“Prepare.” “Keep watch.” These are the words of Advent because Advent is a season of preparation. They are also the words of our gospel reading.

In our reading from Mark, Jesus repeatedly calls upon His disciples to “watch.” How important watching is to Jesus can be seen by how many times He repeats it. The command to watch or an activity related to watching is referenced in each of the five verses that close this reading (verses 33–37). Jesus desires for us to watch. The question, however, is, “How do we watch for the return of Jesus?”

To put flesh on this activity of watching, Jesus tells a parable. A master leaves his home and puts his servants in charge, “Each with his work.” As they work, they wait. Whether it is evening, midnight, dawn, or morning, the servants are to be watching and waiting and working so they are engaged in the things of their master until he returns.

The Christian life, then, is to be one of service. Jesus calls us to engage in the things of God as we await His coming.

The Christian life, then, is to be one of service. Jesus calls us to engage in the things of God as we await His coming.

There is a beauty to this divine design.

Have you ever noticed how you gain a deeper appreciation for people when you are asked to do their work? Imagine you were asked by someone to do the things he or she does. He works at a grocery store, bagging groceries. She staffs an on-line call center for consumer complaints. He tries to raise three children under 10 in a time of on-line learning. She cares for her father who has the beginnings of dementia.

If you were to work like these people work, you would discover things about them and the way in which they do their work. It may be how he set priorities based on the needs of his children. When guiding three children in on-line learning, he has realized that not every child learns the same way. Although all three of his children are learning on-line, Kim has more difficulty than Ben and Shiloh. So, when you do his work, you would soon discover how you watch Kim’s engagement more closely, encouraging her and helping her adjust.

Or it may be that you will discover how she shows concern. When listening to consumer complaints all day, she tries to empathize with each customer. She hates it when she calls a company and they treat her like a number, so she tries to treat her customers as people while she handles their complaints. In this case, when you do her work, you discover her compassion for people in need and how she goes out of her way to make a formal process less formulaic and more personal.

When you do the work of others, you begin to learn their loves and priorities, their values and sacrifices, the subtle joys of service, and the humble delight in a job well-done. Though in one way, the person is far from you, in another way, that person is closer than he or she was before. When we enter deeper into a person’s service, we grow deeper in our relationship with that person.

Jesus calls us to watch for His coming by serving in His Kingdom. He does this because He knows the power of His love. When we serve others with His love, we are drawn closer to Him. We discover the mysterious ways of His Kingdom and the incredible power of His self-sacrificial love.

Christians engaged in the work of Jesus discover how He loves the unlovable. He does not find those people who fit His qualifications and bring them into God’s Kingdom. No, He finds that which is unlovable and loves it into life. This is what He did with me and you. We are not worthy to be members of His Kingdom, but through His death, He forgives our sins, and through His resurrection and the bestowing of the Spirit, He empowers us for service. We need not limit the vision of His Kingdom to people we think qualify. Instead, we bring the Kingdom to people who do not. By doing that, we are daily reminded of the love of Jesus which brought us into His Kingdom.

Jesus finds that which is unlovable and loves it into life.

Christians engaged in the work of Jesus discover His priorities. Worldly success is not the way of Jesus. He does not seek glory or to get ahead. Instead, He seeks out those who have been left behind. Seeking the lost, caring for those who cannot care for themselves, encouraging the weak, lifting the humble, these are the priorities of Jesus as He extends His Kingdom of grace to all.

Because our Master has gone away and we await His return, it is easy at times to be discouraged. It looks like the Church is failing. We watch as more and more people turn away from God. But this is God’s Kingdom, not ours. Jesus does not call us to fix it. He simply calls us to serve in it. He promises someday He will return and bring about the fullness of God’s reign. Until then, we live in humble, hopeful service.

To watch and wait for Jesus is not to spend our time trying to figure out the signs of the end and predict His return. No. To watch and to wait is to engage in faithful service and find ourselves being drawn closer to the heart of Jesus as we share His love with His world.

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Additional Resources:

Concordia Theology-Various helps from Concordia Seminary in St. Louis, MO to assist you in preaching Mark 13:24-37

Text Week-A treasury of resources from various traditions to help you preach Mark 13:24-37

Lectionary Podcast-Dr. Arthur Just of Concordia Theological Seminary in Ft. Wayne, IN walks us through Mark 13:24-37.