Date: December 18, 1938
A Pre-Christmas Petition
O Christ, our Savior, who didst come and who wilt come:
Send us Thy Holy Spirit, so that throughout the land great multitudes may prepare their hearts to receive Thee, their Redeemer and their King. As Thou dost now knock at the door of our hearts and seek entrance into our lives, help us overcome the sin that separates us from Thee, the indifference that makes us cold toward the radiant promises of Christmas. Come into our souls today and during this busy week, so that Thy presence may banish all fear, all despair over our sins, all overconcern with externals. As each hour brings us closer to the anniversary of that blessed day toward which the faithful through long centuries of prophecy had hopefully gazed, help us attune our hearts to a spirit of heavenly joy and, amid all distractions of this season, direct our hearts to Bethlehem, so that we may find hallowed time and loving thought for Thee, for the mercy of Thy birth, the compassion of Thy life, the atonement of Thy death, the eternity through Thy resurrection, and the comfort in Thy second coming. Instruct us in Thy truth, so that we may eagerly await the unknown hour of Thy return for the judgment of this world and for the glorious homecoming of Thy saints. To this end hear us and help us make our hearts ready for Christmas, so that above all Thou mayest enter and be born in us again. We ask it according to Thy promise! Amen.
Martha, as soon as she heard that Jesus was coming, went and met Him. . . . She saith unto Him, Yea, Lord, I believe that Thou art the Christ, the Son of God, which should come into the world. – John 11:20, 27
“THE king is coming!” That cry is the summons to feverish activity throughout Canada and the United States, as two great nations even now are making extensive preparations for the visit of King George, monarch of the British Empire, to the North American continent next spring. To salute that earthly ruler with proper greeting and assure him a safe, comfortable journey, to arrange for public appearances, where millions will welcome the British ruler,—far-reaching and minutely detailed plans, involving unbelievably large staffs of officials, craftsmen, soldiers, police, are being shaped months in advance.
“Behold, thy King cometh!” is the Advent cry by which all men are asked to prepare their hearts and homes to receive another sovereign, that King of kings and Lord of lords before whom King George humbly bowed at his coronation. And how will Jesus, the Prince of Perfect Peace, be received when in seven short days the churches commemorate His coming to save us from our sins? This week before Christmas, which should be the most carefree and unencumbered, for millions is the most preoccupied week in the year, with overcrowded shops, overworked salespeople, overwrought parents, all suffering under the cunning profit-seeking through the Nativity season. Too often decorated homes but unadorned hearts mark the birthday of the King. We ought to have at least two Christmas days, one devoted to festivities, the exchange of gifts, the holiday spirit in general, and the other a sacred day in which the hearts of men, detached from the glitter of commercialism, could reverently worship Christ, the newborn Savior!
“Behold, thy King cometh!” is the appeal that would speak peace into your heart, no matter how discouraged you may be in this holiday season, no matter how bewildered this Christmas rush may find you. Because everything worthwhile in this life and every hope of eternal blessedness depend on your love for Christ and your readiness to meet Him, the sin-destroying Savior of your soul; because you either welcome Christ and hear Him promise, “I will never leave thee nor forsake thee,” or reject Him and hear Him warn, “No man cometh unto the Father but by Me,” I ask every one of you, however hard or happy life may seem, however rich and full or thin and threadbare the approach of Christmas may appear, however empty and lonesome or vibrant and overfilled these holidays may come upon you, to resolve now that during this week before Christmas you will find time or make it in which to lay aside every earthly care and humbly, joyfully,
PREPARE TO MEET JESUS
That is the lesson of Saint John, chapter eleven, verses twenty and twenty-seven, where we read: “Martha, as soon as she heard that Jesus was coming, went and met Him. . . . She saith unto Him, Yea, Lord, I believe that Thou art the Christ, the Son of God, which should come into the world.” May God mightily bless these words in our hearts and help us prepare to meet our Savior, not only in His Christmas advent but also at His second coming in power and glory!
PREPARE TO MEET THE CHRIST WHO CAME IN HUMILITY
It is a remarkable chapter in our Savior’s life from which the incident of our text has been chosen. Lazarus, the friend of Jesus, lay on his sickbed, face to face with death. His sisters, Mary and Martha, dispatched a messenger, beseeching Jesus to come and stop the ravaging illness. Before Jesus began the trip, Lazarus died. Only when to human vision it appeared that Jesus had arrived too late, did He approach Bethany. Messengers ran to inform the bereaved household of His coming; and it was Martha who, in the words of our text, “as soon as she heard that Jesus was coming, went and met Him.” She could not wait until He would deign to enter her home; she must see Christ and welcome Him at the first moment possible.
