The First Sunday in Advent
“Do What You Know You Should Do”
Philip G. Meyer, Pastor Emeritus
27 November 2022
SOLI DEO GLORIA!
Our Old Testament reading tells us about the works and fruits of faith. The Apostle Paul exhorts, urges, and arouses us to do what we already know we should do. To exhort means to urge or to put pressure on someone to do something. We are accustomed to hearing what God has done and still does in Christ. That’s the Gospel. We know it very well, but we do not always hear about the fruits of faith.
Some mistakenly think that Christians should not be aroused to do what God commands. In the days after Luther there were some who, in trying to defend the Gospel of pure grace, went so far as to say that doing good works were detrimental to faith. Luther never said any such thing. Such people were so afraid of falling into the old error of the Papists, who believed that good works could earn them heaven, that they went to the opposite extreme: one should never do good works; that way, one could never fall into the error they abhorred.
Paul’s Letter to the Romans teaches salvation by grace through faith very clearly. It was this letter which opened Luther’s mind to the pure Gospel, especially chapters 3 and 4.
For we hold that one is justified by faith apart from works of the law. [Rom. 3.28]
In the first part of our reading Paul teaches us what we are to do as those who have been redeemed by Christ. He focuses on the Second Table of the Law, Commandments 4-10. He speaks them negatively: no adultery, no murder, no stealing, no coveting. He left out disobeying parents and not speaking false words about our neighbor.
Love for the neighbor means loving him or her according to the meaning of the Commandments. For example, one fulfills the 6th commandment by “lead[ing] a sexually pure and decent life in what we say and do, and husband and wife love and honor each other.” The 7th admonishes us to “help him improve and protect his possessions and income.” The 9th and 10th exhort us to “help and be or service in keeping” his possessions and income. Christians are to be active in helping the neighbor, not wronging him in any way.
Love dare not be defined by the unbelieving world because it knows nothing but selfishness. Allowing a neighbor to engage in destructive behavior is not love. It fails to help him escape that which harms him. He or she engages in destructive behavior but you don’t warn the neighbor about the danger ahead. You figure it’s none of your business, but it is.
The deviants who want us to agree with them are fond of repeating this mantra, “Love is love.” If ever there were an absurd statement this is it! In the first place it defies logic. You cannot use the same second word to define the first. It is a logical fallacy. It must be defined in another way, giving content to the word “love.” This the sexual deviants do not want to do because they know that others will object to this as a proper definition. Yet, if we are to love the neighbor, even this neighbor lost in his or her sin, we must “speak[ing] the truth in love.” [Eph. 4.15]
Our culture practices the works of darkness as has every culture. These works which were once practiced in the dark are now openly practiced in the daylight, literally and metaphorically speaking.
A CBS news blog column recently listed The 50 Most Banned Books in America, according to PEN America, an organization dedicated to removing all banned books. These books are the ones found in school libraries in some states. Some 138 school districts in 32 states have banned these books. As I perused the list it struck me that not one of the banned books should ever be put in the hands of children. The majority of the banned books were sexual in nature, condoning every kind of sexual perversion, teaching it so that it can be accepted. One of the more well known books is about two gay penguins who adopt a baby penguin. It is designed for children under the age of 5. It teaches that same sex marriage is quit acceptable. Other books were quite racist in nature. Some glorified violence and suicide. Some were non-sanitized accounts of violent rape.
Paul charges us to cast off the works of darkness and put on the armor of light. Why? First of all, it is because salvation is nearer than it ever was. This world is winding down, heading for destruction because of sin. The created order was affected by the Fall of Adam and Eve. The promise of the Savior has been fulfilled. We will celebrate that in the festival half of the Church Year. Christ was born in Bethlehem, suffered and died on the tree of the cross paying the penalty of this world’s sin and guilt. He rose from the dead and ascended to the right hand of the Father. And in the words of the Creed,
“And He will come again with glory to judge both the living and the dead, whose kingdom will have no end.” [Nicene Creed]
Every day the consummation of all thing gets closer. No human knows that day nor hour but God alone. Therefore, Paul urges us with all the persuasion he can, to “DO WHAT YOU KNOW YOU SHOULD DO.” Paul isn’t speaking to unbelievers because they have not perceived the light of the Gospel; he is speaking to you who are to live in God’s light, in the Word of his Truth.
When Paul tells us to “wake from sleep” he speaks about living as Christians in a fallen world. It was not easy for Christians in the Roman Empire. They were hated by the pagans because they lived differently from them. They did not engage that list of sins in our reading, and notice that those sins are the same sins practiced openly by our culture! To the list of sexual immoralities he adds quarreling and jealousy. These are all sins of the flesh.
In writing to Titus he said:
For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation for all people, 12 training us to renounce ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright, and godly lives in the present age, 13 waiting for our blessed hope, the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ, 14 who gave himself for us to redeem us from all lawlessness and to purify for himself a people for his own possession who are zealous for good works. [Titus 2.11-13].
And then adds this personal note to Titus:
Declare these things; exhort and rebuke with all authority. Let no one disregard you. [v. 15]
On Thanksgiving Day the Focus on the Family building in Colorado Springs was vandalized. Graffiti was painted on their sign. Those words were: “Their blood is on your hands five lives taken.” The vandals even had the nerve to quote a Bible passage against the organization accusing them of being demonic.
“DO WHAT YOU KNOW YOU SHOULD DO” is often heavy lifting. Standing up for God’s truth in a world which hates it and does its best to destroy it is not for the fainthearted. It takes a power which is not really ours. You won’t find it deep down inside. You can’t will it to happen, but One will give it to you, and that is your Lord Jesus Christ. So, Paul reminds us of when we first received this gift. It was when you were baptized. Your sin was washed away and you put on the righteousness of Christ.
But put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh, to gratify its desires. [v. 14]
To put on the Lord Jesus Christ is to “put on the armor of light.” St. Ignatius wrote to Polycarp:
. . . let baptism remain as your arms (‘remain’ in contrast to the deserter, who throws his weapons away) IPol 6:2. A Greek-English lexicon of the New Testament and other early Christian literature (3rd ed., p. 716). University of Chicago Press.
The works of darkness are not weapons, but Paul describes the works of light as “weapons.” [ὅπλον] Armor is put on when one gets ready for battle. Three powerful enemies fight against us, as we learned from Luther’s Small Catechism: the devil, the world, and our sinful flesh.
I like the way Luther summarizes this:
Now, it is a great thing to struggle unceasingly through your whole life. Therefore, there is certainly a need for good trumpets and drums, that is, for preaching and exhortation that strengthen us and keep us brave in the struggle. Good works are weapons. [AE 75, p. 20]
The “good trumpets and drums” rouse us to keep doing what God wants us to do. God’s trumpet and drums are his Word and Sacraments which make us strong in the fight and enable us to wield good works to God’s glory and our neighbor’s welfare.
So, the call of the First Sunday in Advent is,
“DO WHAT YOU KNOW YOU SHOULD DO!”
Be strong! Be courageous! Fight the good fight of faith!
In the Name of the Father and of the ✠ Son and of the Holy Spirit.