A sermon preached on Romans 13:8-14 by the Rev. Justin Clemente at New Creation Church (Anglican), Hagerstown, MD on the first Sunday of Advent, 2019.
Lighten our darkness, we beseech you, O Lord; and by your great mercy defend us from all perils and dangers of this present night; that the Gospel of your Son might be all our protection and illumine our path, now and always. Amen.
Advent: A Time to Get Ready
Advent is a time to get ready. To come back to the sober and yet joyful hope of Jesus’ return. To ensure that our candle is lit brightly, waiting for our Lord!
My fuel for preaching this week has been C.S. Lewis’s essay “The World’s Last Night” (warning: profuse quotations ahead!), in which he says:
“The doctrine of the Second Coming has failed, so far as we are concerned, if it does not make us realize that at every moment of every year in our lives Donne’s question “What if this present were the world’s last night?” is equally relevant.” (The World’s Last Night and Other Essays, Pg. 109)
That is the call of Advent, friends. To awaken from slumber. To be aroused from what amounts to spiritual drunkenness. To live life in the radiance of his holiness. I keep trying to get away from Romans 13:11-14, but it remains the poignant and succinct passage we need to get us going in Advent.
We’ll briefly focus in on three aspects of this passage as we do.
One Day Closer – That’s All We Know (v.11)
“Besides this 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.”
St. Paul says to us here that the blessed hope of Christ’s return and the consummation of our salvation are only ever one day closer to happening – and that’s all we need to know!
In in the essay I mentioned, Lewis sets forth three propositions about the Second Coming: 1) Jesus will certainly return, 2) we cannot possibly find out when, and therefore, 3) we must always be ready to meet him, living to please him only. “And what I say to you I say to all: stay awake.” (Mark 13:37) That is Jesus word to you, Christian or not!
We are not called to concern ourselves with dates, calculating Jesus’ return down to the day. No, we are only called to live in the light of the knowledge that it is the next event on God’s calendar and therefore, always immanent. Lewis compares history to a play and puts it this way:
“We are not the playwright, we are not the producer, we are not even the audience. We are on the stage. To play well the scenes in which we are “on” concerns us much more than to guess about the scenes that follow it. …
We do not…even know whether we are in Act I or Act V. We do not know who are the major and who the minor characters. The Author knows. The audience, if there is an audience (if angels and archangels and all the company of heaven fill the pit and the stalls) may have an inkling. But we, never seeing the play from outside, never meeting any characters except the tiny minority who are “on” in the same scenes as ourselves, wholly ignorant of the future and very imperfectly informed about the past, cannot tell at what moment the end ought to come. That it will come when it ought, we may be sure; but we waste our time in guessing when that will be. That it has a meaning we may be sure, but we cannot see it. When it is over, we may be told. We are led to expect that the Author will have something to say to each of us on the part that each of us has played. The playing it well is what matters infinitely.” (The World’s Last Night and Other Essays, pgs. 104-106)
And with that we skip to v. 13, which contrasts the way of light with the way of death and darkness.
The Way of Death & Darkness (v. 13)
Let us walk properly as in the daytime, not in orgies and drunkenness, not in sexual immorality and sensuality, not in quarreling and jealousy.
The first thing that I just note is this: these things are spoken to Christians! And they are dark. John Stott says here, “In contrast to the beautiful and protective clothing which is Christ, Paul refers to the our ugly, self-centered nature (sarx). It has not been eradicated; it is still there. It also has clamant desires.” (The Message of Romans, pg. 353)
Now here, looking at verse 13, you may be tempted to say geez, Paul, I’m not in a college sorority! No, but are you numbing out on the pressures of life through strong drink? Are you struggling with pornography and lust? Are you giving in to habitual anger and fits of rage?
These things belong to the darkness, not to Christ. And they get at us, particularly when we think we can do the Christian life alone. Paul says “let us walk,” which brings us back to our need for consistent and deep Christian brotherhood and sisterhood. If you are walking alone in your Christian life day-to-day, week-to-week, you are weak and vulnerable. Whether it be one-on-one or in a small group, each of us needs friendships where we can support and encourage one another.
Seek them out in the body of Christ, for we are called to walk in the light.
Walking in Daylight (v. 12,14)
“The night is far gone; the day is at hand. So then let us cast off the works of darkness and put on the armor of light. … put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh, to gratify its desires.”
In these verses we are told to put on the armor of light and to put on the Lord Jesus Christ. This means to things:
First, the armor of light is Jesus himself. His righteousness given to us by grace through faith. His shed blood cleanses us, protects us, and makes us light
Second, we are told to [keep putting] on the Lord Jesus Christ. Jesus is not only the ground of our justification, he himself is the goal of our sanctification, as we reflect more and more of his character. What other dress would be appropriate to a person waiting to be glorified and made to perfectly reflect image that same Christ? And so Colossians 3:12 tells us, “Put on then, as God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, compassionate hearts, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience.”
Going back to Lewis’s essay, he puts it this way:
“Women sometimes have the problem of trying to judge by artificial light how a dress will look by daylight. That is very like the problem of all of us: to dress our souls not for the electric lights of the present world but for the daylight of the next. The good dress is the one that will face that light. For that light will last longer.” (The World’s Last Night and Other Essays, pg. 113)
Lastly, v. 12 shows one more aspect of walking in the daylight: it strains ahead to the coming day, considering the life of the world to come to be what is enduring and strong – it considers the night as far done and the day as at hand. I want to close with these powerful lines from Pierce Hibbs in his book, Finding God in the Ordinary:
“In early December of this year, I watch the first snow. Millions of tiny ice stars float through the air, strike the pavement and sidewalk, and soften into water. White is lost to black in the pavement, or gray in the cement, or yellow in the dying grass. So many stars disappearing so quickly, and without a sound…
Behind the falling snow is the voice of the Trinity. The world does his bidding. While that in itself may not seem so mysterious, I am baffled at the contrast between his might and his means, between his power and the marks of his presence. So soft a precipitation as snow could not possibly reflect the presence of a God who is sharply holy, and yet it does. Many times he chooses the soft and subtle to humble the coarse and the crude – not so unlike the way in which this snow is blanketing the landscape, making the heavy world seem lighter, almost weightless, as if the entirety of history could come to a close this afternoon with a single word.” (pgs. 64-66)
Where is the Lord calling you back this Advent? How is he speaking to you about living life in Christ for the day after the world’s last night? Amen.