What a blessed example American women should find in this record of their Palestinian sister, nineteen centuries ago, hastening to meet Jesus! To a far greater extent than we realize, Christian womanhood today is one of the most decisive human factors in our country’s destiny; for their morality and ideals have always been a gauge of national health. Whenever women, accepting those sacred responsibilities with which God has entrusted them, are personally concerned about welcoming Christ, their Savior; wherever Christian women, under the influence of that faith, seek to maintain their Lord’s standard of purity and are vitally interested in the home, appreciative of the privileges of motherhood, conscientious in the training of their children, above all, sincere in their loyalty to Jesus Christ, they help create a strong moral foundation for their country, their Church, their homes, their own lives. On the other hand, more perilous than the grave economic problems before the nation are the disturbing evidences of growing drunkenness among American women, stolid indifference in many circles to the sacredness of the marriage vow, a selfish spurning of motherhood, a spirit of worldliness and of opposition to Christ. You wives, mothers, daughters, sisters, who can make or break much of the happiness in your homes, take time for Christ! Martha had been one of those women who are preoccupied with the cares of this life; but when Jesus had told her of the one thing needful, a trusting faith in His Gospel promises, she changed completely. By contrast I think of the wasted efforts of many modern women, sometimes even in the churches, who are so engrossed with social obligations and a hundred different efforts that their hearts have as little room for Christ today as that overcrowded Bethlehem inn had for the Savior on the day of His birth. Martha was a woman of the upper class in Bethany; yet she did not hesitate to leave her friends and hasten to Jesus. If only the interest exerted by American women could be enlisted in behalf of Christ’s cross and the spreading of His Gospel instead of being directed, as often, toward cocktail parties and bridge tournaments! If only American mothers could realize how inestimably more important it is to rear well-trained children than to be the president of any woman’s club, how much more blessed to know Christ, to help others know Him, than to lead any community enterprise!
Martha ran to Christ, though crushed by the loss of her brother. She had the deep-rooted conviction that Jesus in some undefined way could prove Himself the divine Helper, even after death had taken its toll. May God give every one of you that same ever-trusting faith! Some of the homes which this message reaches are suffering under one or more of those staggering blows which at Christmas seem doubly distressing. Even those families that have escaped every reverse and prospered even during depression and recession without feeling the pinch of poverty, the black numbness of disaster, the cold blight of death, must be prepared for the fact that sooner or later, by the inevitable law of all human experience, suffering will knock at their doors, affliction will enter their homes. How blessed to meet Jesus in faith and find in Him the Christ for every crisis, the Savior for every sin, the Redeemer for every wrong, the Atonement for every agony of the soul, the Guide for every gloomy path, the Friend for every friendless hour! For many of you the approach of Christmas is beclouded with worries, overshadowed with grief, embittered by losses, darkened by a restless conscience; but I can promise you this in the “name which is above every name” that, if you will lay aside these heavy encumbrances which are dragging you down to the dust, prepare to meet your Christ and welcome Him as your Savior of endless mercy and your God of endless power, you will make this discovery for yourself: those who receive Christ receive strength to triumph over every weakness, light to brighten any darkness, blessings that will outlive death itself.
Martha found in Christ the Friend who “will not fail.” When she spoke to Jesus of her brother’s death, the blessed Savior did not answer in terms of vain regret or in the high-sounding but empty phrases with which men often seek to shed some ray of comfort on death-darkened lives. Instead, Christ offers her the startling promise which has dispelled the gloom at countless funerals: “I am the Resurrection and the Life. He that believeth in Me, though he were dead, yet shall he live; and whosoever liveth and believeth in Me shall never die,”—glorious words to be demonstrated within a few moments when Lazarus, on whose lifeless body the forces of decay had already started, was resurrected from the grave. When Jesus directed the pointed inquiry to Martha, “Believest thou this?” she faced her Lord with that radiant confession, the highest and most blessed of all truths, “Yea, Lord, I believe that Thou art the Christ, the Son of God, which should come into the world.”
