“Rise and Shine”
December 1, 2013 - First Sunday in Advent
How many of you set
you alarm clock for early on “Black Friday” this year? We did, to buy
poinsettias for church at a bargain price. The alarm went off at 4:35 a.m. and
I rolled out of bed, pulled on jeans and a shirt, then woke up Beth. Fifteen
minutes later we were in the car, rolling down the hill to Home Depot. Thirty
minutes after that, the flowers were resting in the rear of my 4Runner and we
were back in bed. We got up when it was time, did what was needed, then quickly
went back to sleep.
Paul told the
Christians in Rome that they knew the time, “the moment for you to wake from
sleep.” There in capital of the western world, the alarm was going off, someone
was shaking them by the shoulder. It’s time to wake up, to rise and shine, says
verse 11. The reason is, “For salvation is nearer to us now than when we became
We usually think of
salvation in the past tense. We talk about “getting saved,” as if it’s over and
done. But in the Bible salvation is past, present and future. Yes, when you
believe and commit your life to Jesus, you are saved, past tense. But it’s also
something that’s happening to you right now. Christ is always saving you,
always forgiving your sins and transforming your life. And it’s in the future.
We heard Jesus say it in Matthew 24. He’s coming back some unknown day in the
future to save all who believe.
Paul’s way of putting
it, “salvation is near to us now than when we became believers,” is like what
Beth and I say every now and then these days, “we’re not as young as we used to
be.” It’s true, but it’s the sort of statement that’s always true, no matter
when you say it. Yes, the return of Jesus is nearer now than it was awhile ago,
but as we see here, the same was true 2,000 years ago in Rome. Where’s the
As I mentioned a
couple weeks ago, some Christian teachers have tried to turn the urgency of
Paul and Jesus into a spiritual alarm clock. They have systems for looking at prophecy
which supposedly let us know what Jesus said no one knows, the time and day
when He’s coming back. They ring the alarm, warning us to be ready in the next
few months, or years or decade.
Neither Paul nor Jesus
intended you and I or anyone else to know when that final day would come. Jesus
said no one knows that. But Paul told the Romans what they did know. It doesn’t
matter how far off the return of Christ might be, the moment to wake up is
already here. It’s time to arise and get ready for the day. Believers can’t
just sleep in, letting the world go by around them. It’s time to rise and
Verse 12 tells us,
“the night is far gone, the day is near.” You know what it’s like to go to bed
when your term paper is not finished, or your house needs to be cleaned for
guests, or a report is still to be filed. School or family or work is arriving tomorrow.
You need to get up at the first light if you want to be ready. If you stay
asleep, you will miss it all.
Paul used his image
here over and over. It’s time to get up and take off old clothing and put on
new clothing, to put on “armor” for the battle ahead. You can picture a Roman
soldier tying on his breastplate, placing a helmet on his head, strapping a
shield, then picking up his sword. Or you can envision a modern soldier zipping
up a bullet-proof vest, strapping down a helmet and goggles, then hefting an
automatic rifle. However, you see it, life in Christ is a battle and we are to
wake up and be ready for it.
You can’t go to war in
your pajamas. You wake up and change clothes. Before we “put on the armor of
light,” Paul tells us to “lay aside the works of darkness.” You might grab a
Black Friday bargain by throwing a coat over your pajamas or nightgown and
slipping out early hoping you don’t run into anyone you know, but you know
you’re not really ready for the day in those clothes. And we’re not ready to
live for Christ in this world as long as we’re wearing nightclothes, wearing
all the stuff we’re meant to leave behind.
“Let us live honorably
as in the day,” says Paul at the beginning of verse 13. The rest of the verse
is a catalog of the sorts of clothing, the pajamas, the works of darkness,
which need to be removed in order to live honorably. Specifically it’s a list
that characterized the Roman pagans before they converted to Christianity. It’s
not all that out of date.
drunkenness mean wild parties. People lose control of themselves and boundaries
evaporate. It happens at an office party or a tailgater, at a sports event or a
family reunion. It’s a crazy spirit of indulgence that Christians want to get
out of and avoid.
Debauchery is literally
the word for “bed.” Like it can be today, it was a euphemism for indiscriminate
sexual activity, for “sleeping around.” Christians have different sexual morals
than the world around us. Despite what movies and television shows constantly portray,
we’re not meant to hop into bed before marriage or into bed with others after
we’re married, but to save our sexual life for husband or wife.
doing whatever you please. It’s the spirit of our age. Be free, do what you
want, make yourself happy, even if it isn’t right, even if it hurts others,
even if in the end you find out that doing what you please doesn’t really make
you happy. Christians leave that do-what-you-please outfit behind and seek to
Quarreling and jealousy are a little different. Those first four vices are individual, but Paul
also asks us to remove all the ways we damage our community with others. Instead
of finding fault and tearing down others, instead of bitterly envying what they
have and we don’t, Christians are to put on a spirit of love and care toward
those around us. That love is actually what he means by the “armor of light.”
