Date: Advent 1
Text: Romans 13:11-14
Theme: Living As Christ's Advent People
Grace to you and peace from God our Father and our Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.
There was an absent-minded professor who became so absorbed in his work that he forgot the simplest things. One morning his wife said, "Now Henry, remember, we're moving today. I'm putting this note in your pocket with our new address and telephone number. Don't forget."
The day passed by and the professor came home to his house. He entered the front door, and found the place empty. Distraught, he walked out to the curb and sat down and began to cry. A young boy walked up to him, and the professor asked him, "Little boy, do you know the people who used to live here?"
The little boy replied, "Sure, Dad, mom told me you'd forget."
We often get so caught up in the great things of life that we forget about Christ and his promise to visibly return to earth at the close of the age. We forget. When we hear Christ and his apostles reiterate that promise, it kind of grates on our nerves and tests our faith.
Paul, in today's epistle lesson, tells us to awaken from our sleep because our salvation is now nearer than when we first believed. Paul made that statement with the full confidence that Christ would bodily return to earth in all of his majesty and glory. And Paul fully expected that return to take place during his life time.
Again, Paul's words echo in our ears, "The hour has come for your to awake from your slumber, because our salvation is nearer now than when we first believed." And we ask, "Is it really?" We stand on the edge of a new millennium, looking forward to a new millennium, and we do it with the full realization that it's been two thousand years since Christ bodily ascended into heaven. And we, his church, have been awaiting his return ever since. And we wonder, "Is he really going to return?" At least we officially believe that he will return. Week after week we confess that "he will come again in glory to judge the living and the dead, and his kingdom will have no end."
But it's been two thousand years and we're still waiting. And we're still not sure when he will return. In today's gospel lesson, our Lord himself tells us, "Keep watch, because you do not know on what day your Lord will come." But in the face of all that waiting, in the face of all that watching, our vigilance wavers, our readiness wanes, we may even nap while on guard duty.
But, do you know something? This problem is neither new nor unique to us. The believers in Rome faced the exact same situation we face; that's why Paul addressed the situation in today's epistle lesson. And in that lesson, Paul confronts us with how we live out our lives as Christ's believers as we await his long-delayed return at the close of the age.
Will we be ready when that long delayed day arrives. Or will Christ's arrival be like that of the Prince Charles as he visit the Midlands of England. He dropped by a working man's home for an unexpected visit. The next day the man sadly told his friends, "I never expected him, nor did my wife. The house was untidy, and I hadn't washed. We shall never forgive ourselves. If we had known he was coming, we should have been ready for him."
Will we be ready for him? How will we be ready for Christ? The first thing we do is to live in the realization that Christ will come again. Jesus knew how difficult that would be for his followers. His people were an impetuous people, ready to act on a moment's notice. Jesus had to protect them against that. That's why he told them to always be constantly alert and vigilant. He knew that his followers would be distracted by the cares and necessities of life; he new that his followers would be distracted by the bells, baubles, and whistles of life. That is why he warns to us to be on guard in today's gospel lesson.
The words of the Nicene Creed are to be more than a formula we recite. They are to be a summary of Biblical teaching that guides us, guards us, and goads us in our life together and in our lives as individual believers in the Lord Jesus Christ. Do we truly believe that Christ will come again in glory to judge the both the living and the dead? Or are those mere words that we repeat but do not take to heart? If we are serious in our confession then we would be serious in our work to win the world for Christ. For when he does return there will be no second chances given. We will all stand before him and face his judgement. That is the reality we confess week after week. And it should be a living reality in our individual lives and in the life of our church.
This means that we live lives that bring and give glory to Christ. That's why Paul tells us to "behave decently, as in the daytime, not in orgies and drunkenness, not in sexual immorality and debauchery, not in dissension and jealousy." Paul tells us that our lives should so mark us that our lives are readily different than those of the unbelievers around us. We should stand out as beacons in the night--drawing other people to Christ through the sanctified lives we lead.
