7th August 2022
Psalm 33:12-end / Luke 12:32-40
Have you ever arrived at an airport and been met by someone? It’s quite a different experience to arriving and continuing your journey under your own steam. If the person welcoming you is a loved one, the anticipation of seeing them again as you come through the automatic doors can be palpable. Our eyes dart around trying to pick out our friends or relatives amongst the crowds. And if your family and friends are this way inclined, they may be waiting with their arms opened wide for a big hug to welcome you – it’s a wonderful feeling to know you’re loved like that. Imagine then, the despondency when your welcome party hasn’t arrived on time. Have they forgotten? Have they mis-timed their journey? Are they safe? The anticipation soon turns to deep disappointment. So, if we feel like this simply after returning from a trip, how is Jesus going to feel when he returns and we’re not ready for him?
Jesus wants us to be prepared and I think this is why the New Testament has several accounts of him predicting the End of Time; our Gospel reading set for today is one fine example. Jesus said, “Be dressed for action and have your lamps lit” (v.35). The phrase, ‘be dressed for action’ used to be translated as, ‘having your loins girded’ which meant having the long robes pulled up high enough under the girdle so the men could run. Bearing in mind that in Jesus’ day, it was unseemly for men to run, this event Jesus was predicting was clearly significant if running was expected. Just a little earlier in chapter 12 of Luke’s Gospel, Jesus had been telling his disciples not to worry about their lives, so the warning to be ready must have come as quite a shock. Jesus goes on to say, ‘have your lamps lit’ – this type of lamp was probably like a sauce boat with a cotton wick floating in the oil. The wick had to be trimmed and the oil replenished or the lamp would go out – it required regular attention. And so it is with our lives, we need to be ready and have our metaphorical lamps full. Some of the early Christians may have wondered why Jesus hadn’t already returned, especially when he said, “Truly I tell you, this generation will not pass away until all these things have taken place” (Mark 13:30). Some had been suffering, others martyred for their faith and the End of Time had not come to pass. Here we are over 2,000 years later and that may make us a little complacent, but Jesus will return to bring about his Kingdom and, as he said, “…about that day or hour no one knows, neither the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father” (Mark 13:32). Many people have tried to predict when Jesus will come, but it is not for us to know; we just need to be ready. Jesus likens his return to a master returning from a wedding banquet – we need to be ready to welcome him when he knocks. He describes those waiting for the master as ‘slaves’, which appears to contradict the passage in John’s Gospel where he said, “I do not call you servants any longer, because the servant does not know what the master is doing; but I have called you friends, because I have made known to you everything that I have heard from my Father” (15:15). However, at this point in his ministry he had known his disciples far longer; he was almost at the point of his passion and death. Whereas our passage is earlier on, and he possibly hadn’t built up those relationships yet. More likely, I believe, is that Jesus is using the term ‘slave’ as an intentional part of his allegory to stress the meaning. He said that the slaves who are ready and alert when the master returns from the wedding banquet will be blessed, and “…he will fasten his belt…and serve them” (v37). Jesus is telling his disciples, and us, that he will take on the role of a servant. Of course, we know this of Jesus, we know he washed the disciples’ feet at the Last Supper, but at this stage the disciples must have been truly shocked and confused.
Jesus concludes by saying that the “…Son of Man is coming at an unexpected hour” (v.40), but I do not believe he wants us to live in fear of that day, but loving anticipation, just as we would if we were preparing to meet a loved one at the airport. If we live in fear, we freeze and are capable of very little other than looking inwards. No, we are called to be continually expectant disciples; and to keep our lamps lit, we need to look to the Light of the World, Jesus, in all things. Our lamps need constant attention; the oil and wicks need replenishing. As well as looking to Jesus, we also need the support of fellow Christians because we learn from one another how to sustain our faith on life’s journey. But just as the allegory suggests, at some stage we have to make our own response to Christ, we can’t rely on someone else’s oil for our lamp.
As we go about our day-to-day living, we need to see the face of Christ in everyone we meet and serve them as Christ serves us. That isn’t just our friends and family, but also the unloved of society, whether they be here in Royston or made aware to us through the news or our mission partners. We all have a calling in the world, as unique as each of us. As we wait for our master, we aren’t meant to sit idle, but to use our God-given talents to share the awesome love we have been blessed to know. We don’t need to walk around in sandwich boards or stand on soapboxes (in fact, I pray you don’t, as I believe this kills off the chance of making new disciples quicker than you can say “The end is nigh!”) – rather, let’s reflect on how the people in our lives made an impact on us coming to know Christ; what did they do and say that helped to shape us?
As we come across folk in our day to day lives, let’s be aware and respectful of their situations and, with gentleness and compassion, shine a light on their path to God. Because unless we’re prepared to care for those who God has placed in our midst, ‘be dressed for action’ and our lamps lit, we may just miss Jesus when he comes at ‘an unexpected hour’.
Let us pray…
Loving God, keep us alert and vigilant,
ready to hear your call to prayer and service.
By your grace, sustain our faith and keep our lamps lit,
so that we may be a light for others
and be ready for our Lord’s coming,
Every blessing, Heidi.