Advent 1 – Series A (November 27, 2016)
“Wake Up!” (Romans 13:11-14)
One of life’s most unpleasant moments is in the morning when the alarm clock goes off, blaring the unhappy news that it’s time to wake up. There are some people who can just hop right out of bed. I think for most of us, though – especially when the weather begins to get colder and the skies get grayer and darker – it’s hard to get up in the morning after you are told by your alarm or your spouse or your kids or your dog that it’s time to wake up. You are groggy, tired, and weak. Wouldn’t you much rather stay in bed under the nice, warm, comfy pile of blankets and go back to sleep?
This is true spiritually speaking, too. Our souls become groggy, tired, and weak and we battle spiritual carelessness or indifference. We delay confessing our sins to God. You think to yourself, “What I’m doing is really no big deal.” But sin is sin, no matter how we try to spin it. Any and all sin equally condemns us.
That’s why, in today’s Epistle lesson, St. Paul says that it’s time to “Wake up!” He says, “you know the time, that the hour has come for you to wake from sleep. For salvation is nearer to us now than when we first believed.”
“Wake Up” and recognize the time. As we enter another Advent season, it’s good to take some time to recognize the time. The time in which we live is an evil time. There are temptations all around us. And the world tranquilizes us with its many pleasures. We get wrapped up in television, movies, sports, shopping, and travel. There’s nothing necessarily wrong with these things, unless they take our eyes off of God’s plan for our lives. (Thoughts here borrowed from Stephen Carter, My Daily Devotion, p 336.)
Therefore, the time in which we live is a time to be vigilant against temptation. The time in which we live is a God-given opportunity to repent of our sins, to “wake from [our] sleep” of carelessness and indifference to God and his Word. Carelessness and indifference is what the first-century church of Laodicea struggled with. In Revelation 3, Jesus calls them “lukewarm,” and therefore he warns, “I will spit you out of my mouth.” Even worse than spitting out a bland, dishwater-warm mocha, Jesus threatens to reject those who are spiritually asleep, those who rationalize disobedience to God’s will in their lives. So much for that sweet little baby in our Nativity scenes. He means business when it comes to unbelief. And so, we must never delay daily confession and repentance.
Paul also says that salvation is “nearer to us now than when we first believed.” Now, you may be saying to yourself, “I thought I was already saved. I’m baptized. I believe in Jesus as my Savior. He died on the cross for my forgiveness. I faithfully eat and drink his body and blood in the Holy Supper. Why then is salvation ‘nearer to us now’?”
You ARE saved now. You ARE forgiven. This is true. But “salvation” here refers to the day when our salvation is fully made public on the Last Day when Jesus visibly returns. It may seem to be a long way off. But with each passing day, it draws closer. Think about the Advent calendars you may have in your home. With each little door you open, you know that the celebration of our Lord’s First Advent is drawing near. Likewise, with every passing day throughout the year, you know that our Lord’s Second Advent is drawing near. That day is closer than the time when you were born. It’s closer than the time you were born AGAIN. It’s closer than last year, and last week, and even yesterday. Every passing moment brings us closer to that blessed day. As in those early morning hours of the dawning of a new day, between the hours of darkness and light, the same goes for the “hour” at hand: “The night is far gone; the day is at hand.” This present world age of darkness, sin, evil, and suffering is passing away. The future heavenly age awaits all believers in Christ … the age of light, holiness, purity, and bliss in the presence of God’s unhidden glory.
Because that time is so near, it is high time to “wake up.” It is time to live in constant expectation of the Second Advent of our Lord and Savior. And it’s time to “cast off the works of darkness and put on the armor of light.”
What’s one of the first things you do in the morning when you wake up? You change your clothes. Like taking off pajamas after you get out of bed, pajamas that have been dirtied and soiled with the body’s perspiration and odors, we are urged in our text to “cast off the works of darkness.” Maybe a better analogy would be to say it’s more like taking off clothes that have been contaminated with an infectious disease … sexual sins, drunkenness, quarreling or causing strife, jealousy, unbridled excess. These are all acts that come from a heart that says, “I am going to do what I want to do, when I want to do it, no matter who gets hurt along the way.”
Even though we may not be outwardly engaged in all these sins mentioned in our text, we need to be reminded of these other words of St. Paul, “let anyone who thinks he stands take heed lest he fall” (1 Cor. 10:12). Satan loves to drag Christians into the most shameful of sins in order to disgrace the Church and her Lord.
On the other hand, quarreling and jealousy are not normally considered to be shameful sins. Yet Paul still lists them along with these other sins. Who among us has not been guilty of these, contributing to strife in our families or workplace, or being jealous of someone else? These, too, we need to “cast off.”
After we take off our soiled clothes, it’s time to put on fresh, clean clothes. “Cast off the works of darkness and put on the armor of light.” Paul talks about the armor of God available to Christians in Ephesians 6 and in a more abbreviated fashion in 1 Thessalonians 5. But he gets right down to business here and tells us that the armor that we wear is simply Jesus and his righteousness. Jesus is the embodiment of this armor of light. In the last verse of our text, Paul says to “put on the Lord Jesus Christ and make no provision for the flesh, to gratify its desires,” that is, the desires of our old sinful nature that are opposed to God and his will.
You are I were clothed with Jesus and his victorious death and resurrection in the waters of Baptism. We are Christ’s men and women from head to toe. Moreover, when we daily confess our sins to God, we daily clothe ourselves with Christ, reminding ourselves of God’s promises given to us in Baptism. Daily we take off our old, soiled, sinful garments in confession and we put on the fresh, clean, holy clothes of Christ through trusting in the Father’s promises of life and forgiveness through his Son.
Christmas is approaching, and you may be thinking about what gifts you will receive. Some of you may be getting new clothes for Christmas. Have you ever put on a new outfit and looked at yourself in the mirror, and felt like a new person? You have a new air of confidence about yourself, a new bounce in your step. You walk out of the house holding your head high with a new attitude.
Knowing that we have been clothed with Christ, we can walk with a renewed will to “walk properly as in the daytime.” And it’s much more than like having new clothes to wear and a new attitude because of one’s external appearance. The Holy Spirit works from the inside and remolds and reshapes us so that we are enabled to trust the Lord, serve him, and obey him.
Our Savior never thought about how to gratify himself. Everything he did was for the sake others … for the sake of you. He became flesh. He lived in humble circumstances. He endured temptation after temptation. When the disciples fell asleep in the Garden of Gethsemane the night Jesus was betrayed, Jesus remained awake and struggled in prayer, knowing where he was headed. While most of Jerusalem slept, Jesus endured an all-night trial, with accompanying beatings and mockings. By the time the city was waking up in the morning, Jesus had already been condemned to death and endured the pain and suffering of the cross. There he became the embodiment of our sin, so in him we might become the righteousness of God. There, Jesus endured God’s wrath so you and I might know and have God’s priceless love. And though His body “slept” in the tomb for three days, Jesus “woke up” again on Easter morning as victor over death and the devil.
That was the sole purpose of his first Advent. And the call goes out to “Wake Up,” to trust him and to walk in his light, to be ready for his second Advent.