Video of the Divine Service is here. The sermon begins around the 30:05 mark.
In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
Maybe I’ve said this to you before, but I am not a morning person. I’m the sort of person that when I get up in the morning, after my alarm goes off—after I may or may not have touched the snooze button a time or two—when I get up, I look longingly at the warm covers and think about how long it is until I get to go back to sleep. I’m not a morning person. I sympathize with those who suggest that high school students in particular would benefit from having a 10-5 day rather than an 8-3 day, because then they get the sleep their bodies and minds need. I don’t want to get out of bed; I have to get out of bed.
Like the sinful flesh that pulls us back, lulls us into closing our eyes, drags us down into the sleep of sin and death. So St. Paul gives us a bracing wake-up call: You know the time! The hour is now—it’s already—for you to rise from sleep. Like rising from the dead. Like Jesus rising from His grave. Rise from sleep, because the night is almost over and the day is almost here.
It’s not just that we rise every day from sleep as from death; Paul pictures the entire history of the world as a single day, and we are now in the night. It goes all the way back to the first few days. Evening and morning, the first day. Evening and morning, the second day, and the third day, and the fourth, fifth, and sixth days. Then the rest on the seventh day. And not too many days later, the serpent spoke of sleep as if it were being fully awake. And Adam and Eve turned off the lights and plunged the entire creation into darkness and night.
And we are always slouching toward the darkness, toward what we think will be the freedom of sin, but which is actually our slavery. Our sinful flesh always looks longingly at the darkness, at the feasting of this world. Instead of daily, hourly, weekly serving our neighbor in love, which is the fulfillment of the law—work that is hard because it goes directly contrary to the works of the flesh—we would much rather give up the fight and fall back into orgies of fleshly indulgence; drunkenness that dulls the senses and releases our inhibitions; the revolution of sexuality where sex is for my personal pleasure and fulfillment, with no purpose in marriage and God’s creative will; in self-abandonment to whatever feels good to me; in strife and dissension and discord; in jealousy and envy toward others and what they have, what they get. To our flesh, the night is the exciting time, but the day always comes with shame and guilt and the bright light of recognition. The darkness never lives up to its promised satisfaction, so we keep chasing and keep chasing, until we settle for half-satisfied in the twilight of our desires.
It is all night and darkness and sin and death, until the prophet says something different: the people walking in darkness have seen a great light! And those who lived in the land of deep darkness, on them a light has shined (Isaiah 9:2). The sun of righteousness has risen with healing in His wings (Malachi 4:2). The light of the world has come. Put on the Lord Jesus Christ! While you have the light, walk in the light. Believe in the light. You baptized have thrown off the old, ragged clothes of darkness and you wear the bright robes of Christ’s Light. The light has come and those who walk in the light can see where they’re going. You have Him, the Word, for a lamp to your feet and a light to your path. No one who lights a lamp puts it under a basket or in a corner. He puts it in the middle of the house so it gives light to everyone. And Christ’s Church, with Him at the center of His House, becomes a light for the world and a shining city on a hill, so that people will come up to the mountain of the Lord, from which His instruction goes out, and He will teach us His ways and we will walk in His ways (Isaiah 2:3-4).
We walk in the light as He is in the light, but it’s still like having a light lit in the middle of the night. The world still walks in darkness, and it seems to be getting darker every day. It is as if we lived on opposite sides of the globe; while they are in darkness, we are in light. We are still waiting for the day when it will not just be a light in the darkness, but the darkness will be light, as it is for the Lord: even the darkness is as light to You (Psalm 139:12). In the midst of the darkness, Paul and Advent give us the bracing call to wake up! Don’t forget that this is not the day, but the day is coming. Don’t be pulled back into the warm dying of the works and desires of the flesh, the distractions of this world, the narcotic of sin.
You know the time! The world does not. The world knows nothing of waiting, and longing, and hoping. That’s why they know nothing of Advent. It’s not surprising that they have to go directly from Halloween to Christmas, with perhaps a brief Thanksgiving interlude. No waiting, no hoping, no longing. Everything must be now, immediately, because this is all there is. Get what you can while the getting is good. Fire sale on anything your heart could desire. Make provision for satisfying the desires of your flesh. Buy on credit and worry about it later. You only live once. Right?
But Advent, with St. Paul, and with Jesus, says, “Wake up!” You know the time. The hour is already for you to rise from sleep. Put off the works of darkness and put on the weapons of light, you children of the Day. We fight against the darkness, not in flesh and blood, but in the principalities and powers of this present darkness. We fight to hold to the light. We fight against the creeping darkness because we know that the light has shined in the darkness and the darkness cannot overcome it. We already have the victory in Christ. All the works of darkness belong to the night, which is almost over. The day is near; every day, salvation is nearer than the day before; redemption draws near; Jesus draws near. You know the time! The hour is already for you to rise from sleep!
You, along with Jack, have been washed clean by the cold water of baptism, made new at the beginning of the Day in Christ. And now we break our fast with the Body and Blood of the Lord. And then we get up and go out to do the work the Father has laid before us. Those in the darkness do not know what they are doing, but we have the light and so we see. The prayer of the Church is and has always been, “Come quickly, Lord Jesus!” And in the light of His promised appearing, we pray for His protection—His light to shine on us—at the end of the day, at the end of our lives, and at the end of the world. But just as boldly, we pray for each new morning, for the morning after our deaths, and for the morning of that eternal day, which is coming soon. You know the time. It’s time to get up, because it will soon be time to rise from the dead. We walk in the light, because the break of day draws near. The night has been long, but keep your eyes on the horizon. The Son is about to rise in full view, and bring us with Him into the eternal Day of the new creation.
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, 11/26/22