To you in this mission of the air, young and old, rich and poor, learned and simple, powerful and powerless, church-members and unchurched, native-born and foreignborn, white and black, yellow and red, capitalists and workers, employed and unemployed, I repeat the question of Jesus, “Believest thou this?” Pointing one short week hence to the birth of our Savior and King, I ask for the same confession by which you acknowledge Christ not merely an exalted man but the almighty God; not only your Example but above all your Savior; not one who was to be born into the world by ordinary processes but He who, as prophesied of old, was the Virgin’s Son; not one who came to lead men to an easier life here on earth but a heavenly Guide, who would first of all bring men to the best life in eternity; not Christ as a generous, noble, unselfish character and nothing more, but Christ as the absolute, sinless, stainless Son of God; not a Christ whose suffering and death are the proof of only His heroism and idealism, but the Christ whose agonized end on the cross is the only purifying, sin-removing, death-destroying, lifebestowing power that earth and heaven itself knows; not the Christ whose body has remained in a Palestinian grave, but the Christ who, as “the Resurrection and the Life,” promises us heaven and its everlasting blessing.
If it were within my power during the next few days to send each one of you in this far-flung congregation of the air a Christmas-gift that would answer the supreme need in every life, it would be the gift of the Holy Spirit, by which you would hasten to meet Christ, the new-born King, kneel before His manger, and repeat the confession of Martha, “Lord, I believe that Thou art the Christ, the Son of God, which should come into the world.” For with that sincere confession all sins are removed from our lives, blemishes cleansed from our souls, indictments lifted from our consciences, doubts of our salvation removed from our hearts, every pledge of Heaven reinforced, every truth of the Scriptures underscored.
Can anything be more vital than the appeal in Jesus’ name: Prepare to meet your new-born King! Meet Him in the faith which refuses to question or doubt, to argue or contradict! Meet Him in His Word as you spend some moments of each of these seven happy days that intervene before the anniversary of His birth in reading and appropriating His promise to yourselves, your family, and your friends! Meet Him in prayer, as you come before Him to share your life’s joys and sorrows, to find the answer for your problems and the guidance for your paths! Meet Him in your love as in His spirit during these remaining days you, endowed by the generosity of God, remember the poor, the afflicted, the sick, the lonely, the aged, the orphans, and by your private charities, your support of the Church’s work of mercy, your checks for the national relief funds, show men how Christ is radiated from your lives! Be ready especially to meet Jesus in a true church of God on the anniversary of His birth, and Sunday after Sunday, with insistent regularity to hear the Word of God and be built up by its constructive power. Come, then, let us hasten with Martha and approach Him with all our sins, just as we are, so that we, too, may walk with Him as new creatures, twice-born, in the holiness of faith and hope and love!
PREPARE TO MEET THE CHRIST WHO WILL COME IN GLORY
We must be prepared to meet Him, for the same Jesus whom Martha hastened to meet at Bethany in that dreary, sorrow-weighted hour after her brother’s death will come again in His second advent,—no longer rejected and crucified, but eternally triumphant in His majesty as the almighty God. Remove all doubt from your minds on this one point—our world will not go on endlessly! As hopeless as is the effort to create perpetual motion in the laboratory, just so impossible it is that this earth should continue forever under the dominion of sin, with men living their fleeting lives, momentarily happy, sometimes, but often crushed and always doomed to death. If this world had a beginning, as we know that it did, then it must have an end. Reason and scientific fact combine to warn us that this finale must come.
