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A Sermon from
Valley Covenant Church
Eugene, Oregon
by Pastor Steve Bilynskyj

Copyright © 2013 by Stephen S. Bilynskyj

Romans 13:11-14
“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 believers.”

         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 urgency?

         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 shine.

         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.

         Reveling and 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.

         Licentiousness means 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 please God.

         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 numbers.

         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.

         Remembering what 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.”[1] 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
         Eugene/Springfield, Oregon
         Copyright © 2013 by Stephen S. Bilynskyj

[1] Confessions, Book VIII, translated by Edward D. Pusy (New York: Collier Books, 1961), p. 131.

Last updated December 1, 2013