Put On the Lord Jesus!
1 Advent, A
St. Augustine of Hippo, North Africa, is not only one of the four so-called doctors of the western Christian Church, but arguably considered to be the greatest theologian and the single person with the greatest impact on the theology of the church since St. Paul. But much like St. Paul before him Augustine wasn’t always that way. Early in life, and despite a godly and faithful mother he lived a morally dissolute life full of every vice and vile practice of the world around him. For a long time he was a shameful product of his culture and times. But all of that changed, through the friendship and catechesis of St. Ambrose of Milan, and the following conversion experience where he struggled with the worldly excesses of his early life.
In his own words St. Augustine writes: I flung myself down, how, I know not, under a certain fig-tree, giving free course to my tears, and the streams of my eyes gushed out, an acceptable sacrifice unto You. And, not indeed in these words, yet to this effect, spoke I much unto You — But You, O Lord, how long? How long, Lord? Will You be angry for ever? Oh, remember not against us former iniquities; for I felt that I was enthralled by them. I sent up these sorrowful cries — How long, how long? Tomorrow, and tomorrow? Why not now? Why is there not this hour an end to my uncleanness?
I was saying these things and weeping in the most bitter contrition of my heart, when, lo, I heard the voice as of a boy or girl, I know not which, coming from a neighbouring house, chanting, and oft repeating, Take up and read; take up and read. Immediately my countenance was changed, and I began most earnestly to consider whether it was usual for children in any kind of game to sing such words; nor could I remember ever to have heard the like. So, restraining the torrent of my tears, I rose up, interpreting it no other way than as a command to me from Heaven to open the book, and to read the first chapter I should light upon. For I had heard of Antony, that, accidentally coming in while the gospel was being read, he received the admonition as if what was read were addressed to him, Go and sell that you have, and give to the poor, and you shall have treasure in heaven; and come and follow me. And by such oracle was he immediately converted unto You.
So quickly I returned to the place where Alypius was sitting; for there had I put down the volume of the apostles, when I rose thence. I grasped, opened, and in silence read that paragraph on which my eyes first fell — not in orgies and drunkenness, not in sexual immorality and sensuality, not in quarreling and jealousy. 14But put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh, to gratify its desires. No further would I read, nor did I need; for instantly, as the sentence ended — by a light, as it were, of security infused into my heart — all the gloom of doubt vanished away.1
Our text from Romans this morning was the miraculous inspiration that strengthened Augustine's resolve to turn from his sinful way of life and dedicate himself entirely to the Lord’s Service. So what about you? I would earnestly suggest you don’t open your Bibles like a fortune cookie to shoehorn some random passage into tortured service to your current situation. There is a much better and faithful way to let it work on our lives. For instance, we can spend some time with the very passage open before us right now. The one that changed Augustine’s life forever. It can change your life for the better too. For the lure of the secular world and its way of thinking and acting is still just as strong and tempting as in ancient times. And just like St. Augustine, you can find yourself at the end of a time in your life where you have swallowed too much of what the world offers and are feeling sick and devastated because of it.
First, to all those beset by the lies of this age, hear what the Lord has to say to you. It is time to wake up. 11Besides 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. 12The 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.
Whatever has gone before, wherever your poor choices may have led you, however many foolish or tragic stories and lies you may have shaped your life around, it is not too late to open your eyes and be changed for the better. We are called upon to awake from our spiritual slumber which can lead only to spiritual death. The time is short, the days are dark and evil, but our final salvation is still there even now. And it draws nearer with each passing day as we get closer to the coming of our Lord and Saviour on the glorious day of his return for judgment.
And once you wake up to the reality of this sinful, broken world and your sleepy, sinful place in it, it is then time to get out of your comfortable bed get up and get dressed. St. Paul continues: 12The 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. 13Let us walk properly as in the daytime, not in orgies and drunkenness, not in sexual immorality and sensuality, not in quarreling and jealousy ... 8Owe no one anything, except to love each other, for the one who loves another has fulfilled the law. 9The commandments ... are summed up in this word: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” 10Love does no wrong to a neighbor; therefore love is the fulfilling of the law ...14But put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh, to gratify its desires.
Again, knowing the imminent return of the Lord is fast approaching, it is time to cast off the nightclothes, the works of darkness, the comfortable lies and tantalizing promises of this world and put on instead the Lord Jesus Christ Himself. To remember that you are Baptized. You are no longer a slave to the world and its passions, but a forgiven and joyful servant of Christ. To remind yourself daily that you are not your own, you were bought with a price beyond imagining. And your life is lived in Him who went to the cross for you. And your life is lived in love for all those for whom Christ did the same. In short, as St. Augustine learned, it is time to grow up and stop living for yourself and begin living for others. Living in love as you have first been loved by Jesus.
Now, admittedly you may not have as checkered a past as someone like St. Augustine to lay aside. But there is plenty for each and every one of us to leave in the past as we look to the new year before us. Lusts, fears, anger, and apathy. Too much indulgence in the popular culture and immorality or our times. Too much time on the computer, or phone hungrily eating up every questionable thing that comes across our feed. A laziness toward God and His Word, a disregard for Christ and his Church, a resentment toward the Holy Spirit and His gifts of Word and the Sacraments. Maybe your disdain has been for those you have been called to love and serve, or your apathy has been given to those who are not a part of the church.
It is never too late to cast these things off for the new life we have been given in Christ by Baptism. It is never too late to be forgiven by the blood of Jesus and strengthened and encouraged in His Holy Supper. Today is always a good day to take up and read the Holy Word of God and have our lives forever changed for the better.
11Besides 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. Indeed, it is time to look forward to a new day and new life that awaits us in Jesus. The old year with its failures and disappointments is now come to an end. The new year in Christ begins. The fresh days of promise and the preparations for our Lord’s return now remind us that salvation is nearer now than ever before. And for those who believe it means all things are possible, every day is a chance to put on Christ, and the Lord’s mercies are new every morning. Just listen, for the Lord is calling to you even now. Calling you to cast off the darkness and live in the light. Let go of the sin and cling to your Saviour. Take up and read the holy and precious promises of God and be changed forever and for good!
1Augustine “Confessions” Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers Volume 1 Philip Schaff, Editor. Hendrickson Publishers, Peabody Mass. 1999. p. 127-128.