Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord! Amen.
In the name of Jesus, our coming Savior, dear people of God:
The phone awakes you from a deep sleep in the middle of the night. It takes a while to register what is happening. You slap at the alarm clock trying to get it to stop. You finally realize that is not working so you find the phone and answer it. There is some sort of an emergency – you need to get up and get going right now! However, you need to get your bearings first, you need to be fully awake to deal with the urgent matter at hand. It is no time for sleeping – it’s time for action. On the first Sunday in a new church year we are called to action. The Spirit wants us to be spiritually awake. So today the Spirit urges us through the words of Paul to the Romans: This is not time for sleeping!
Why not? So the sinful nature asks. What’s wrong with taking it easy? “For crying out loud, Christ hasn’t returned in the last 2,000 years – why be concerned about it now?” the flesh objects. There is so much lulling us to sleep. Apathy easily envelopes those who have had the gospel for so long. We begin to take the Lord Jesus, his saving work, and his life-giving Word for granted. We complain about going to church so much. We get upset when the service runs long. We are disgusted with those who try to encourage us to read, learn, and study God’s Word. This is a living definition of spiritual sleep. Yes, so often we approach the Word of God and service to God and neighbor with all the energy and vigor we have after a Thanksgiving meal. The exhortation before us today is wake up and get with it! Don’t allow apathy and spiritual sluggishness to rule the roost in your house!
Yes, the words before us today are words of exhortation. Exhortation is urging people who know the facts to live by them. So you may know all the things that Paul writes about here. Now we are urging you to live the things you know. It reminds one of a story about a pastor who preached the same sermon for six weeks in a row. Finally, one of the members worked up enough courage to talk to the pastor about it. “You have preached the same sermon six weeks in a row!” the man complained. The pastor said, “Once you start living what I am preaching in that sermon, I’ll be happy to write a new one.” This is exhortation urging you to do what you know.
So we are reminded – the day of the Lord is near! Paul puts it this way, And do this, understanding the present time. The hour has come for you to wake up from your slumber, because our salvation is nearer now than when we first believed. The night is nearly over; the day is almost here. So let us put aside the deeds of darkness and put on the armor of light.
Paul would have us understand the present time. We live in the time between promises. Christ fulfilled the first promise – he came as Savior. Christ will most certainly also fulfill the second promise – his return as judge at the end of time. So we look back to his saving work and find great comfort in his forgiveness. We also look forward to his return because through faith in him we have forgiveness and eternal life awaits us. This time in between promises is a time when Christ continue to come to us through his gospel in Word and in sacrament. He does this to keep us connected to him and to strengthen us in our service to him. Yes, this time of grace that we have to live in this world is a time for us to exercise Christian love. Paul mentions the life of love in the verses that immediately precede these verses. There he wrote, “Let no debt remain outstanding, except the continuing debt to love one another, for he who loves his fellowman has fulfilled the law.” Live in love understanding the present time. The end is near. The time may be short. Use the time to reflect the love God has showered on you in Christ to your neighbor. Yes, it is high time to wake up! It’s high time to live the faith we confess. It’s high time to show our faith with our actions. Don’t just listen to this Word – do what it says!
We are urged to live in preparedness for Christ’s return at all times. We do this by living in love and living in the light of God’s Word. Friends, this is an ongoing struggle for us. We are still saddled with the sinful flesh that is by nature lazy, sleepy, sluggish, and slothful. We have to fight against the flesh that wants to drag us down into the spiritual sleep and apathy that can easily destroy our faith. Let us repent of lethargy and laziness! Let us repent of our sinful desires and selfish thoughts! In Christ there is forgiveness. In Christ there is strength. In Christ we are awake and alert. Lord, forgive us. Lord, strengthen us. Lord, lead us to live prepared for your return being watchful, living in repentance, and living renewed by the Spirit. Jesus has defeated the darkness of sin and unbelief for us!
Living the life of a Christian truly is all about being connected to Christ. So we are further urged today – clothe yourselves with the Lord Jesus! Paul continues his exhortation: Let us behave decently, as in the daytime, not in orgies and drunkenness, not in sexual immorality and debauchery, not in dissension and jealousy. Rather, clothe yourselves with the Lord Jesus Christ, and do not think about how to gratify the desires of the sinful nature.
The Holy Spirit urges us to steer clear of the deeds of darkness. And boy don’t the holidays tempt us to live in darkness? Paul talks about the sinful culture of the world. So often the world’s culture of sin invades our Christmas celebrations. We are warned here about sinful excesses. But what do we often associate with Christmas parties but overindulging in food and alcohol. It’s not wrong to eat. It’s not sinful to drink alcohol. But gluttony is a sin and so is drunkenness. Paul warns us about sexual sins. Sex is not sinful in a marriage relationship – it’s a wonderful gift from God. But any use of sex outside of marriage is living in darkness – it’s wrong! Paul also warns about the strife that is caused by selfishness. When we consider the life of Christ – we see that life is not about me, myself, and I. The son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve … We are here to serve others not ourselves. Let us repent of any and all of these sins of living in darkness that we have committed.
Let us consider the better alternative that Jesus gives us here in his Word of Truth. The invitation is – clothe yourselves with the Lord Jesus Christ. That sounds a whole lot like what Paul wrote in Galatians 3 – for all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. We plainly see the baptismal influence at work. That event that probably took place so long ago for you, has a daily influence in your life. You have been clothed with Christ. You now are robed in his perfect righteousness credited to you by faith in him. This baptism compels you to return to the font each and every day through contrition or sorrow over sin and repentance or trust that Jesus has forgiven you. This baptism moves you to live a life of joyful self-denial. When we are clothed in Christ we are not thinking about how to gratify the desires of the sinful nature. When we are clothed with Christ we focus on him and his incredible, undeserved love for us.
Joyful self-denial is how we stay awake and alert. Joyful self-denial is willingly giving things up and replacing those things of darkness with Jesus. Joyful self-denial is joyful because its focus is on Jesus – the one who came to conquer sin, death, and Satan for us! So we eagerly await Christ’s return knowing full well that our citizenship is in heaven! We say with joyful anticipation – Come, Lord Jesus! Amen.