“Besides this you know the time, that the hour has come for you to wake from sleep. For salvation is nearer to us now than when we first believed.” Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father and from our Lord and our Savior Jesus Christ, Amen. The text for our sermon this first Sunday in Advent comes from the Epistle lesson read a few moments ago from the thirteenth chapter of Paul’s letter to the Church in Rome. Dear friends in Christ, in the darkness of the Bethlehem night, a light shone. Not the light of the star, although that was certainly bright, but the light of the Son of God in the flesh, the One who would declare: “I AM the Light of the world.” When He comes, the darkness is chased away. He shines in the midst of the darkness, and the darkness does not overcome Him, although it certainly tries. The darkness attempted to snuff the Light out by nailing it to a cross, but found itself overcome and destroyed. The sun refused to shine on the Friday we call Good, but on Easter morning the Light shone again, more glorious than ever, filling the world with light.
It always seems the darkest just before the dawn. Our world is darkened, filled with the blackness of sin and death, and we are filled with dread here in the valley of the shadow of death. But the promise of Advent is the promise of light, the promise that the night is soon ending. “The night is far gone; the day is at hand.” The people walking in darkness, struggling through the valley of the shadow of death, have the promise that night is ending, that the darkness has itself been overcome. The dawn is coming, here when it seems the darkest and dreariest. Christ Himself shines in our darkness, He makes His Church a beacon of light, the only light that can penetrate the darkness and give hope to those who walk in shadow. His light shone bright on Golgotha’s bloody hill, and when that Light was snuffed out and laid into a tomb, the darkness had never seemed deeper. But that night ended; early in the morning, on the first day of the week, while it was still dark, the women came to the tomb and found it empty. As the sun rose, so did the Son of God, and He rose to bring an end to night forever. When He returns, there will be no more darkness; His people, you and me, will be rescued from its clutches and will dwell in eternal light. The night of sin and death is coming to an end; the day is surely coming! This is the hope of Advent, the hope that despite all the darkness crowding around us, the night will come to an end when Christ returns on the clouds.
So be ready! Wake up! The dawn is coming! “Besides this you know the time, that the hour has come for you to wake from sleep. For salvation is nearer to us now than when we first believed.” Wait in eager watchfulness, keeping an eye on the horizon, looking for the coming dawn. The hour is nearer this day, this moment, than it has ever been before. I may not reach the end of this word, this sentence, this sermon. You may not make it home before the dawn breaks into the darkness. The hour is quickly coming, it could happen at any moment, so live with that urgency, live as if Christ could return at any moment, for He surely will; the night could end at any time. Do not wait in fear or terror, but wait in joy, in eager expectation. Paul says that salvation is coming to us; rejoice that the night will end, and keep watch for the coming dawn.
Do not let the darkness lull you to sleep! Do not let the long night deceive you into being comfortable in shadow. Do not get used to dreams! They pretend to be real, but as with all dreams, when morning comes they will be no more. We get used to dwelling in the night, we find a sort of perverse comfort there; even as we curse the darkness, we aren’t quite sure what we would do with light. The return of Christ seems a far off reality, and because we have never lived in the light, we fear it. Certainly our sinful nature fears the light. The deeds we do in the darkness want no exposure by the light, the cloak that the darkness provides is a comfort to us, for in its shadows we can do what we want. The powers of darkness want us to cling to the night, to be comfortable walking in the shadows, to sleep peacefully in dreamland without watching for the dawn.
Wake up, rise from your slumber! Do not dwell in dreams, do not walk in darkness, but stay awake. “The night is far gone; the day is at hand. So then let us cast off the works of darkness and put on the armor of light.” Do not walk in the ways of the night, do not put on the garments of darkness, but cast them far from you. The clothing of the night is made for sleep, but you are called upon to stay awake. “Let us walk properly as in the daytime, not in orgies and drunkenness, not in sexual immorality and sensuality, not in quarreling and jealousy.” The works of the night lull us to sleep, they distract us from being alert for the return of Christ. These works are certainly sins in their own right, but their chief danger is that they distract us from being ready for the coming dawn. They keep us trapped in darkness, in dreamland, asleep, when we should be alert and ready. Addiction to alcohol or drugs quite literally puts us to sleep, it deadens our senses and our conscience, so that we are not watching for the dawn; in fact, we are not completely aware of our behavior at all. Sexual immorality takes the gift of marriage and perverts it, it undermines what God gave as good. One just has to turn on the television or search the internet to see how sexual immorality has become an all-consuming obsession. Quarreling and jealousy capture us; we spend more time fighting with our neighbors, even in the church, than watching for the coming dawn.
