11.27.2022 - First Sunday of Advent - Hope

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Scripture: Romans 13:11-14

Romans 13:11–14 NRSV
11 Besides this, you know what time it is, how it is now the moment for you to wake from sleep. For salvation is nearer to us now than when we became believers; 12 the night is far gone, the day is near. Let us then lay aside the works of darkness and put on the armor of light; 13 let us live honorably as in the day, not in reveling and drunkenness, not in debauchery and licentiousness, not in quarreling and jealousy. 14 Instead, put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh, to gratify its desires.




What time is it?

Today is the first day of Advent. Like the season of Lent, Advent is a season that invites us to live differently in some specific ways. Our scripture passage today begins with the admonition that "you know what time it is..." with the expectation that we, like the birds who travel south for the winter, know the season we live in and the actions expected of us. Advent is a season of preparation and waiting on God. One of the best biblical pictures we have of the season of Advent is from a parable that Jesus told his disciples on the Mount of Olives outside of Jerusalem. The disciples asked Jesus, “Tell us, when will this be, and what will be the sign of your coming and of the end of the age?”. Jesus answered them by telling several parables, but one, in particular, is connected to our scripture today. There, in Matthew 25:1-13, Jesus tells the parable of ten wedding attendants who wait for the groom to appear in the evening. They don't know exactly when he will arrive, but they know when he does, it is their job to welcome him and get the wedding party started. In order to do their job, they have to keep their oil lamps full, so they will be able to make it through the night and be able to see the groom when he arrives. Some of those attendants were wise and brought extra oil. Others were foolish and ran out of oil and then ran out of light. Like those wedding attendants and the people of the Old Testament, we are waiting for Jesus to come into our world and bring true justice. Like the disciples before and after Jesus, we are also learning to live in the light of his saving grace and resurrection power, free from the power of sin and death. With all of God's people across the world and across the ages, we are learning to live each day in the hope that Jesus will return, bring justice to this world, and take the faithful to an eternal home with Him. All of this seems so big to us, hard for us to imagine, let alone understand. I'm sure the disciples and those who waited for Jesus before his birth 2000 years ago felt similarly confounded trying to understand God's plan for the world. However, we are also joined to them in the truth we see more and more with every passing day: Jesus is our only true hope.


Getting Rid of the Junk

Advent celebrates the end of the old and the beginning of the new in many different layers. The disciples celebrated a long-awaited Messiah, finally coming into the world after 500 years of silence from God. They hoped for an end to their oppression and a return to Jewish rule in their lands. Those who felt as if they were always at the bottom hoped for a chance to be at the top of society finally. After the resurrection, the disciples experienced a disappointment that the government leaders were still the same. They were not sitting on thrones, ruling with Jesus. In fact, several of them went back to their normal lives, almost as if they had never met Jesus. Jesus brought them back and restored them in a way that overcame the shame they faced for their past failings and faults. Paul wrote that the night is far gone and the day is near, so we should put away the deeds of the darkness. We can no longer live ignorant of Jesus and his claim on our lives. We can no longer just plod along with the rest of the world. We do not belong to the world if we belong to Christ, and our actions should honor God, not gratify our flesh. Paul groups them into categories of wild partying, sexual immorality, and jealous quarrels. All of these things are forms of giving into temptation and binging in sin. They are things often done in the literal dark but have effects of shame that follow us into the days ahead. Sometimes that feels like a guilty conscience. Other times it grows into an addiction. While it may start out seemingly innocent, these paths all lead to the same conclusion: selling yourself back into slavery to sin and death. Every time we do it, we sell ourselves far too cheaply. The shame in our past compounds with the shame in our present, making us feel unworthy to seek God the way that we need to live each day, and so, like the wedding attendants who squandered their lamp oil, our lights grow dim, our heads sink low, and we fail to see Jesus coming into our lives. If we are going to be ready for Jesus, whether he comes to take us home to heaven today or if He calls us to serve him here, we need to surrender those things of the darkness. The food of the world rots and molds and needs to be cleaned out to make room for the bread of life that Jesus has for us. We need to stop playing games to try to manage our moods with worldly things and make room for the Spirit of God to fill us up with a hope that does not flee from hardship or suffering but steadies us through it and keeps us free to choose to love and follow Jesus daily.


