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First Sunday of Advent
Light of Christ Anglican Church
The Rev. Edward V. S. Moore, December 1, 2019


Sleepers Awake


Text: Romans 13

My sermon is taken from this galvanizing passage of St. Paul’s in his letter to the Romans:

...now it is high time to awake out of sleep: for now is our salvation nearer than when we (first) believed. The night is far spent, the day is at hand; let us therefore cast off the works of darkness and let us put on the armour of light. (Romans 13: 11-14)

This morning’s Collect* picks up this theme and applies it specifically to our Advent preparation for the celebration of the anniversary of the Incarnation of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. As we begin a new Church year, we are called upon to ask for God’s assistance in casting away the works of darkness and putting on the armor of light like a new set of protective clothing. This is an urgent task we must perform now, in this mortal life. It is a pursuit requiring vigorous and continual action.

It requires self-examination, repentance, asking for God’s forgiveness, making restitution in some cases, and amending our lives according to His holy laws. This means orienting our will in the direction of God’s will. Anyone who has used a compass knows that there is a difference between magnetic north, to which the compass needle points, and true north. God’s will is our true north. He is our pole star. The world’s will is a bit like magnetic north or worse yet like an iron object that can draw the compass needle in a false direction. We may think we are going in the right direction at times, while going in the exact opposite of our intended direction.

There are many siren voices in the world telling us “we are good” or doing well. So, we may believe we are on the right path, but the farther we go, the farther we stray from God’s way. So, to stay on course, we are always in need of re-orienting ourselves to true north.

This whole process is one of spiritual warfare. To remind us of this fact, in many churches, this morning’s collect is repeated every day in Advent until Christmas day. The reason for this endeavor is to prepare us for the last day when Christ will return in his glorious majesty to judge those still living, as well as those who have already passed on to the other side. Yes, the celebration of Jesus’ first coming, His Advent, also looks forward to his return in glory. And our hope of glory at the last day depends upon the choices we make in this life.

The first and most important choice is to follow Jesus as our lord and master (teacher). Second, is to do the work of his Father in heaven. Our choices are either to be engaged in building God’s kingdom or in tearing it down. This can be either through direct intentional activity or through neglect of those good works which the Father has prepared for us, and gifted us to perform in His name. (cf. 2 Peter 1:3) We must choose daily to follow the Lord, to say “I do” to Him, as a bride says “I do” to her bridegroom. What we cannot do is to refrain from making a choice (as the agnostics claim to do). Inaction, and doubt acted upon, are both choices which refuse to accept God’s love for us.

The Christian life is one of progress on the way to becoming more Christlike. It is a journey rather than a destination. But it is not as simple as a morning walk, or a workout session at the gym. On the way, we must wage a constant battle with the temptation to turn aside and admire seemingly pretty attractions. Understand that this temptation does not come from God. St. James tells us: “God cannot be tempted with evil, neither does he tempt any man.” (James 1:13) The Lord does, however, allow three sources of temptation to stand along our path and proffer their enticements: these are the world, the flesh, and the devil. These three work together as the devil tempts us to idolize the enticements of this world, which our physical, mental, and psychological being find so appealing. That God allows this can be a stumbling block for some people. In order to become spiritually strong, we must learn to overcome temptation with the aid of God’s grace.

There are three basic reasons God allows us to be tempted: to test our character, to purify our soul, and as a means of spiritual progress. Temptation occurs in three successive phases: suggestion or awareness, delight, and consent. There are three possible reactions to temptation: refusal to consent to the temptation, partial consent, and finally complete consent.

What measures can the prudent soul take against temptation?

We can summarize them in the words of our Lord, “Watch and pray.” (Matthew 26:41) Most of us are not continually on our guard against sin and are easily taken by surprise. We are indeed sleepers in this regard. St. Paul sees the Christian as a soldier on guard duty who must be prepared for surprise attacks from the enemy. The well-prepared soldier is alert and observant during his tour of duty; he is properly armed, and he knows what action to take if there is a threat to his area of responsibility (his general orders and the rules of engagement). The Apostle tells us: “No engaged in warfare entangles himself in the affairs of this life.” (2 Timothy 2:4) So he is totally focused on doing his duty with no distractions.

Watchfulness must be combined with humility. As our Lord said, the spirit may be willing, but the flesh is weak. We should not be presumptuous nor complacent concerning our readiness, nor should we be terrified of the enemy. Pride can make us overconfident and thus vulnerable to the devil’s assaults. Succumbing to temptations can lead to a lack of faith that God can do what He says He can: that is if we resist the devil, he will flee from us, as he did from Jesus in the wilderness; and that God always provides a way out of any temptation. We need to remind ourselves constantly that he is the potter and we are the clay, He the creator, we the creatures. Compared to Him, we are as nothing, while He is almighty. However, his grace is sufficient for us no matter the situation.

Watchfulness also involves avoiding occasions for sin. We should be alert to recognize the circumstances in which we have previously given in to the allure of sin. These can include bad company, idleness, love of carefree living, daydreaming, and imprudent and evil imaginings (the lure of the Internet/the never-ending 24-hour news cycle). In our contemporary culture, this includes all sorts of entertainments that pander to prurient interests (reality TV, Internet pornography, sharing of inappropriate videos and photos via various digital devices).

