Romans 13:11-14; Isaiah 2:1-5
Pastoral Prayer: Lord God, we lose track of time. Not the progress of time, have our calendars for that. Instead, we lose the significance of Divine moments in the way we track time. Advent reminds us of the coming of Jesus, an interruption in all our calendars. Advent also points us toward the reality that God in Christ is making all things new. And in that hope all God’s people say . . . Amen.
Earlier this year our government, in a bi-partisan decision, approved $719 billion in military spending. Last year our government, in a bi-partisan vote funded farm subsidies to the tune of $20 billion. Our tax dollars funded military spending at a rate of nearly $36 billion to $1 billion in farm aid.
We don’t flinch at our combined tax dollars going to ready us for war should it arise. At the same time we face an uphill battle agreeing that no one should be food poor in our Country, or anywhere. If we are waiting on our nation to lead the way back to God, we will be waiting a long time.
These are the days, the times when it appears easier to profess the Bible than follow the Jesus of the Scriptures.
For instance, take our reading from the prophet Isaiah for today. Isaiah pointed to a day when all nations would stream to the hill of the Lord to learn to walk in God’s ways. Purifying those nations with the result that,
they will beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruning hooks; nation will not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war any more.
We appear a long way from that vision. So far away are we from the description of Isaiah’s hope that we, Christians, are not sure what to make of the promise. Were we to spend as much time thinking of ways to love others as we do in arming ourselves, literally and figuratively, the imagery of Isaiah would not be for most of us an impossibility but rather a possibility.
Jesus did not depend on Rome or any of her representatives to point the way out of war. There would be no instruction to take over the Roman Senate. No time was given to reshape the Republic. Instead, he ascended the hill of the Lord. He taught those who would follow him on the Mount of Olives, the hill of the Lord. Jesus taught different from the prevailing wisdom. He aimed to defeat the Powers through a people living among the nations that would point the way, be way makers, be John the Baptists, be voices in the wilderness of human conflict, offering voices of hope, Prepare the way for the Lord!
There he pointed to the underlying patterns that lead to violence. Jesus addresses anger that leads to contempt and murder. He undermines the law of retaliation, the old eye for an eye. Those who would take up the way of Jesus would thereby be those whose actions would be likened to beating their swords into plowshares, their spears into pruning hooks.
The color of Advent is purple – the color of repentance.
Given the promise of God in Christ, the aims Jesus taught his people, it seems appropriate not to wait until we are old to wear purple. For this Season of Advent, we need a color other than those that trigger our national pride. Reclaiming Christian as more than a label to check off on our self-proclaimed identity calls for a way of living in the world that will depend on God’s Spirit working repentance in us. We cannot think that somehow the world will be better if we can change the Supreme Court. If Christians are unwilling to take up the way of supreme love no decision from the bench will move the needle toward a better anything.
Advent is the Season of longing, of looking, of waiting.
Here we are looking forward to the return of Jesus at the end of time. Paul laid out for the Christians in Rome the way forward in a world of the strong and the weak, for those who lived under the influence of an ancient Super Power. Hear Paul’s words again,
Owe no one anything, except to love one another; for the one who loves another has fulfilled the law . . . Love does no wrong to a neighbor; therefore, love is the fulfilling of the law.
Jesus fulfilled the law. He fulfills the law. Jesus fulfilled the law for us. Jesus fulfills the law for us. Paul sums up Jesus’ teaching and Jesus’ life. He addresses our needs at the point of the underlying issues we battle – like anger and retaliation – and he calls attention to the way we track time – like marking the days off on the calendar. In fact, Paul is in hope of something or someone awakens the Christians in Rome. While they are tracking the calendar chronologically like we do today, they are missing the way the coming of Jesus draws attention to the activity of God in time. While the earthly powers have changed, our need remains.
Advent calls attention to the activity of God in time.
There are two Greek words that we translate time. One is the word chronos, the root of our word chronology. It is the word we use when we describe the sequence of events. The other word is kairos. This word emphasizes the events in time. Chronos time is calendar time. Kairos time is event time. When we tell our story to someone rarely if ever do we give dates and times. We tell about our life-altering events. “Tell me what happened,” we say. Not, what was the date and time.
Put another way, December 25 is a day on the Calendar. For Christians, December 25 is our reminder of the Incarnation – God become flesh. We may get caught up in debates about the exact date of the birth of Jesus. Was Jesus really born on December 25 all those years ago? This question distracts us away from the kairos moment – the event the day commemorates, the coming of Jesus, the Word made flesh.
Advent serves Christians as a Season to repent of being more concerned with the passing of days than the activity of God in our days.
For Paul, the event of Jesus is always at the center.
For our salvation is nearer than when we first believed.
He tips his hat at the reality that we track time, chronologically. But he does not simply report that the days have passed. He sets the passing of time by the nearness of our salvation. He avoids providing dates, just as Jesus did in Matthew 24. His aim is to keep the event of Jesus’ life, our Exodus, our salvation, ever before us. The shape our life takes, having been awakened from sleep, is to put on the armor of light.
Someone, something, has awakened us. We are woke is a way of referring to an awareness of what we were once blind to, uninformed about, even willfully so. Today this description can become a burdensome law. What we would say is that we have been woke to the way of love. Jesus has awakened us.
The prologue to John’s Gospel describes it this way,
In him [Jesus] was life, and that life was the light of men. That light shines in the darkness, and yet the darkness did not overcome it.
Compare that with Paul,
the night is far gone, the day is near. Let us lay aside the works of darkness and put on the armor of light; let us live honorably as in the day
Notice, the very call to lay aside the works of darkness reminds us we are not immune. Maybe the Spirit of God would lead us to repent of our own works of darkness. This, of course, would require us to admit to the possibility that we could participate in those works. Our first confession may be that we think too highly of ourselves. From there we may look at the three couplets Paul gives us an illustration,
reveling and drunkenness
debauchery and licentiousness
quarreling and jealousy
We most often define these terms in such a way to exclaim we have no trouble with these, we are good. Sure, you may escape reveling and drunkenness, debauchery, and licentiousness. But, what about quarreling and jealousy? Even more, these are representative activities. While we may escape these, what of other ways we spend our time? That is really what lay behind these habits. What time is it anyway? It is time to put on Christ!
I generally take a manuscript with me to preach each week. However, the preached message is often a bit different than what you will find here. You may listen here.