Let us pray: Dear Savior, thank You for getting us through another church year—with blessings beyond what we asked for. Thank You for leading us here today so that we can get our holiday preparations off on the right foot—with You ordering our priorities. Lord, during the busy next few weeks don’t let us lose sight of those priorities, either. Amen
GRACE MERCY AND PEACE ARE YOURS FROM CHRIST, THE COMING KING!
TEXT: Romans 13: 11-14
Fellow Redeemed Sinners:
Advent literally means: to come. We are to come to Christ, because He comes to us. Yes, we come to Him with empty hearts and He has come, will come, and even comes right now to fill our emptiness with the bounty of His grace. His advent coming encompasses the past, present and future–which means our entire lives and enveloped by His love. So, what are you doing to get ready for Jesus?
The obvious answer is: I’ve come to church to confess my sins and have Him fill my soul. Other answers include: I’ve begun decorating to honor my King. Or, I’ve started planning the holiday menu to feast my Lord. Or, I’ve been busy buying gifts to replicate in a very humble way my receiving the greatest gift of all at Christmas.
Today’s lesson tells us to pause a bit and look past the tinsel and ribbons. It tells us to take a little time to look inward during Advent. To look into our hearts. And if we do so, we’ll see an important focus for the next few weeks.
ADVENT: PREPARE TO FIGHT TEMPTATION
St. Paul has just said: “Let no debt remain outstanding, except the continuing debt to love one another, for he who loves his fellow man has fulfilled the Law. The commandments, “Do not commit adultery, do not murder, do not steal, do not covet,” and whatever other commandment there may be, are summed up in this one rule: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ Love does no harm to its neighbor. Therefore love is the fulfillment of the law.” And now our text goes on to say: “And do this, understanding the present time. The hour has come for you to wake up from your slumber, because our salvation is nearer now than when we first believed. The night is nearly over; the day is almost here.”
The Greek text doesn’t say: “Oh, well, I guess it’s now about time we do all this.” No. “The present time” literally means: “This critical time!” It means: don’t delay, don’t wait, do it now! For tomorrow may be too late. It means: wake up right now! Don’t slumber or nap in apathy any longer. Salvation is coming. Judgment day may arrive very soon. It’s almost here, so be on red alert!
Advent is a time to get ready, to make preparations—not only for Christ’s Christmas coming but for His eternal coming, as well. And one of the chief preparations we can engage in is: preparing to fight temptation. Listen to our lesson: “So, let us put aside the deeds of darkness and put on the armor of light. Let us behave decently, as in the daytime, not in orgies and drunkenness, not in sexual immorality and debauchery, not in dissension and jealousy.”
The Christmas season, or as we Americans like to say “the holiday season” because it includes Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Years—this is a hard time of the year for many. It brings with it its own special temptations. Office parties, or maybe just family gatherings often end up as drunken, complaint-filled, negative affairs. Inhibitions are often lessened by alcohol which in turn fuels sexual innuendo, total disrespectfulness, or the beginnings of an elicit affair. Go to almost any gathering of family and friends over the next few weeks and you’ll behold big doses or backbiting, gossip, open anger, and jealousy—the “mom always loved you more” attitude. All these sins stem from people’s insecurities. They stem from our dark side which is plagued by inner doubt. Giving in to them only leads to more doubt and insecurity. It leads to a restless soul at war with itself because it’s at war with God.
So, what’s the answer? Prepare to fight such temptations by waking up to the problem and “putting on the armor of light.—By clothing yourselves with the Lord Jesus Christ, and do not think about how to gratify the desires of the sinful nature.”
Paul has outlined basically 4 types of sin to avoid: drunkenness, elicit sex, jealousy, and greed. The first two go together, and so do the last two. For if you don’t drink too much, your inhibitions won’t be impaired and you’ll keep your libido in check. But now we come to those final two sins: jealousy and greed. How do we avoid falling for them? How do we fight them?
From little child on, most of us were taught that Christmas is all about receiving gifts. Oh, I know our parents tried to teach us about giving to others and not being greedy. But, let’s face it—they failed. And I can prove they failed. We see it in the rush of “black Friday” shoppers, in the levels of consumer indebtedness, in the howl that goes up when you limit Johnny or Suzy to only so many presents—(they howl because Eddy got more, and doting grandparents howl because you’re limiting their show of love).
From little child on we’re also taught that Christmas is about “being with people.” And yet, this season has the highest suicide rates of the entire year. This season gives birth to more family fights, more harsh words between siblings, and more avoidance of others than any other time of the year. Yes, how often have you gone to some family gathering only to have some relative bring up ancient history to belittle you and puff themselves up?
As we try to fight off such temptations, we need to think of Jesus and embrace Him. We need to avoid temptation when we see it coming, but when it confronts us anyway we need to take a deep breath, step back, and think of the baby Jesus. Picture Him in your mind. Think of the joy and peace His parents felt. Think of how His swaddling clothes kept Him warm and safe. And think about how He has wrapped His swaddling clothes around you through faith! Yes, “Clothing yourself with the Lord Jesus Christ” means holding on to the unconditional love, the forgiveness for all sins, and the inner peace of conscience and soul—all of which Jesus is giving as He comes to you this very day!
I find it uplifting that more and more people are volunteering during the holidays, taking time to share with unknown folks, trying to limit the commercialization of Christmas in their lives, or maybe just stepping back for some quiet, contemplative moments. All of those avenues are great ways to resist temptations. They mirror Paul’s words: “and do not think about how to gratify the desires of the sinful flesh.”
Paul’s concluding words are all about changing the focus. Christmas is a microcosm of the rest of the year. If you switch the focus from yourself to Christ and to loving others, well, the respect, honor, kindness, and happiness you reap will follow you all year long, yes right up into glory! But it’s only going to happen if you stay awake. Yes, “the hour has come for you to wake up from your slumber, because your salvation is nearer now than when we first believed!” Amen.