It’s hard to give up
old clothes. I can’t quite throw away a ratty old T-shirt that says, “I fish,
therefore I am.” It’s too small and full of holes now. I don’t want to toss it,
but I also realize I can’t really wear it anymore. That’s how we can be with
our old sins. We know they don’t look good on us as Christians anymore, but we
can’t quite let go.
So Paul tells us to
wake up, get rid of those old clothes and vest ourselves in shining new
garments. Instead of deeds of darkness, shine with good deeds. “Put on the
armor of light.” As verse 14 continues, “clothe yourselves with the Lord Jesus
Christ.” Take off our own dark lives and put on His bright one.
This is not salvation
by works. It’s a call to good works in Christ because He is saving us. And as
the completion of our salvation draws nearer it is more and more important that
we rise and shine with the light of His life, clothing ourselves with Him,
rather than with the rags of an old way of living.
Paul concludes verse
14 with the injunction, “and make no provision for the flesh, to gratify its
evil desires” You can read that and get the idea Christians are supposed to
hate their bodies, to be pure spirit. It sounds like we should try to give up
physical desires like food or sex or sleep. But Paul is only using the word
“flesh” as a term to denote a whole way of life that is focused on ourselves
rather than on God and others.
The “flesh” that Paul
warns us about can be unruly physical desire, but it’s any kind of self-focused
desire which takes over our lives. The stores that opened on Thanksgiving and
the online advertisers who will pummel you on Cyber Monday are counting on
those “desires of the flesh,” to focus your mind on stuff you want rather than
on how you can rise and shine the light of Christ around you.
On Black Friday we heard
again about studies which show that a bargain actually has a physical
attraction for some people. The opportunity to acquire something, especially
for less money than usual, releases dopamine into our brains, producing a
thrill and stimulation that gets us out shopping or typing in our credit card
Folklore tells us
magpies are attracted to shiny objects. Simple experience tells us that we
ourselves are attracted to all the shining stuff retailers offer, along with
the lights and color they use to advertise it. Paul warns us not to give in to
those shining attractions, but to put on the love of Jesus, to clothe ourselves
in the shining light of Christ. “Make no provision,” then for that extra
dopamine, whether it arrives from the thrill of a bargain or of an affair.
Instead, “put on the Lord Jesus Christ.” Rise and dress yourself in Jesus.
Before he became a
Christian, St. Augustine was plagued with his own desires of the flesh. He was
a promiscuous young man. Then sitting in his garden one day he heard a voice
saying “tolle lege,” “take up and read.” Verse 14 is what he read, “put
on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make to provision for the flesh, to gratify its
desires.” He heard that as God’s word to him to change his life, to become someone
new, to become a Christian.
happened when he read these words from Paul, Augustine wrote, “instantly at the
end of this sentence, by a light as it were of serenity infused into my heart,
all the darkness of doubt vanished away.” That’s the light of Jesus Christ. That’s the light in which to wrap ourselves
in the middle of a dark world.
Don’t go after what
shines, be what shines. Don’t give into desires for some shiny new
experience, especially if it’s wrong or you know it won’t really satisfy you.
Put on the light of Christ and shine in this world as reflections of His glory
which is coming. Don’t think about how to gratify your desires. Push to the
back of your mind what you want for Christmas and give some thought to how to
share what you already have. Rise and shine for Jesus.
Your light already
shines. You sheltered and warmed people without homes a couple weeks ago and
you will do it again this week. You came out Tuesday evening to hear how to
shine some light in a dark place like North Korea. You sent Kay and Dan off
with gifts of light and love to poor Christians in India.
There are plenty of
opportunities. Take a gift tag and shine a little light for the child of
prisoner or another child in need. Fill a shift for the Warming Center this week. Bring a turkey for the freezer. Put some food in our barrel for Food for Lane County.
And don’t miss the
chance to shine Christ’s light for hurting people right around you. Make a
phone call to offer an encouraging word, send a card, drop in on someone who
may be lonely, make some cookies and carry them next door. We are all so busy
that your gift of a little time and attention can be an even brighter light
than gifts of money or food.
In Dickens’ Great
Expectations, Pip meets Miss Havisham, a spinster who was jilted years
before by her fiancé just before her wedding. Now everyday she wears her old
yellowing tattered wedding dress. The cake and all the other wedding food sits
rotting on the table and covered in dust in her dark, dreary house. Her clocks
all read ten minutes to nine, the moment she received the message her groom was
not coming. She is miserable and her goal in life, we learn, is to make
everyone around her miserable as well.
One can only imagine
what would happen if Miss Havisham would get up and change her clothes, would
wind her clocks and start to look ahead, would care about someone else instead
of her own sorrow. Her expectations would be transformed, her life would
brighten, even her house might begin to let in some light. That’s the
opportunity we have in Christ.
Put the light of
Christ on over yourself. Shine for Him. If you do, it won’t just ease the
darkness for others, it will shine inward. His light will make its way into
your heart and dispel your own gloom and sadness. Christ is coming, Christ will
shine, we don’t know when. Advent is here to remind us that it is always time
to get up and get dressed.
Valley Covenant Church
Copyright © 2013 by Stephen S. Bilynskyj