But there is a problem. When I examine my life in terms of the biblical witness I know that I have miserably failed to live up to God's standards as revealed in his Word. I have failed miserably because sin is so attractive. It is so attractive and we live in a world that makes it even more attractive. Popular television programs lower the barriers and push the envelope on what is acceptable behavior. Teen aged sex is not only acceptable, but it is portrayed as superior to a chaste and decent life-style. Extra-marital sex among adults is portrayed the same way. And our senses are dulled as we watch these programs. What was once anathema to us is now totally acceptable--and it wasn't done in a single, all out assault on us. Not at all, it was done a little here and little there. We may have blushed and protested at first--but we watched anyway. And now, if we're not careful, we accept the message that it's alright. But God in his holy Word says that it is not alright.
And, again, this problem is not unique to us. St. Paul lived in a sexually saturated society. Extramarital sexual activity was woven into the fabric of everyday life. This sexual activity was common and accepted. You were weird if you DIDN'T indulge. It even took on a religious nature, in the pagan worship environment. Paul warned the Roman Christians against the everyday activity of their world and of their lives. And Paul called them to Christ and to Christ-like living.
The other problem is that we live in a world that has trivialized and discounted Christ Jesus. We have done a poor job witnessing to the biblical truths concerning Christ so that people do not know who he is and what he did for us. This situation can be seen in the woman who went to the jewelry store looking for a necklace. She told the clerk that she'd like a gold cross. The clerk examined the stock in the display case and asked, "Do you want a plain one, or one with a little man on it?"
I could stand here and you could sit there and we could rail and complain about our society. We could complain how it is going to hell in and handbasket. But that is not the task our Lord has given us. He has called us to be his advent people. He has called us to be his people who live in the full and complete expectation that he will return at the close of the age. He has called us to be his people in this place, in this time, so that we might bring glory to him. But how do we do that? How do we live out our lives as Christ's people in our world?
Paul tells us how to live as Christ's advent people in the epistle lesson. Paul tells us what NOT to do with the orgies and drunkenness and immorality and debauchery and all that other good stuff. Then Paul tells us what TO DO. He tells us, "clothe yourselves with the Lord Jesus Christ, and do not think about how to gratify the desires of the sinful nature."
"Clothe yourselves with the Lord Jesus Christ." Do you see what Paul does in this sentence? If we are totally honest with ourselves, we know and we confess that we are sinners. And we know the hurt and heartache that sin causes our heavenly Father. But we also know that we deserve God's eternal damnation for those sins. We are trapped in a sin nature from which we cannot escape. And in the face of that damning sin and sin nature Paul tells us to clothe ourselves in Christ.
Christ and his sinlessness, Christ and his purity, Christ and his righteousness come to us and we wrap ourselves in Christ and his perfection and his righteousness and his sinlessness--so that Christ's perfectness becomes our perfectness. In theological lingo we call it Christ's alien righteousness. His righteousness comes to us and God the Father declares us perfect and righteous not because of what we do but solely because of his Son and his death on the cross.
When we clothe ourselves in Christ we give up on trying to earn God's love and favor. We give up on trying to live a perfect life. We give up on everything except Christ and we take his promise to heart that he forgives our sins--all of our sins and he takes our sin punishment upon himself and pays its price in full. But Christ also empowers us to resist temptation and not give rise to sin. And that is how we live as Christ's advent people. We live in hope and expectation; we live in grace and forgiveness; we live in thankfulness and praise as we await our Lord's return.
A real estate operator in California spoke of his anxiety at an impending open heart surgery--until he saw 27 other people in line at the hospital waiting for the same surgery. The surgery was successful, and now a number of the patients have formed their own softball team in Walnut Creek, California. But the realtor stated that he has learned to live his life differently now. He learned "to put on Christ" with each new day. With heartfelt thanks, his first words each morning are "Thank you, Lord, for another day." And that is how we are to live as Christ's people--thanking him for another day to serve him and be his people in a world which needs to know him. May we be that people--Christ's advent people. Amen.
And may the peace of God which passes all human understanding keep our hearts and minds in Christ Jesus our Lord. Amen.