Advent 1 (A)
A sermon preached by Bob Schaefer
Luther Seminary, PR2510
The First Sunday in Advent – December 2, 2001
(Preached November 29, 2001)
Text: Romans 13:11-14
"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. 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. Let us walk properly as in the daytime, not in orgies and drunkenness, not in sexual immorality and sensuality, not in quarreling and jealousy. But put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh, to gratify its desires." (ESV)
Have you ever kept a calendar?
If you’re like most folks I know, you’ve got some sort of planner that you live by. Some, like my mom, keep a big monthly calendar on a nail in the kitchen so that they never miss a birthday, anniversary, or major holiday. Others, my dad, for instance, prefer the sleek lines of an elegant leather-bound planner. Here at the seminary, red spiral-bound diaries with all the church festivals seem to multiply and thrive. Me, I like to keep everything on my computer.
Life’s complicated and busy, so we rely on these calendars to keep us on track for the day. A professor I knew flew into a panic when he couldn’t check his online scheduler—he knew he had to be somewhere for a meeting in three minutes, but he had no idea where he was supposed to go! I laugh, but I’m the same way. Who knows what things I’d miss if I didn’t have my trusty schedule at the ready? As we move into the holiday season, I suspect that most of us find our time is stretched thinner and thinner. Planning out our days makes things go smoother.
It turns out that the apostle Paul was way ahead of us! Hundreds of years before people began toting around Palms and Daytimers, Paul understood the importance of having a plan for our days. In our scripture today, he shows us what God’s penciled into our schedule.
It’s very simple, actually: First, we wake up. Then we change clothes. We spend most of the day walking. Then we plan ahead. Sound good to you? Let’s take a look at each of these “appointments” our Lord would like us to keep, then.
First things first: Before we can do anything else, we need to wake up. Now I like sleeping in just as much as the next fellow—maybe even more. But the fact is, Paul reminds us, that we’ve slept plenty! The night is over; the sun is rising!
Of course, when Paul talks about sleeping, he doesn’t just mean catching some Zs after Sunday dinner. Sleeping is one way Paul talks about being dead. When Paul writes, “Behold! I tell you a mystery. We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed," (1 Corinthians 15:51) he’s preaching the Resurrection Day, and not a night of tossing, turning insomnia.
So it is here. The darkness of night is the darkness of all the evil of this world. And we are sleepers in the night—that is, we are as dead as can be while that evil lays upon us like a black veil. But there’s a light shining on the horizon, the light of Jesus Christ. The rising of that Son will wake us up. Our day in Christ starts out with rising from our deadly slumbers, wiping the sleep from our eyes, and stretching in the dawn of new life.
Once we’re awake, our day can begin in earnest. Obviously, the next thing we need to do is to change out of our bedclothes, and into our day clothes. No one goes to work in their pajamas, after all! When we get out of bed, we strip off those PJs and toss them aside. Then we put on some jeans, a skirt, a suit and tie, or whatever kind of day clothes we need to wear.
It’s no different when we’re following God’s Daytimer. When we sleep through the night—when we’re dead in a world of evil—we wear nighttime clothes. We are covered from head to foot in our sins. But these sins are not the right clothes for us to be wearing when the daytime comes. So when we wake up, the very next thing we do is to cast off those sins, and get dressed in the only clothes fit for such a bright new day: our Lord Jesus Christ is your outfit for the day.
That’s right! Just like you might put on a pair of Nike tennis shoes and feel sporty, or a J. Crew turtleneck and feel trendy, you’re going to put on Jesus Christ himself now. And when you put on Christ like a favorite sweatshirt, you’ll find that he’ll keep you very warm. It’s still early morning, you know…just after dawn. The chill from the night hasn’t quite faded yet, and you’ll be glad to have your Lord all around you to warm and protect you.
So we’ve woken up and gotten dressed. What’s the next item on our agenda? We start walking. We’ve got places to go and people to see, and the only way to do these things is to put one foot in front of the other and go.
The Bible often uses walking as a metaphor for how we live our life. Think of Psalm 119:105. It says, “Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path.” In other words, every word that God speaks helps us to live our lives, to walk on the path that he has set before us and see where we’re going.
Now, God’s calendar is very clear: We’re not supposed to just walk around willy-nilly! And we’re not supposed to drag our feet or hang our heads as we go. No, our job is to walk properly, the way people do in the light. When it comes to living our lives, that means there are certain things we don’t do. We shouldn’t take detours off the road in order to carouse and get drunk. We should avoid the muddy ditches of sexual immorality and lewd conduct. We should never get bogged down in quarreling or jealousy. In short, our job is to walk purposefully down the road that God has started us on.
Our final task for the day is to plan ahead. After all, isn’t that the whole point of having a calendar to keep in the first place? Our Lord tells us to plan ahead because today we’re one day closer to his return than we were yesterday. It’s coming, as sure as the day is long, and Christ wants us to be prepared.
There’s another kind of planning ahead that we’re told not to do, though. “Make no provision for sin,” Paul tells us, and by this he means, “Don’t make plans to be sinful.” It seems so obvious that it shouldn’t even need saying. The sad truth, though, is that we’re still shaking off the dreams of night, so to speak. We’re not completely free from sin yet, not until Christ returns, and so we find ourselves planning for it and accommodating it. Maybe even desiring it. We should never plan ways to sin, though! Our Daytimers should look ahead to the great holiday of Christ’s return, and not to the sinful little appointments we’re tempted to make.
Now, when I keep a calendar, I usually find that surprises happen. Things come up that I haven’t planned for. Meetings get cancelled, friends arrive on my doorstep, cars break down, and so forth. Not only that, but I often find that I’m not so good at being on time for my appointments, even with my calendar clear.
God understands this. He’s given us this planner to help us through our day, but he realizes that we’re going to miss some appointments.
The thing is, God’s working with a calendar of his own, and it’s bigger than yours or mine. It stretches back before the creation of everything that exists, and forward beyond the end of time. And at the center of this calendar is Jesus Christ. His appointments were much bigger than any you or I have on our calendars. He was born as a baby boy—no small thing for the God of all! He had many things on his plate, healing people and teaching them, praying with his disciples, even raising folks from the dead once or twice.
But the biggest thing on Jesus’ schedule, the most important appointment ever made, was a visit to Jerusalem that ended in his death. All of history, all of humankind depended on that one terrible appointment being kept, and our Lord did not let us down. He showed up at just the right time, and saw his job through to the end.
Because of God’s big calendar and all the things he’s accomplished through it, we’re freed to have little calendars of our own. Jesus Christ our Lord, the one whom we wear as our daytime clothes, is the one who gives us the will power to keep the appointments penciled into our Daytimers: Wake up, get dressed, start walking, and plan ahead. And it is Jesus Christ who loves us and forgives us when we miss an appointment, too.
Thanks be to God for calendars great and small, for they are all his own! Amen.