There is deep, deep darkness. The surrounding fog presses against you. It is weighty, and so thick that it muffles the sounds nearby.
You become conscious of someone speaking. At first their words are disjointed and muffled, then they gradually become clearer and connect.It’s the weather report, all the way from the station studio delivered right next to your bedside cupboard. The alarm has gone off! Surely not already! You bravely expose your arm to the crisp coolness and reach for the clock radio, fumbling for the snooze button to give you just five more minutes. Instead you knock the clock radio to the floor. Looks like it’s time to get up after all. Time to get dressed. The morning hours have arrived; the day is soon at hand.
In our text today Paul uses profound imagery of night and day, light and darkness, to call the church to readiness for the great day of Jesus’ return. He says in today’s text: “The hour has already 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.” Night is followed with day. Just as our morning alarm sounds in the darkness, signalling that it will not be long before the day arrives, motivating us to get dressed and open the curtains so that the morning light will flood into the room, Jesus’ return to judge the living and the dead will be soon, just like that.
Paul also uses ‘night’ and ‘day’ and ‘light’ and ‘darkness’ in another sense. The darkness that is associated with the night represents the world and the present age that scoffs at God’s commandments.Just as the night is filled with darkness, so too this present age is lost, stumbling and falling in the deeds of darkness that Paul mentions: carousing and drunkenness, sexual immorality and debauchery, dissension and jealousy.
While God’s children live among those of the night they are to live as children of the day. That means there will be a struggle. At least, God-willing, there should be a struggle. For as long as this world remains and this age lasts, the works of darkness go on continually. Though we belong to Christ the night is still a power that seeks to make us sons and daughters of darkness again, constantly pressuring us to join in the works of the world. As children of the day; of the light, we are called to put aside, to rid ourselves, of the thinking and the works of the world. Paul’s appeal to awaken from sleep and lay aside the deeds of darkness is a repetition from chapter 12, where we heard Paul’s impassioned appeal a few weeks ago, for the church to not to be conformed to “this age”. Paul shows us the urgency of this today. He says the hour has already come for you to wake up from your slumber. Jesus has already been handed over, crucified, dead and buried to deliver us from this present age with his holy and precious blood, and now he is with us here as he serves this holy and precious blood to you, his baptised people. The hour has already come.
Joined to him, we have access to his resurrection power now, to fight against the sinful flesh and not be conformed to the world. And so we are briefly carried back to chapter 6 where Paul asks: “What then, shall we continue to sin so that grace may increase? By no means! We who have died to sin; how can we live in it any longer? Or don’t you know that all of us who were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were therefore buried with him through baptism into death in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too may live a new life.”
When the alarm goes off in the morning and we wake up, we get dressed, ready for the day ahead. That is an intentional action, and we put clothes on appropriate to the situation. Paul tells us what to wear as children of God: “let us put on the armour of light” and “clothe yourselves with the Lord Jesus Christ.” This is what baptismal living means. It is as if we were to go to the wardrobe and reach out and put Jesus on, covered by him, surrounded by him, motivated by him in all we do so that others see Christ, not us.
Paul’s call for the church to ‘wake up and get dressed’ comes in the midst of teaching about love in the Christian community. God’s people who are to put on Christ don’t belong to a new age with new values, they belong to the people of God from of old, with values from of old, like “Love your neighbour as yourself”. That’s God’s command from Leviticus 19:18 which Paul quotes to the Christians at Rome hundreds of years later, and to us here, today. Indeed, loving our neighbour as ourselves is the very way of living radically differently from the world, and our world desperately needs to know this love.
At the end of WWII some American soldiers on duty on the outskirts of London on Christmas morning came to an old gray building with a sign that said: “Queen Anne’s orphanage”. To see what sort of Christmas party might be going on inside, the soldiers knocked on the door. An attendant told them that all the children in the orphanage had lost their parents in the London bombings. The soldiers went inside, and seeing no tree, no decorations and no gifts, they gave out whatever they had in their pockets—a coin, a stick of gum, a stubby pencil. One soldier saw a boy standing alone in a corner. He went to him and asked: “My little man, what do you want?” Turning his face up to the soldier, the little boy answered: “Please Sir, I want to be loved.”
Witnessing to God’s own love in the midst of a loveless world is what God has saved us for. It is in the light of the future day of salvation that Paul reminds the church to love our neighbour as ourselves. The situation is urgent. The night is nearly over, the day is almost here. The world needs to see authentic love, love that is different from the world’s idea of love. Love that first comes from God. That is why in today’s text Paul’s preaching on love is intertwined with his preaching on the commandments. Paul’s preaching of love does not overthrow the law but upholds it; his preaching on God’s law does not stifle love but defines it. God’s law and God’s love are not two separate tracks, but they are one and the same path. The one who actively loves does the Law as God intends. In fact it is only by loving—loving our neighbour, but loving God even more—that one puts the Law into practice as we love our neighbour in the ways God desires: by not committing adultery but honouring our neighbour’s spouse as if they were our own, even with our thoughts. It means not murdering, even with the daggers of hurtful words and the knife of un-forgiveness. It means helping our neighbour in all their physical needs, as Luther explains. Love does not harm to a neighbour. We love by not stealing but helping our neighbour maintain what is theirs. We are not to covet, nor scheme to get something from our neighbour as though we were dissatisfied with the abundance God has blessed us with.
The obligation to love is new every morning like the light of another day. Paul explains that the only debt left unpaid is to love. For that is what God in Christ has done for you. If ever anyone presented their body as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, Jesus was that man. If ever a life was an unbroken unity of love, it is the life of the Son of God, who became obedient unto death, laying down his own life even for his enemies. He did not retaliate against them or persecute them but prayed for their forgiveness. Because of Christ you can be sure that God’s mercies are new every morning, and great is his faithfulness—his undeserved faithfulness.
God is still here, bringing his love to you. He is still here serving you, through his holy supper, giving you that same holy and precious blood that he shed on the Cross. Through this meal he brings forgiveness and peace from God to you. Through this meal you have the assurance of God’s love for you―a love that is not based on your performance, obedience, or capabilities. It is a love that will never change or be swayed by latest trends, public opinion or personal benefits―but a love for you that is unconditional because it depends on the life and righteousness of Christ, who is committed to his Father’s will for you and who fulfilled it perfectly. It is a love that means when Jesus returns on the last day, he will usher you into his heavenly kingdom. That day will be a good morning, and there will be no evening or darkness to follow. On that day he will make your body like his glorious body and you will shine like the Son—not the blazing light in the sky, but he will make you shine like the Son—Jesus, his Son. That day is nearer now than when you first believed; the everlasting day of blessedness and glory which will have no end, which, through faith in Christ, you will share in forever. Amen.