161127 Romans 13:11-14

Last Updated on Sunday, 27 November 2016 Written by Pastor Pagels

Text: Romans 13:11-14
Theme: How To Have A Happy New Year

If you missed it, you probably weren't the only one. When the clock struck midnight last night, the Christian church entered a new church year. And most of the world didn't even notice. There were no television specials, no champagne toasts, no balls dropping in Times Square.

Even though it happened very quietly, even though there was no media coverage, even though today is not a national holiday, this is still an important day for Christians. Today we start at the beginning. Today we begin a sequence of Sundays and seasons that will allow us to review and relive the life of Jesus. This morning we light the first candle on the Advent wreath to remember that our Savior came in fulfillment of Old Testament prophecy and to remind ourselves that he will come again.

And even if the rest of the world thinks that New Year's Day is still a month away, we know better. We know that a new year in God's grace begins today. And because it does, we have every reason to celebrate.

If you want to know how to mark this special occasion, if you are looking for new ways to celebrate the New Year, the apostle Paul has some ideas. In words that were inspired by the Holy Spirit and written for the Christians at Rome Paul tells us...


I. What we need to know
II. What we need to wear

Paul's first piece of advice is this: "Do this, understanding the present time" (11a). If you were asking yourself "Do what?," Paul explains in the verses that come right before our text: "Let no debt remain outstanding, except the continuing debt to love one another...Love does no harm to its neighbor. Therefore love is the fulfillment of the law" (8, 10).

Paul reminds us that a happy new year, a happy life, a happy existence on earth is impossible without love. Love comes from God (1 John 4:7). God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son (John 3:16). We love God because God first loved us (1 John 4:19). God calls us to love each other deeply, because love covers over a multitude of sins (1 Peter 4:8). And Paul encourages us to do this (namely, love each other) understanding the present time.

Understand that in this day and age love is a precious (and rare) commodity. Understand that we are living at a time when the love of many people has grown cold (Matthew 24:12). Understand that the unloving, uncaring attitude of the world can affect and infect people like us, even people who know that they are loved by God.

Paul says: "You need to be reminded to love each other because love doesn't come naturally. You need the reminder because it is so easy to become spiritually lazy. And if you have drifted off into a spiritual coma it's time for you to wake up." "The hour has come for you to wake up from your slumber, because our salvation is nearer now than when we first believed" (11b).

In keeping with the New Year's theme, you have probably seen those countdown clocks somewhere (if you need one, there are several websites/apps to choose from). I want you to picture one of those clocks in heaven. Picture in your mind a cosmic countdown clock up in the sky. The Lord has programmed the time when that clock will count down to zero, but he hasn't told anyone else when that day will be.

It is possible that the clock has been programmed to run out in the year 2016. It is possible that the clock is scheduled to run out during the month of December. It is entirely possible that this clock will show all zeros before the end of the day. We don't know. God has decided that we don't need to know.

But God does want us to know that our salvation is closer now than when we woke up this morning. Jesus' return is closer now than it was when this service began. The final day of reckoning could even come before I finish this sermon.

The reality of the end, the finality of the end, these things are a wake-up call for Christians. Because the end is coming don't allow yourself to be lulled into a false sense of security. Don't fool yourself into thinking that you have plenty of time to right the wrongs in your life. Maybe you do, but maybe you don't. This might be the day when Jesus returns. This might be the day when your life ends.

Even if today isn't the day, the day is coming. Even if you have a few months or even a few years, your time is running out. Or to put it another way: "The night is nearly over; the day is almost here" (12a). Jesus used similar language in John 9: "As long as it is day, we must do the work of him who sent me. Night is coming, when no one can work" (4). Here Paul takes the same basic idea, but he flips it around. The night, the present age in which we live, is coming to an end. The dawning of a new day, the final day, Judgment Day, is almost here.

So what should we do? What do we need to do? All we need to do is look up. Look up to the heavens and listen to the words of the angel: "This same Jesus, who has been taken from you into heaven, will come back in the same way you have seen him go into heaven" (Acts 1:11). Look at the blue paraments and remember that when Jesus returns in glory the backdrop will be a bright blue sky.

