In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
Wake, awake, for night is flying, the watchmen on the heights are crying. Awake, Jerusalem, arise. Because you know the time. You know that the hour has come for you to rise from sleep. Another Advent means one year closer. Another day means one day closer. Another moment means one moment closer. Your salvation is nearer now than when you first believed. Wake up, Paul says. Because it’s so easy to simply drift along, to simply get caught in the inertia of living in this world. It’s easy to fall into the ruts carved in the road, and let our wheels roll on. It’s easy to be lulled into the hypnosis of sin and death. It gets harder and harder to wait, the longer Jesus delays. It’s truer for us, perhaps, than it was for Paul. But he describes the way things are today as much as he was describing his day. The patterns and the habits are the same, even if the means to them have changed.
There are two different kinds of patterns and habits, one that comes naturally, and one that does not. Paul says, wake up, and throw off the deadening and sleep-inducing works of the flesh. The works of the flesh, he says elsewhere, are obvious. The Law of God is clear: do not steal, do not murder, do not commit adultery, do not covet. And the habits of the flesh are clear: to abuse God’s good gifts. To abuse His gift of daily food by excessive feasting. (I hesitate to mention that so soon after Thanksgiving.) And then excessive drinking, or drunkenness. The abuse of God’s good gift of wine and other things, which He gave for the gladdening of the heart, not for its dulling. And then the abuse of the sexual relationship, taking it out of the context of God’s good gift of marriage between a husband and wife. Throwing off all restraints, all inhibitions. This is natural, we say, so it must be good at all times and in all ways. To simply enjoy the pleasure of the body without boundaries. And then to fall into the natural habits and patterns of the way of unbelievers when they interact with each other. To go along with the envy, jealousy, bitterness, anger, party-spirit. Me against them. To find it particularly easy to excuse in myself what I refuse to excuse in others. To want love to cover the multitude of my sins, but refuse to extend that same mercy to others. To excuse and defend my own motivations, but hold others’ motivations to a strict judgment, even when we don’t know what they are!
Paul says, make no provision for the works of the flesh, to carry out their desires. We don’t have to be told to make provision for the flesh; it comes naturally to us. Like weeds in a garden. You don’t have to cultivate weeds. You don’t have to nourish them, or nurture them. You don’t have to make provision for good soil, the right amount of water, or the right amount of sunlight. Weeds just grow. It’s the good plants, the plants you want, the plants with good fruit, for which you have to make provision, cultivate, and see to water and sunlight. Do not make provision for the works of the flesh, which come by nature after the Fall, to poor, miserable sinners.
Instead, make provision for the works of the Spirit. The night is far gone; the day is close at hand. The darkness is fleeing; the light is spreading. Christ against the flesh. And we don’t have to wonder where the Spirit might be at work. He has made provision for us. Here is a pattern and a habit provided by the life of Jesus. His holy Word, by which the Spirit kills the flesh and conforms us to the Image of Christ. His holy Baptism, which He works out in and for us daily. His holy Absolution. His holy Supper, the very Body and Blood of Jesus. All of this preserved and patterned for us by the liturgy of the Divine Service. These seem like mundane things to us. Matter-of-fact. Formulaic. But there’s nothing mundane, nothing matter-of-fact, nothing formulaic about the gifts of God. And you and I both know it. We know how we can create these patterns and habits of being present in the Lord’s House where He does His killing and raising work to us, and then how quickly they can disappear. You can go to church every single week of your childhood, and all it takes is a week or two to destroy the habit. You can go for weeks and weeks, months in a row, and all it takes is a week or two to destroy the habit. And the longer we stay away, the harder it is to return. And we fall back into the patterns and habits of the flesh, and let the inertia of life in this world simply carry us along.
Wake up! Make no provision for the flesh, to satisfy its desires! Everyone who has been baptized into Christ has put on Christ, in order that the works of the flesh would be thrown away like old, dirty clothing. You know the time. You know that the hour has come to rise from sleep. Here, this Advent, we are put back into the pattern and habit of Christ’s own life. Here, today, the Spirit makes provision for us, to sustain us in the struggle against our flesh. Here, this moment, we are one moment closer to His return. Your salvation is nearer now then when you first believed. Lift up your heads, your redemption draws near! The redemption of your body, your soul, your mind, the whole creation. Nearer, nearer. And so we pray this Advent, this day, this moment, with the whole Church: Come, Thou blessed one, Lord Jesus, God’s own Son. Hail! Hosanna! We enter all the banquet hall, to eat the Supper at Thy call!
In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen. “And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 4:7, ESV). Amen.
– Pr. Timothy Winterstein, 11/26/16