Readings: Isaiah 2:1-5 • Psalm 122:1-9 • Romans 13:11-14 • Matthew 24:36-44
This week’s theme is The Lord is coming. This first week of Advent looks to the future return of Jesus as King of kings and Lord of lords. The prophet Isaiah talks about God’s kingdom being established and there will be no more war. The Psalmist talks about the peace that comes when we go to the house of the Lord. Matthew reminds us that Jesus said no one knows the day or the hour, but the Lord is coming. The sermon focuses on Romans 13, where we are reminded that salvation is near and we want to put our hope in Jesus.
Putting on Jesus
Romans 13:11-14 (NRSV)
For most churches in the Western tradition, today marks the beginning of the new church year, with the celebration of Advent 1. Advent is the beginning of the journey of the church calendar, which is built around the birth, life, death, resurrection, ascension and return of Jesus Christ. Advent focuses on the three comings of Jesus—his coming to the world as a child, his coming to live in us, and his final coming as Lord of lords and King of kings. Advent 1 focuses on this final coming and the great hope we have as we anticipate Jesus’ return.
Let’s read the text, and then give a bit of background:
Besides this, you know what time it is, how it is now the moment for you to wake from sleep. For salvation is nearer to us now than when we became believers; the night is far gone, the day is near. Let us then lay aside the works of darkness and put on the armor of light; let us live honorably as in the day, not in reveling and drunkenness, not in debauchery and licentiousness, not in quarreling and jealousy. Instead, put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh, to gratify its desires. (Romans 13:11-14 NRSV)
You notice the text begins with “Besides this…” Before going further, we need to ask, “Besides what?” What is Paul referring to? In the verses just before our lectionary passage, Paul has been talking about love. He makes a powerful statement that all the law and commandments are summed up with, “Love your neighbor as yourself.” After making this all-encompassing claim, Paul seems to back up suddenly, as if he realizes the weight that comes with that claim. “How can anyone possibly love in this way? How will I ever be able to do such a thing when I fail so often in loving others?” Paul interrupts this passage on love by showing what prevents us from loving others and from remaining in hope, and then he makes an appeal. He uses a metaphor to remind his readers of something they know—not to tell them something new.
He reminds them that they already “know what time it is.” Paul is not talking about chronological time as if they knew the correct day on the calendar. He was speaking of time in the way a 9-month pregnant woman whose water just broke would speak of time. If she were to walk in the room holding her belly, wide-eyed, and say to her husband, “It’s time,” he would know exactly what she means. It’s time for action. It’s time to set everything else aside and completely focus every thought and action in the moment around what’s about to happen very shortly. This is how Paul means “you know what time it is…”
Let’s see what we can glean from this metaphor on waking up in the morning as it relates to Advent 1 and our salvation being nearer to us now. Using the night to refer to all the darkness of our world and the brokenness in our soul, Paul tells us it is time to “wake from sleep.” Advent, the coming of Christ, is the event of the Eternal One entering our time. In this amazing movement of grace, we find that “the night is far gone, the day is near.”
As we celebrate the coming of Christ during Advent, we know that his coming to us is not stuck in the past event of his birth, nor does it lay beyond our reach at some distant time in the future of his return. His coming is a present reality. It’s in this present reality that Paul wants us to wake up and orient our lives.
The time for us now is the season of advent, and the rehearsing of Jesus coming into the world as a flesh and blood baby born to the virgin Mary. And because we join the story in the year of our Lord 2019, we are bridging the reality of the past event to our present world.
From this reality, Paul wants us to “lay aside the works of darkness and put on the armor of light.” We “lay aside” by “putting on.” Putting on the armor of light is parallel to Paul’s teaching to the church at Ephesus in Ephesians 6:11-18 – Put on the belt of truth, the breastplate of righteousness, shoes shod for proclaiming the gospel, the shield of faith, the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit – the word of God.
So, does Paul want us Christians to take on the apparel of a 1st century Roman soldier? Do we need training in sword fighting and how to properly use the shield? It is not that complicated. In fact, Paul simplifies his analogy of “putting on” in Romans 13 verse 14 with the direct expression – “Put on the Lord Jesus Christ.” The very reason that Jesus entered our world is so that he could enter into our individual lives; that he could abide in us and we could abide in him. Not making his home in Bethlehem, Egypt, or Nazareth, rather making his home in us.
The result of putting on Christ is to live “honorably” in the light. Paul wants the church, then and now to be clear about what he means when he says “works of darkness.” In our fast-paced world, it is easy to blur the lines and especially challenging for our young people.
Reveling and drunkenness
This first pair of words is a manifestation of overindulgence. Although Paul mentions two specifics of partying and drinking, we could add a long list of other things that we may be tempted to overindulge in. Enjoying a party or having a drink is not a sin. But if we think the party or drink will bring us the fullness of life, we will party a little too hard and drink a little too much, thinking that maybe the next bash or another round will do the trick. But it never will, because it was never intended to. Parties and drinks cannot do that; neither can shopping, eating, binging on Netflix, playing video games, sports, travel, social media and many other things. Only being clothed in Jesus and wrapped in his love can bring the lasting joy and contentment we yearn for.
Debauchery and licentiousness
What are debauchery and licentiousness? They come when people throw out traditional moral restrictions. Instead of trusting God’s design for human expression of love and sex within the bond of a committed relationship between a man and woman, we turn to satisfy ourselves with our own distortions of relational expression. We settle to define love on our terms rather than put on Christ and be embraced by his sustaining love.
So, again, Paul is encouraging us to “lay aside” such pursuits and instead “put on the armor of light, put on Jesus” When we do this, we will find C.S. Lewis had it right when he said, “Eros ceases to be a devil only when it ceases to be a god.”
Quarreling and jealousy
Quarreling and jealousy come when people are purely thinking and acting out of the flesh. It took God becoming flesh to rescue us from our venomous ways in which we behave toward one another. Imagine how many quarrels and jealousies would disappear if the human race were clothed in Christ and living in his light? We may not always feel it or see it, but that’s what Advent points to—a new day in Christ.
Jesus has brought us into a new day, and the reality we see now is that we are children of God, wrapped and swaddled in Jesus. When the light of this reality streams into our dark world, we can wake up with a whole new outlook on who we are and rejoice that Jesus is coming, has come and will come.
Jesus is our hope and our help that abides with us and in us. Today we celebrate the reality that we can put on Jesus because that he first put on flesh and blood and became one of us.
Be encouraged, this passage bursts with hope as it tells us, we can set our sights on the second advent as the fullness of our salvation is closer today than it has ever been. Hallelujah!
Small Group Discussion Questions
From “Speaking of Life”:
- What are the three beginnings of Advent that “Speaking of Life” refers to?
- Compare and contrast the celebration of New Years on January 1st and the celebration of Advent 1 which marks the New Year for the Christian calendar. Where is hope found in each?
From the sermon:
- Discuss how hope in Christ who is growing us to love God and love others helps us deal with the fact that “Love Don’t Come Easy.” How does this inform our struggle to love others?
- Discuss Paul’s metaphor of “waking up” and how it informs our understanding of the Christian life.
- Discuss how a “fleshly mentality” can lead to the three pairs of “dark works” Paul mentions.
- #1. “reveling and drunkenness” – overindulgence
- #2. “debauchery and licentiousness” – “looking for love in all the wrong places”
- #3. “quarreling and jealousy” – consumed with proven our worth