There are some people who consider New Year's to be an important date on their social calendars. They get all dressed up and go to fancy parties. The New Year we celebrate today isn't like that, but there is at least one similarity. In order to have a Happy New Year, in order to make the most of this happy occasion, Paul tells us what we need to wear.

"Let us put aside the deeds of darkness and put on the armor of light" (12b). In Ephesians 6 Paul talks about putting on the full armor of God, the belt of truth, the breastplate of righteousness, the shield of faith and the helmet of salvation. It's easy for me to visualize those things, much easier than it is for me to picture a person wearing "the armor of light."

I don't think Paul was into science fiction. Paul wasn't describing some space age battle gear. He chose that description (the armor of light) to contrast what he called the deeds of darkness. And then he went on to list some of the dark deeds God's people would do well to avoid: "Let us behave decently, as in the daytime, not in orgies and drunkenness, not in sexual immorality and debauchery, not in dissension and jealousy" (13).

What was true back then is no less true today. Crime goes up when the sun goes down. I can remember talking with a member of my previous church who worked nights for the Milwaukee Police Department, and he told me that they have a saying: "The only people out at 4:00 am are cops and criminals and paperboys."

Why does the crime rate seem to go up at night? You might say that it's because criminals are smart. They understand that darkness gives them some protection. They have figured out that nighttime is the time when they are the least likely to get caught.

The same cannot be said for sinners. When people sin under the cover of darkness, they might be able to keep other people in the dark. But they can't fool God. He sees all. He knows all. And he knows that anyone who thinks he is getting away with his sin is the real fool.

As you look at yourself and compare your life with Paul's list of sins to avoid, you might be thinking that you are doing okay. "I have never been to an orgy. I don't get drunk all the time. I am faithful to my spouse. I'm not even sure what debauchery is, so I don't think I'm guilty of that. I'm not suggesting that I'm always good, but I'm not all that bad either."

Even if you have been a faithful husband/wife, even if your personal motto is "everything in moderation," what about that last pair of sins? What about the sin of "dissension?" Dissension (also known as fighting or quarreling) is very dangerous, even for Christians. If it wasn't, Paul wouldn't have warned against it in over half of his letters.

And fighting among Christians is even worse. When believers can't get along with each other, what kind of message are we sending to the rest of the world? Are we validating the accusation that people who go to church are just a bunch of hypocrites? Are we putting up obstacles that are keeping people from learning about their Savior?

Besides the negative image fighting among ourselves projects to outsiders, think of all the damage we do to each other. When all we do is argue and complain we get distracted from what it is that brings us together in the first place. When we are constantly tearing people down we don't have any time or energy left to build each other up.

I'm not trying to spoil the party. I just want us to recognize our sin. I just want us to understand how amazing God's invitation is. We don't deserve it. We don't deserve to be happy. We don't deserve to have a happy New Year. But instead of giving us what we deserve God has given us a gift.

"Clothe yourselves with the Lord Jesus Christ, and do not think about how to gratify the desires of the sinful nature" (14). I can remember a time in my life when I really looked forward to receiving gifts. I can also remember being somewhat disappointed when I opened up a present and discovered that it was clothes.

The gift that God has given us is not like that. This special clothing is something we can all appreciate. God gave us his Son. God has given us forgiveness through his Son. Jesus wrapped us up in the robes of his righteousness. And there is something about these clothes that make them unique. We will never outgrow them. We will never wear them out. And they will never ever go out of style.

Many of us put on Jesus for the first time when we were carried to the baptismal font. We put on Jesus every time we approach the communion table. Our Savior goes with us when we go to work and when we go to parties. And our Lord Jesus Christ is the only piece of clothing we will need when we go from this world to the next.

People might look at their calendars. People might look at you kind of funny. But don't let that stop you. Because God has told you everything you need to know, because God has given you everything you need to wear, you can greet the people you meet today and say with a knowing smile: Happy New Year! Amen.

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