We should also beware of the syndrome known as “go along to get along” or succumbing to peer pressure; that is, wanting to please others more than we want to please God. When we are afraid of what others might think of us, then we are tempted to compromise with the spirit of the world. Sometimes it may be the choice of frivolous amusements (sports gambling or overindulgence in social media) versus wholesome recreation. Other times it may be failing to state firmly our convictions when the right to life is threatened, or when Christians are blamed for the evils of society; or more commonly these days when Christians are ignored in their hour of greatest need when they are under persecution for their faith (Syria). Unwillingness to stand up for our faith in such everyday situations can lead to an unwillingness to enter into the sufferings of Christ when we ourselves are called to. This is a burden, and a privilege, all Christians should be prepared to bear.

St. Paul decisively points the way to victory over the temptations of the world, the flesh, and the devil: by putting them to death. The Church calls this process mortification (Latin mors, mortis, death). It must be combined with a true desire and commitment to love God above all earthly goods. St. Thomas Aquinas put it this way:

Two things are required to obtain eternal life: the grace of God and man’s will. And although God made man without man’s help, He does not sanctify him without his cooperation.

So, my brothers and sisters, we must make a conscious decision and effort to be aware of and to guard the weak spots of the soul. We must recognize that sin is an act of the will. We may be beset unwillingly by temptation, but we control our response; we decide whether or not to sin on our own. How do we keep watch over our souls? First, by careful self-examination. Once we have identified a temptation, we can focus on building up the virtue which counters the specific sin and conquering the desire which leads to that sin.

Watchfulness must be rooted and grounded in prayer. As our Lord counsels: “Pray that ye enter not into temptation.” (Luke 22:40) Implore God’s mercy and assistance when tempted. Pray with the psalmist, “Lord, haste thee to help me!” (Psalm 22:19) Don’t let anything deter you from prayer, such as thoughts of unworthiness, particularly reminders from Satan of past sins, past failures to resist temptation, and doubts about whether God will listen, or even cares. This betrays a lack of faith without which one cannot please God. (Hebrews 11:6) Remember the sacrifices which please him:

By (Jesus) therefore let us offer the sacrifice of praise to God continually, that is the fruit of our lips giving thanks to His name. But to do good and to have fellowship with one another forget not; for with such sacrifices God is well pleased. (Hebrews 13:15, 16)

In taking a spiritual inventory, it is useful to know what we are looking for. Historically the Church has recognized seven deadly, or capital sins. They are called deadly because as St. Paul tells us, “the wages of sin is death...” (Romans 6:23) They are called capital because they head up (Lat. caput, head) or give rise to other sins and vices. Their antidotes are the moral virtues, which direct us to God’s perfect love for us and all mankind. To overcome the capital sins, we must cultivate the corresponding virtues. We also want to avoid the opposite extremes of these sins.

The first capital sin is pride, which “gives birth to an undue and inappropriate appreciation of one’s self-worth.” Pride is countered by humility. As pride leads to other sins, true humility clears a path for holiness. Its opposite extreme is self-loathing.

“Envy, stands in contradiction to God’s law of love and is manifest in a person’s sorrow and distress over the good fortune of others. It is countered by kindness, which along with brotherly love is manifest in an unprejudiced, compassionate, and charitable concern for others. Its opposite extreme is timidity.

“Avarice is the sin of inordinate desire for earthly things. It is countered by generosity. The virtue of generosity is focused not merely on the appropriate concern regarding one’s earthly things, but furthermore on liberality and a willingness to give, freely and without (recognition). Its opposite extreme is wastefulness.

“Anger is also called wrath or rage. It is countered by patience or meekness. Where the sin of wrath is about quick temper and unnecessary vengeance, the virtue of meekness focuses on patiently seeking appropriate resolutions to conflicts, and on the ability to forgive and show mercy. Its opposite extreme is servility or being a doormat for others to trample.

“Sloth as a capital sin refers to an oppressive sorrow that so weighs upon a person that he does not seek the good he ought. It is countered by diligence or persistence. Its opposite is workaholism (or compulsive working).

“Gluttony is countered by the virtue of temperance or abstinence. To be gluttonous is to overindulge (in food or drink). On the other hand, the virtue of temperance is centered on self-control and moderation. Its opposite extreme is deficiency.

“Lust is an inordinate desire for sexual pleasure. It is countered by chastity, which embraces moral wholesomeness and purity, and in both thought and action treats God’s gift of sexuality with due reverence and respect. Its opposite extreme is prudishness.” 1

“These seven deadly sins are all diseases of the soul. Just as physical diseases destroy the body, so the seven deadly sins are lethal to the soul.” 2 On the other hand, practicing the virtues, in obedience to God’s moral law, advances God’s kingdom of love. We are called by Christ to live godly, righteous, and sober lives in the light of faith. “Whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is gracious, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.” (Philippians 4:8)

This Advent put on the armor of the light of Christ. Make God your bright guiding star who points the way to true fulfillment in his service, both now and forevermore. Amen.


©2019 Rev. Edward V. S. Moore

 

*Collect: Almighty God, give us grace to cast away the works of darkness, and put on the armor of light, now in the time of this mortal life in which your Son Jesus Christ came to visit us in great humility, that in the last day, when he shall come again in his glorious majesty to judge both the living and the dead, we may rise to the life immortal; through him who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever.

1 The Freedom to Love, Emmerich Vogt, pp. 29, 30
2 cf. Augustine, cited in Vogt, p. 107

References:
The Freedom to Love, Emmerich Vogt, Minneapolis: Mill City Press, 2012.
The Elements of the Spiritual Life, F.P. Harton, Eugene: Wipf and Stock, 2004.
(St. Thomas Aquinas, quoted in The Freedom to Love, Emmerich Vogt, p. xiii)

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