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The Incarnate Word: Watch for Him!

The First Sunday in Advent – 3 December 2017

A Sermon on Mark 13:24-37 by Samuel D. Zumwalt, STS

 Mark 13:24-37  English Standard Version, © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a division of Good News Publishers]

 24 “But in those days, after that tribulation, the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light, 25 and the stars will be falling from heaven, and the powers in the heavens will be shaken. 26 And then they will see the Son of Man coming in clouds with great power and glory. 27 And then he will send out the angels and gather his elect from the four winds, from the ends of the earth to the ends of heaven. 28 “From the fig tree learn its lesson: as soon as its branch becomes tender and puts out its leaves, you know that summer is near. 29 So also, when you see these things taking place, you know that he is near, at the very gates. 30 Truly, I say to you, this generation will not pass away until all these things take place. 31 Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away. 32 “But concerning that day or that hour, no one knows, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father. 33 Be on guard, keep awake.For you do not know when the time will come. 34 It is like a man going on a journey, when he leaves home and puts his servants in charge, each with his work, and commands the doorkeeper to stay awake. 35 Therefore stay awake—for you do not know when the master of the house will come, in the evening, or at midnight, or when the rooster crows, or in the morning—36 lest he come suddenly and find you asleep. 37 And what I say to you I say to all: Stay awake.”


             In the name of the Father, and of the +Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

28 “From the fig tree learn its lesson: as soon as its branch becomes tender and puts out its leaves, you know that summer is near. 

It was a cold, gray February day in Kirksville, known as “the ice box of Missouri” because it always had the coldest temperatures in the state. I was the vicar, the seminary intern, working in the congregation and on the college campus where I lived with nine students in the Lutheran Student House. I had turned 25 the previous month, so now 25 and single, I was feeling very alone in the midst of a group of wonderful people. I had broken up with a longtime girlfriend the previous year. But now I was thinking back to the girlfriend before her, the one who had broken my heart not once but twice. So staring out the window of my church office, I could see that it had started to snow again.

I called long distance information, that’s what we used to do before the internet, and I asked for the old girlfriend’s number in Austin TX, where she was a student. So I called and we talked and reminisced a bit about her Dad who had died at 44. Then I asked her what the weather was like. She said, “I’m sitting out here on the balcony of my apartment wearing cut-offs and a tank top. It’s sunny and 70 degrees.” I wanted to cry. That’s the kind of Februarys I had known all my life until I started seminary in St. Louis.

I was watching for spring, indeed longing for spring in more ways than one, but the snow didn’t melt until Holy Week, the 2nd week of April, and it didn’t get warm again until the middle of May. All those long weeks of winter I was watching and waiting. Advent is a time like that. Indeed, our Lord Jesus tells us, “Summer is near. Stay awake!”


In the first of C.S. Lewis’ Chronicles of Narnia, The Lion, The Witch, and the Wardrobe, Lucy, a small girl, enters into the land of Narnia through a strange wardrobe. We would call it an armoire, a large cabinet in which clothes and coats hang. While playing a game of Hide and Seek with three older siblings, Lucy hides in this wardrobe and, as she moves to the back, she is suddenly in a snow-covered land in which animals can talk. She meets Mr. Tumnus, his upper half that of a man and his lower that of a goat. She learns the white witch has turned Narnia into endless winter in which Christmas never comes. Those who rebel against her wicked rule, she turns to stone.

Later, from Mr. Beaver, Lucy first hears of Aslan, the great Lion, the Son of the Emperor-Over-The-Sea, who is on the move. When Aslan comes, it will be summer. Then all will be made right. The 100-year-reign of the White Witch will be undone.

There’s a season for everything, says Ecclesiastes 3. A time to be born and a time to die. A time for love and a time for hate. A time for peace and a time for war. A time for laughter and a time for tears. We all want the happy seasons. We all want the painless seasons. We all want the loving seasons. But the time must come for worse, for poorer, for sickness, to be no longer cherished, to say goodbye for the rest of this life. We know what it is when hearts are turned to stone, when winter casts long shadows on our days.

