not give its light; 25the stars will be falling from heaven, and the powers in the heavens will be shaken. 26Then everyone will see the Son of Man arriving in the clouds with great power and glory. 27Then he will send angels and they will gather his elect from the four winds, from the ends of the earth to the ends of heaven.
28“Learn this parable from the fig tree: Whenever its branch becomes tender and puts out its leaves, you know that summer is near. 29So also you, when you see these things happening, know that he is near, right at the door. 30I tell you the truth, this generation will not pass away until all these things take place. 31Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will never pass away.
32“But as for that day or hour no one knows it—neither the angels in heaven, nor the Son—except the Father. 33Watch out! Stay alert! For you do not know when the time will come. 34It is like a man going on a journey. He left his house and put his slaves in charge, assigning to each his work, and commanded the doorkeeper to stay alert. 35Stay alert, then, because you do not know when the owner of the house will return—whether during evening, at midnight, when the rooster crows, or at dawn— 36or else he might find you asleep when he returns suddenly. 37What I say to you I say to everyone: Stay alert!”(NET Bible)
–Johann Michael Reu, Luther on the Scriptures
This daily Bible reading guide, Reading the Word of God, was conceived and prepared as a result of the ongoing discussions between representatives of three church bodies: Lutheran Church—Canada (LCC), The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod (LCMS) and the North American Lutheran Church (NALC). The following individuals have represented their church bodies and approved this introduction and the reading guide: LCC: President Robert Bugbee; NALC: Bishop John Bradosky, Revs. Mark Chavez, James Nestingen, and David Wendel; LCMS: Revs. Albert Collver, Joel Lehenbauer, John Pless, and Larry Vogel.