Cast off those works of darkness, which distract, which make us unprepared for Christ’s return. “Make no provision for the flesh, to gratify its desires.” The sinful flesh will pass away when morning comes, along with all of its desires and behaviors. Why waste your time chasing the desires of the flesh, which are fleeting and doomed to destruction, when you should be focusing on that which endures, which will endure when the night ends? Yes, the body needs food and drink, but not to excess. Yes, sex is a good gift of God, but not apart from marriage. Yes, we are to interact with others, but not with rivalry or envy, seeking to get our own way. We are to care for our bodies, but attempting to gratify the sinful desires of the flesh only distracts us, focusing us on the things of this earth rather than the eternal things that will endure when this world of darkness fails.
“The night is far gone; the day is at hand.” When the morning is near, you rise from sleep and remove the clothing of the darkness, putting on the garments of the day. Each and every morning, you are preparing for the coming of Christ and the day which lasts forever. “So let us cast off the works of darkness and put on the armor of light.” Cast off the garments of sleep and dress yourself for the day. Be properly attired, not in the clothing of drunkenness, sexual immorality, or conflict, but with the armor of light. Be clothed in love for your neighbor, in service of His needs. Be dressed with the clothing of worship and prayer. “Let us walk properly as in the daytime.” Wear the armor of light, for only with that clothing can you be protected from the assaults of the darkness. This is the clothing of war, the attire of battle against your cunning enemies. This is the clothing given to you in your baptism. “Put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh, to gratify its desires.” You put on Christ in that font, you were dressed in Him. Put Christ on each and every day in repentance and faith; be clothed in His robe of righteousness. Stay alert by living in your baptism; putting your old Adam to death by repenting of your sin and clinging to Christ’s forgiveness in faith.
We are prepared for the coming of the dawn by coming back to the font daily; there we wash our filthy garments of darkness in the blood of the Lamb, casting them off and putting on the armor of light. And we need armor, for this world is desperate to drag us back into the deeds of darkness; Satan wants us to live in shadow forever, the endless night of hell. We are at war, and we need the implements of war given to us at the font. You all know the battles that you fight with sin, the conflicts that come from those who oppose your faith and Christian morality. We counter sin with Christ’s forgiveness; we fight the lies with the truth of His Word. The victory remains with Christ, the warfare of the night is coming to an end when the morning comes; the Light will scatter and destroy all the enemies who belong to darkness. On that glorious day all conflict will cease, as God brings eternal peace through the death and resurrection of His Son. “He shall judge between the nations, and shall decide disputes for many peoples; and they shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruning hooks; nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war anymore.”
With the morning comes peace; peace between nations, peace within yourself, and peace between God and man. The dawn is a dawn of peace, for the dawn brings the return of Christ, who won this peace. We wait for that Day with eager anticipation because it is a Day of salvation; the final coming of Jesus brings us joy because He came to us on Palm Sunday humble and mounted on a donkey. The Light shone on Christmas Eve, and the Light will shine when the Last Day comes, but that Light is only a cause for joy because the Light entered Jerusalem in order to die. The crowds shouted, “Hosanna to the Son of David! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord! Hosanna in the highest!” Hosanna! Come save us, please! He came into that city to make the Last Day a day of joy, for He came bearing all of our sin, all that divided us from God, and He would not leave until He had accomplished our salvation. He came to be betrayed into the hands of sinners, He came to be nailed to a cross, He came to suffer and die for you, so that the coming of the dawn would not be something to fear, but the day that you eagerly expect. The Light of His cross shines as a beacon, proclaiming victory over the darkness, anticipating the morning, when night will be no more. Today you walk in the valley of the shadow of death, but the darkness will not overcome you, for you belong to the One who is the Light of the world. He is coming soon: “Salvation is nearer to us now than when we first believed.” Hosanna to the Son of David—hosanna in the highest! Amen.