Even more decisive is the truth that the Bible directly connects the destruction of this earthly sphere with the second coming of Jesus, not to establish an earthly kingdom of peace and power on the ruins of the present social order but to pronounce the last judgment. Christians may unfortunately be divided into many conflicting groups; but some basic truths are accepted by all, especially the truths emphasized in the oldest universal confession, the Apostles’ Creed. No matter to which branch of the Catholic churches you may belong; no matter which subdivision of Protestantism you may support, if you are Christ’s and bow before the authority of His Word, you confess with the Church of all Christian centuries: “I believe that Jesus Christ,” after His death on the cross, His burial, and His resurrection, “ascended into heaven” and now “sitteth on the right hand of God the Father Almighty, from thence He shall come to judge the quick and the dead.” As frequently as this sacred truth is neglected, the return of Jesus is emphasized in the Bible to a degree exceeded only by the stress which the holy writers lay on the atoning death of our Lord and the saving power of His blood. Think of it—three hundred passages in the New Testament alone speak of the Second Coming! If we had only one of these promises; if three hundred others had never been penned by inspiration and we had only the assurance of the angels at the Ascension: “The same Jesus which is taken up from you into heaven shall so come in like manner as ye have seen Him go into heaven,” we would have decisive proof of the truth that at the appointed hour Jesus will return in the splendor of His second advent. Besides this angelic assurance the blessed Savior Himself draws clear, prophetic lines to tell us how He, the Son of Man, will come. The epistles intensify this promise, and as the blessing of inspiration draws to its absolute close, the last book of the New Testament, in its final chapter, declares: “Behold, I come quickly!” and again: “Behold, I come quickly!” and for the third time: “Surely I come quickly!” You see, a holy eagerness fairly leaps from the pages of the Scriptures to convince us that we ought to stand with our backs toward the world, but with our faces looking toward “the appearing of Jesus Christ,” which, as blessed as it will be for God’s children, will be terrifying to those who reject Christ.
That second coming will not long be delayed, for this generation is witnessing some of the signs of the times that unmistakably mark the beginning of the end. Jesus Himself pointed out that preceding this end there would be “wars and rumors of wars.” Past chapters of history have recorded brutal battles, but no pages of the human record have been blotched with as much blood as the annals of the past twenty-five years, when with civilization at its zenith, men, turned beasts, killed eight and a half million of their fellow-men in a war that every day proves more futile and destructive. What about the “wars and rumors of wars” in the present moment, with one fourth of this world’s population involved in hideous warfare, with our stubborn, haughty age systematically preparing for more diabolical slaughter than the world has ever known?
Other signs by which we are to know that the hands in God’s clock are approaching the midnight hour are the “fear,” the “tribulation,” the “distress,” that the Scriptures list as symptoms of the last days. In our own country growing anxiety clutches us. The figures of our national debt have become so staggering that in their immensity they are meaningless to us unless we know, for example, that, if every one of the 7,000,000 farms in the United States, together with their buildings, live stock, equipment, were all sold at assessed values, the return would not be enough to pay this indebtedness. Nor are there definite signs of improvement. On the contrary, the international horizon is marked with the flares of many disastrous fires. The inroads that atheistic Communism has increasingly made into our country during the last two decades are incredible. Not only hundreds of thousands of our fellowAmericans but tens of millions face a future which is characterized by the three terrors which the New Testament says mark the final chapter of all history: “tribulation,” “distress,” “fear.”
At the same time the Scriptures, in drawing the prophetic picture of the final act in the tragedy of life, solemnly warn that the rich “have heaped treasure together for the last days,” that, while they live in wanton pleasures, they systematically defraud the poor and the workers. The World War made 10,000 millionaires in the United States, we are told, and though the last years have reduced the incomes of the superwealthy in this country, we still behold a perilous inequality in the distribution of money; senseless, extravagant display by some of the stupid rich, with hunger, cold, and destitution mounting problems for millions of the victimized poor; with American society in this pre-Christmas week purchasing chinchilla wraps, custom-built limousines, diamond brooches, often securing money by concealed dishonesty, oppression of the poor and gangster methods in business. The contrast between increasing wealth and deepening poverty—mark this well!—is not only an unhealthy economic condition that in other countries has paved the way for the overthrow of the existing government, but in its present and future proportions it signalizes the approach of the last days.
Another unmistakable sign of the Savior’s return is the fulfilled prediction that “iniquity shall abound.” For the sordid details read Second Timothy 3 with its twenty-one marks of the wickedness in the last days. In all candor I ask you whether this is not the picture of the present day, with its selfishness, lusts, overbearing pride, blaspheming scoffers, disobedient children, ungrateful materialism, immorality, sex perversions, broken promises, perjury, drunkenness, brutality, disregard of decency, disloyalty, and resistance to God’s truth.