Putting on Armor

Paul tells us to put away the things of the flesh and put on the armor of light instead. We don't use armor as it was used in the former ages. For much of the Old Testament history and probably 1500 years or more after the time of Jesus, the soldier's armor was used to protect those who put their lives on the line for us. In the days when leaders stood on the battlefield with the soldiers who fought for them, their armor allowed them to stand apart and often kept them more protected than those that served around them. I t was very much a matter of class and privilege because good armor does not come cheaply. It was much more than a uniform. The rank and history of soldiers across cultures and across time were shown by how many pieces of armor they wore, often starting with a simple breastplate or chain shirt and adding helmets and gauntlets with rank. Those who rode horses in battle may have needed armored leggings to protect them from sidelong attacks. It was only those knights who served under the royalty themselves who would have worn full suits of armor, along with the kings and princes themselves. The story of David and Goliath is an early example of this. King Saul had a large set of armor which he offered to David in his battle against the giant Goliath. However, David, being much shorter and younger, could not wear the armor and fight on the front lines. Young men did not buy new suits of armor when they prepared to serve as soldiers. More often, they inherited their father's armor, complete with family crests. When they wore that armor, they brought honor or shame to their family name. In the perspective of biblical times and cultures, Jesus, the King of Kings and Lord of Lords, would have had the most majestic armor of all in the Army of the light. While you and I, as footsoldiers and front-liners in his army, would be fortunate to have just the basics, Jesus would be protected from head to toe. Paul admonishes us to wear that armor of the light and to do so honorably as we stand strong against the attacks of the enemy. Then Paul says one more thing. He tells us not just to put on the armor of the light but instead to put on the Lord, Jesus Christ Himself. One of the overarching themes in the gospel is that we inherit the riches of Christ because of His sacrifice for us. When we cannot stand against the forces of darkness ourselves, Christ gives us His armor to protect us and asks us to do two things: to wear it to protect ourselves and to act honorably as we do so. As we wear the armor of Christ, or as Paul says, to "put on the Lord, Jesus Christ", we experience better spiritual protection than we could ever have on our own. But we also represent Christ while we wear that armor. Indeed, if it were a literal suit of armor, those looking at us could not tell who was inside, only that it was the armor that belonged to Jesus. It is a spiritual metaphor, but the truth remains the same. Paul teaches us that experiencing the protection of Christ and bringing Him honor with our lives go hand-in-hand.


Faith and Hope

Hope and Faith also go hand in hand. Hope is the desire that we believe, or have faith, will actually happen. When we lose our trust and faith in something, we lose hope in it. Our faith is not made, but it is revealed daily in our actions. Our hope is revealed in our options. When we have no hope, we say things like, "I had no choice." "There was nothing else I could do." "I had nothing else to do." Hopelessness often is accompanied by terrible choices. However, being filled with hope brings a sense and awareness of freedom. So one way we can keep tabs on our hope in Christ is by recognizing how many choices we have. Usually, there are some choices better than others. There is also often more than one good choice to make, and sometimes we get caught worrying about details that are less important to God than others. Trying to figure it out on your own can drive you crazy, which is why Paul wrote that we should focus on putting away the things that we know are not Godly and put on Christ instead. If we are using what the Spirit of God has given us faithfully and if we listen to God in prayer and through scripture, He will lead us on the right path, and we will recognize his guidance. If you read the gospels of Matthew and Luke, you will find that there were many people who were expecting the Messiah, and many people missed him because they expected a conquering king, not an infant born from a carpenter's wife. Given the choice, there were many who would declare that they had no choice but to follow the king and abandon the infant. Yet, not everyone felt this way. Mary, Joseph, a handful of shepherds, and later a group of wise men from the East would be filled with hope and dare to put their faith in the infant, abandoning their faith in the earthly crowns. They caught a glimpse of heaven in this infant and that would open their eyes to new possibilities, new opportunities, and a hope they could begin to hold, even if only a little. They, like the faithful wedding attendants, kept their lamps burning and were able to see the Messiah when He arrived. Today you have the choice to share your hope with others. As we celebrate Advent for others, you have multiple ways to bless and bring hope to those facing various challenges this season. Pray about how you might partner with us as God works through you to bring hope to others. There are several good opportunities, and if you put aside the things of the flesh and put on Christ, you may discover even more. The day is approaching, Paul tells us, and at the end of that day, we will know for a fact that nothing in this world lasts. We will know that the only hope that we can truly trust is Jesus. If you want to realize that hope tomorrow, you need to choose to start making choices to trust in Jesus today.
There will be no Sunday evening Service tonight, but Sunday school starts in just a few minutes.
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