| Romans 13:11-14
||Sun, November 29, 1998
Rev. Ed Searcy
|It's that time again.
There's no denying it.
A Christmas card arrived in the mail on Tuesday.
There was a line up for Santa in the mall on Thursday.
An invitation to a Christmas 'open house' came on Friday.
And, this morning, the first candle ...
the first candle of Advent.
There's no denying it.
Time to get out the strings of lights.
Time to make the lists
and check them twice ... even thrice.
'To do' lists.
And the child in us,
the children among us,
are eager with anticipation.
not only for gifts under the tree
but also for the gifts
of mystery and beauty
that we unwrap together
in the depths of this dismal season
of downpour and darkness.
It is the time when
a little child
must be our guide
if we are to journey through
the cynical wilderness of the 'real world'
into the blessed kingdom of love and peace
whose royal castle is a stable
and whose king is enthroned on a manger.
We have looked at the calendar.
We have opened our eyes long enough
to glimpse the hour on the clock.
We know what time it is.
But Paul keeps knocking on the bedroom door.
"Wake up ... wake up
don't you know what time it is?"
From our groggy sleep we call back in a muffled voice:
"We're awake ... we're getting up."
Just a few more minutes of sleep.
That's all we need.
So we hit the slumber button on the alarm clock
and drift back into a jumble of dreams.
Crowded shopping malls.
Lists after lists after lists.
A tree to choose
and a turkey to stuff
and a holiday to plan.
Knock, knock, knock.
Paul is back at the door.
"Wake up. Wake up.
Do you have any idea what time it is?"
We look at the alarm.
Why hasn't it gone off?
It is blinking ... on and off, on and off.
"What happened" we ask.
"The power went out" says Paul.
"The hour is late. Wake up!"
Stumbling out of bed,
rubbing our eyes,
we open the blinds
and are startled by the light.
We had imagined that it was still night,
But the day has already dawned.
like Rip van Winkle
awaking from a coma,
we realize that it has all been a dream.
The panic to get everything done.
The sugar-coated season of excess.
All a dream.
As our eyes adjust to the light
we see the 'real world'
as if for the first time.
Students see December looming on the calendar
and feel anxiety levels rising.
Families see the 25th just around the corner
and wonder how they'll get through it this year.
All of the old tensions return.
All of the grief comes flooding back.
Christians bring a few baskets of food and clothing
for those whose stomachs are empty
and who live on the streets
in the wealthiest land on earth
and we feel that sick anguish in the pit of our stomachs
imagining what a tiny gift it is
in the face of the earth's untold suffering.
The trouble with Paul's knock at the door ...
The trouble with waking up ...
The trouble with Advent is
that it means facing reality.
The rest of the world is eager to celebrate Christmas.
It wants a 'quick fix'.
It wants 'instant gratification'.
It wants 'Joy to the World'
and it wants it now!
But waking up to reality
means waking up to the world's pain.
It means waking up to what is going on all around us.
When Paul knocks on the door
and we open our eyes
we see that,
in the words of my colleague Gordon Harland,
"There is enough pain in any city block
to crack open the heart of the world."
It's enough to make even the most courageous of us
climb back under the covers.
Little wonder, then,
that many people do just that in this season.
They submerge themselves
in the lists and tasks of Christmas ...
in the endless shopping and baking
and hosting and partying.
They pull up the comforter and drift back
into the safety of candy-cane dreams.
But Paul senses our despair.
He opens the bedroom door a crack
and offers a word of hope:
"Salvation is nearer to us now than when we first believed ...
Put on the armour of light."
What is Paul saying?
That salvation is not to be found
in the safety of our dreams
or the security of our beloved Christmas 'busy-ness'?
Is he really saying that God is drawing near
in the awful reality that the daylight reveals?
This is Paul's wake up call to all who will listen.
Now is not the time to drift off,
not the time to fall asleep at the switch.
Now is the time to wake up
to what God is up to in the world.
Listen to the way in which Eugene Peterson translates
these verses from Paul's letter to the church in Rome:
"But make sure that you don't get
so absorbed and exhausted
in taking care of all your day-by-day obligations
that you lose track of time and doze off, oblivious to God.
The night is about over, dawn is about to break.
Be up and awake to what God is doing!
God is putting the finishing touches on the salvation work
he began when we first believed.
We can't afford to waste a minute,
must not squander these precious daylight hours
in frivolity and indulgence,
in sleeping around and dissipation,
in bickering and grabbing everything in sight.
Get out of bed and get dressed!
Don't loiter and linger, waiting until the very last minute.
Dress yourselves in Christ, and be up and about!"(1)
Dress yourselves in Christ.
Such strange and yet familiar language ...
the oft-forgotten language of the font and of the table:
"You are the Body of Christ ...
and each individually members of it."
"Take eat and drink ... this is my body, this my blood."
Christians are those
who have awakened to the 'real world' of God.
Christians are those who
are not afraid to wake from the dream world
of consumerism and materialism
to the reality of human misery.
Because Christians see this world bathed in the light
of what God is doing in Jesus Christ.
Christians face the reality of injustice and inhumanity
wearing the armour of God's light ...
the protection provided by a deep and abiding trust in God
and in God's Word of hope.
So it is that we seek to dress ourselves in Christ ...
to embody the love of Christ in a world whose heart is cracked
open by the pain in every city block ... and every rural county.
A few weeks ago,
Bill Buck passed along an interesting footnote.
He mentioned a friend who wears an intriguing bracelet.
On the bracelet four letters are engraved:
I wondered what it meant ... so did Bill.
So he asked.
"Oh", said Bill's friend,
"It stands for What Would Jesus Do?".
A constant reminder that we put on Jesus
every time we get dressed.
Perhaps that is the reason that so many Christians
wear a cross around their necks.
Not just as a reminder of what Jesus has done for us,
but also as a statement of the kind of life
we live when we put on Christ ...
a life that participates in the suffering of Christ
for the world.
Janice Love and I were
wondering about these things at the
"Wandering Sermon Workshop" this past week.
Wondering what Christ puts on when he wakes up ...
what we would put on if we actually put on Christ
rather than simply reminders to be like Christ.
Surely Jesus doesn't need a bracelet that says
After all, he is Jesus!
And he doesn't need to wear a cross around his neck.
Not when he still bears the marks
of its nails in his hands and feet and side.
A few hours later,
just as I was preparing to head home for dinner,
Janice knocked on my door.
"I've spent the afternoon reading about the life of the Trinity
and I keep coming back to that question:
What does Christ put on when he wakes up in the morning?
I wonder if when Christ gets up in the morning
he puts on a locket."
"Oh", I asked,
"Who's picture is in the locket?"
"I think that it is a picture of us".
In Jesus Christ we have awoken to
God's love affair
with the earth and its people.
To awaken to this reality
is to fall in love,
and with God's beloved creation.
In putting on Christ
we dress ourselves in God's love
for the earth and its people.
Wake up. Wake up.
For salvation is nearer now than when we first believed.
1. Eugene Peterson, The Message (NavPress, 1993), p. 330.