But the old enemy, the father of lies, the White Witch of this world, cannot keep Christmas from coming to us, nor can that old evil foe turn God’s children to stone or hold us in sin’s dread sway. Christ has promised. Summer is near. Stay awake. Watch!

In the Lord God’s blueprint, this world was a garden to be lovingly tended by those created in His image. The man and woman were made for each, and they had eyes and desire only for the other. Work was a delight. Children a gift. Serving was sheer joy, for they were made to serve. There was nothing menial about serving. There was no lording one over the other. That was the only story the man and woman knew. Until that cruel and cool voice asked so seductively, “Did God really say?”

They could have said without raising their voices, “Yes, God really said. Who are you to suggest otherwise? Be gone from our presence, and do not speak to us again.” But they opened the door to rebellion, they allowed themselves to be confused, to forget they were God’s beloved creatures created in His image. And, having opened the door of rebellion, they walked right through it. Until that moment there was for them only life and not death, only love and not hate, only summer in God’s garden. Winter blew in.

Parents and grandparents, aunts and uncles, godparents, do not try to shield children from death in all its guises and mutations. Do not think you can keep them safe from evil. Even the smallest of children needs to learn that winter comes, sometimes unexpectedly. This world cannot be always summer. Marriage cannot be always better, richer, healthy, and without end in this life. Sin, death, and evil – the unholy trio dog our days since first we failed to answer, “Yes, God really said!” This is the painful truth. But it is not the whole truth!

After the Gospel was read, we sang, “Here a maid was found with child, yet remained a virgin mild. In her womb this truth was shown. God was there upon His throne. Then stepped forth the Lord of all from His pure and kingly hall; God of God, yet fully man, His heroic course began” (“Savior of the Nations, Come,” LSB #332, sts. 3-4).

Our Father did not leave us in endless winter when Christmas would never come. Rather He graciously answered His death verdict on us rebellious creatures by sending the Lion of Judah, His beloved Son, to become like us in every way but sin. At His virginal conception, winter was already weakening and Christmas was on its way. Like all humans, the Lord Jesus was slowly formed in His mother’s womb. But He was formed in Mary’s virgin womb to be true God and true man, in order to step forth to live the perfectly obedient life we can never live and to die the perfectly innocent death we can never die. That we might be His own!

For us and for our salvation, He, who was truly God from all eternity, became truly man. We cannot by our own reason or strength believe in this Lord Jesus or come to Him, but the Holy Spirit has called us by the Gospel to the waters of Holy Baptism where we are buried and raised with God’s Son Jesus through no effort or merit of our own. And here in the Holy Spirit’s workshop, He keeps us united to Jesus through Word and Sacrament, even filling us with Christ’s true Body and most precious Blood, so that even in the winter of our discontent, we know summer is almost here! Stay awake! Watch!

Parents and grandparents, aunts and uncles, godparents, yes, pastors and teachers, you are the doorkeepers whom the Master has left in charge. As servants of the Most High God, your sacred calling is to stay awake. The purveyors of false gospels will not cease their seductive siren calls. We know the script. It never changes. “Did God really say?” To these, we must say, “Yes, God really said. Who are you to suggest otherwise? Be gone from our presence, and do not speak to us again.” You are doorkeepers. You only open the door to the Master. Summer is almost here! Stay awake! Watch!

For the parents and grandparents, aunts and uncles, and godparents of those who have forgotten summer is almost here, who have forgotten that winter is not endless, yes, who have heeded the voice of the white witch and are almost turned to stone:  Pray for them. Do not shout or be drawn into a cold, Christmas-less world that masks itself as cheery unholy days. Yes, pray that the yearning for summer, however faint, that lurks somewhere in the souls of dear ones will begin to melt as the Holy Spirit breathes His warm breath on their hearts and minds. You are still the Master’s doorkeepers whose job is to stay awake, watching, hoping, praying, yearning, that the Master will bring summer not only to you but to those who dwell in deep darkness and under the shadow of death.

In the name of the Father, and of the +Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

©Samuel D. Zumwalt, STS

St. Matthew’s EvangelicalLutheranChurch

Wilmington, North Carolina USA

Bulletin insert

The Incarnate Word: Watch for Him!