Even the Scriptural picture of the churches in these latter days is reproduced in our present religious life. Christians will be persecuted in the days immediately preceding Christ’s coming, the Bible testifies, and the torture and murder of believers, particularly under the onslaught of the Red antireligious regime the last twenty years, has exceeded many of the terrors in the days of the early Church. False prophets and false Christs will arise, we read; and when has the multiplying of anti-Scriptural cults been more startling, the appearance of false Messiahs more repeated, the denial of Biblical truth bolder? “The love of many shall wax cold,” we are warned, as empty, formal religion supplants the worship of God in spirit and in truth. In these crisis years the zeal and ardor of many Christians have unmistakably cooled. Instead of overcoming the world through extended missionary efforts and unselfish sacrifices for the furtherance of the Kingdom, many churches are neither hot nor cold and are more interested in social life than in spiritual life, more concerned about outward reform than inner regeneration, more eager to raise money than to give money, more preoccupied with fairs and plays than with prayers and praise.
On the other hand, one of the conditions that must be fulfilled before the end comes is this, that Christ’s “Gospel of the Kingdom shall be preached in all the world for a witness unto all nations; and then shall the end come.” Do you not recognize in the radio one of the means through which this wide spread of the Gospel is to be attained? By the marvels of this incredible invention our appeal for Christ reaches multitudes who have never been inside a church, who live far beyond the ministrations of any religious group. By the miracle of the radio this message of the crucified Savior leaps over the highest mountains and flashes across the broadest plains, penetrates to vessels on the deepest seas; and if you, my friends, will continue to stand with me, as you have for almost six years, so that we can keep on enlarging the hookup and use the opportunities of shortwave broadcasting, we shall, under God’s benign blessing, record even greater triumphs for His truth than the amazing results of the past.
No one, of course, can tell the hour in which Jesus will hold His victorious return. However, the day of His second coming is 1900 years closer than when the Apostle declared: “The Lord is at hand.” All we can do is to follow the Savior’s injunction: “Watch and pray.” Christ will come suddenly, unheralded, “as a thief in the night.” What terror it will bring to those who have lived without the Savior and against Him! The horror experienced during the unfortunate broadcast when many people actually believed that an invasion of supercreatures from Mars was destroying our country and helping to usher in the end of all life on this planet, will be as nothing compared with Christ’s return, when the voice of man’s conscience assures him with deadly conviction that this is no make-believe, no stage-play, but that the hour of Judgment has struck.
Can you not see, therefore, you, the careless, the confident, the skeptic, the unbelievers, living lives that are crowded with pleasure and pain, yet empty of all hope in Christ, that I must first, last, and always ask men to get right with God through faith in their Savior, to prepare their hearts during this pre-Christmas week to receive Him who came as a babe so that we might become children of God, who lived in lowliness and humility so that we might have the exalted “riches of His grace”? When that great day of His reappearance on earth breaks and humanity’s millions are assembled before His throne, my fellow-redeemed, I want to stand with you on the right side. If you have never heard of Christ’s second advent in heavenly power, you have heard it now, and the question which should spring from your searching soul will ask, “How shall we escape if we neglect so great salvation?” Come to Him now, in the same eagerness with which Martha hastened to her Lord! May we help you come? Working shoulder to shoulder with me for the advance of Christ’s kingdom are thousands of Christian pastors in the United States and Canada, and one of these nearest you will be glad to call at your home, hotel or hospital, institution or prison, in which you now hear this message to help you prepare yourselves for Christ’s return to earth or for the time when your soul wings its way to heaven. Will you not give us the privilege of helping you make this Christmas a glorious day in your life through the message of the Christ-child, the most comforting and sustaining of all truths?
God strengthen every one of us through Christ that we may all look forward to the Savior’s return, not with fear but with deep faith, and pray for His speedy appearance. To know that Jesus will come again, defeat all opposition, and forever silence all unbelief; to have the assurance that the darkness of this present moment cannot continue indefinitely, since the radiance of the coming Christ will bring light for our gloomy problems; to believe that at Jesus’ return those who are His will see Him face to face; to realize that He comes to end all sorrow for His own and bring us into the glorious rest of heaven; to understand that the doctrine of the Second Coming is the truth which will help us solve the multiplied evils of this life and quiet grief-burdened hearts,—that is the faith which, turning to the last page of the Bible, hears Jesus say: “Behold, I come quickly,” and which answers, as I pray God I may answer for millions from coast to coast, “Even so, come, Lord Jesus!”
God grant every one of us a loving, trusting, confident faith in that glorious return of our only Savior! Amen.
Published with the permission of The Maier Center, Concordia University, Ann Arbor, Michigan 48105.