 Stir up your power, O Lord, and come; that by your protection we may be rescued from the threatening perils of our sins and saved by your mighty deliverance; for you live and  reign with the Father and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen” (The Daily Prayer of the Church, 92).


Mark 13:26 “…they will see the Son of Man coming in clouds with great power and glory.” 

St. Augustine [late 4th – early 5th century Bishop of Hippo in Africa]: “In his last advent…he will come in the clouds to judge the quick and the dead…Will not the Lord come again in later times, when all the peoples of the earth shall lament? He came first in preaching, and filled the whole wide world. Let us not resist his first coming, that we may not tremble at his second” (Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture: Mark, 188).

Mark 13:31 “Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away.

St. Ambrose [late 4th century Bishop of Milan]: “For just as he calls the things that are not as though they were, so he has made things future as though they were. It cannot come to pass that they should not be. Those things that he has directed to be necessarily will be. Therefore he who has made the things that are to be, knows them already in the way in which they are to be” (190).

Mark 13:32     “But concerning that day or that hour, no one knowsbut only the Father.

St. Athanasius [4th century Patriarch of Alexandria, Egypt]: “He said this to show that, viewed as an ordinary man, he does not know the future, for ignorance of the future is characteristic of the human condition. Insofar as he is viewed according to his divinity as the Word who is to come, to judge, to be bridegroom, however, he knows when and in what hour he will come…viewed according to his divinity as the Word and wisdom of the Father, he knows, and there is nothing which he does not know ” (191).

Mark 13:33  “Be on guard, keep awake. For you do not know when the time will come.”

 St. Athanasius [4th century Patriarch of Alexandria, Egypt]: “The end of all things is concealed from us. For in the end of all is the end of each, and in the end of each is the end of all [on the last day]. Whereas this time is uncertain and always in prospect, we may advance day by day is if summoned, reaching forward to the things before us and forgetting the things behind. For who, if they knew the day of the end, would not disregard the interval? But if ignorant, would they not be more ready day by day? It was on this account that the Savior said: ‘Watch; for you do not know when the time will come’” (195).


  1. How much do I live mindful and watchful of the end of all things? How little?
  2. How might attending Sunday School or Crossways Bible Study show I am awake?


The Creed

 As the head of the family should teach it in a simple way to his household.

The Third Article: Sanctification

I believe in the Holy Spirit, the holy Christian church, the communion of saints, the forgiveness of sins, the resurrection of the body, and the life everlasting. Amen.

 What does this mean?

I believe that I cannot by my own reason or strength believe in Jesus Christ, my Lord, or come to Him; but the Holy Spirit has called me by the Gospel, enlightened me with His gifts, sanctified and kept me in the true faith. In the same way He calls, gathers, enlightens, and sanctifies the whole Christian church on earth, and keeps it with Jesus Christ in the one true faith. In this Christian church He daily and richly forgives all my sins and the sins of all believers. On the Last Day He will raise me and all the dead, and give eternal life to me and all believers in Christ. This is most certainly true.


 1. Pray for every unbaptized child and adult you know and for the child’s parents, too.


  1. Pray daily and specifically for your unchurched loved ones and friends. After praying for a couple of weeks, invite one or more to Christmas Eve worship.


  1. Discuss with your spouse, your family, or a friend Luther’s explanation of the third article. Pay particular attention to the phrase “…I cannot by my own reason or strength….”


  1. Pray daily in Advent using Scripture and devotions. Reflect upon where the comfortable places are in your life that need afflicting and that God never comforts the comfortable.


  1. If you haven’t picked up a used Lutheran Book of Worship in the box at the far end of the Commons, please take one home and use whichever daily prayer office you choose (Morning or Evening Prayer, Prayer at the Close of Day, Responsive Prayer 1 or 2).

For Husbands and Wives

Repeat daily: “I (name) take you (name) to be my wedded wife (husband), to have and to hold from this day forward; for better, for worse; for richer, for poorer; in sickness and in health; to love and to cherish until death do us part, according to God’s holy ordinance, and thereto I pledge you my faith.”