I know that “hate” is a strong word but I think that it accurately describes my feelings. I hate, hate, HATE daylight savings time. It is bad enough that the days grow shorter by themselves but we also have the federal government stepping in and fiddling with our clocks so that by 7 pm it feels like midnight. Even my chickens get confused. I find all of the darkness downright depressing and I know that I am not alone.
Evidently our aversion to darkness goes much further back than the advent of daylight savings times. A recent study at the University of Toronto suggested that our aversion is a “foreboding anxiety” that goes back to the days when man was not at the top of the food chain. It goes back to the days when saber tooth tigers would ask each other who they were having for dinner.
That study makes sense to me but I would argue that there is also a spiritual connection to our negative feelings about darkness. I believe that because throughout the Scriptures, in the vast majority of cases, darkness is a state to be avoided. In Genesis, what was the first thing that God created? It was the light was it not? This was to end what the Hebrews called “tohu va vohu” which is “formlessness and void.” It was God’s light that broke the darkness over the abyss and brought form and order, goodness and beauty.
In Exodus, darkness was the ninth plague the God sent over Egypt. The Bible describes it as a darkness that could be felt. The text goes on to day, “but all the people of Israel had light where they lived.” (Ex 10:21,23).
God chose Israel to be His people, not just for His own possession, but as Isaiah says, to be a light to the nations because the nations were walking in darkness. Israel failed in this task so God in His mercy sends the True Light who said, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will not walk in darkness but will have the light of life.” (Jn 8:12).
Not only does the theme of darkness and light continue all through the Gospels but that same imagery appears multiple times in 11 of the New Testament Epistles. And when we come to the end in the Revelation of John we see the utter defeat of darkness. Speaking of the New Jerusalem that descends from heaven we read, “And the city has no need of sun or moon to shine on it, for the glory of God gives it light and its lamp is the Lamb. By its light will the nations walk and the kings of the earth will bring their glory into it, and its gates will never be shut by day – and there will be no night there.” What a fit ending to a story that began, “And God said, ‘Let there be light.’”
Thus in our collect today we pray for grace to cast away the works of darkness and to put on the armor of light. This is phrase taken directly from St. Paul’s letter to the Roman chapter 13 verse 12. Then in the next two verses he tells us in very practical terms how we can go about casting away the works of darkness and putting on the armor of light. Given that we are entering the penitential season of Advent, that seems to be exactly what we should be about these days.
St. Paul continues; “Let us walk properly as in the daytime, not in orgies and drunkenness, not in sexual immorality and sensuality, not in quarreling and jealously. But put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh to gratify its desires.”
Before we dig into this injunction I want to ask a question. This directive is about 2,000 years old, so how could it possibly be relevant for us today? We certainly wouldn’t take medical advice that is 2,000 years old. Back then if you were suffering from migraines they drilled a hole in your head to let the demons out. So why would we accept ancient spiritual advice?
The simple answer is that we heed it because it is God’s truth and God’s truth is never outdated. Jesus said that heaven and earth would pass away before God’s truth passes away and so these texts always remain relevant. Allow me to demonstrate how that is so.
At first it may appear that St. Paul is just grabbing some random sins to illustrate his point about walking properly as Christians but the commentators of the English Standard Version point out that the sins that he listed fall into three categories. The list includes personal sins, interpersonal sins and societal sins.
He illustrates personal sins by pointing out orgies and drunkenness. Or what today we refer to as addictions. The difference between St. Paul and modern therapy however is that while St. Paul would probably have no trouble calling addictions an illness, he would also call it a sin from which a believer should repent and turn. In fact this more complete understanding of addiction is why Christian treatment facilities have such a high degree of success. I knew one such facility in Florida that had the federal government come study it because they could not believe their results. But of course the Feds did not want to hear the reasons why they were so successful. Even back then it wasn’t pc to tell an addict that as well as being ill he was also a sinner.
Is St. Paul’s council relevant today? Is addiction a problem today? Accidental death by drug overdose is the number one killer in the US. From 1999 to 2008 it has increased by 400% and much of this is due to the current national plague of opioid and heroin addictions. So yes, we could still use St. Paul’s help.
The next category is interpersonal sins. St. Paul mentions “sexual immorality and sensuality” I really don’t need to ask if this is still relevant today do I? Bill Cosby, Bill O’Reilly, Harvey Weinstein, Kevin Spacey, Al Franken, Matt Lauer….and the end of the list is not in sight! The objectification of women is rampant in every level of our society and if you don’t see this as the bad fruit of the so-called sexual revolution of my generation then you are not going to be a part of the solution. How ironic it is that our culture spews out so much garbage and then is shocked to discover that it stinks.
By contrast a man who puts on Christ will treat women with the same respect that our Lord did when He walked among us. St. Paul says that a husband is to see his wife as an icon of the Bride of Christ and therefore is treat her with the same love and respect as Christ does the Church.
The third category of darkness that St. Paul says we are to avoid involves societal sins. He speaks of quarreling and jealously. I believe that those two sins, along with the sin of covetousness, are fueling some of the deep deepdivisions within our nation.
If you have a job then you know how hard you have to work to earn your money and make ends meet. And yet a new crop of social justice warriors have emerged to tell you that you are not doing your fair share and that you need to give them more free stuff. As it stands today nearly half of our nation pays zero federal income tax but to the jealous and covetous those of us who do pay taxes need to do more and more and more. Jealousy and covetousness are never satisfied.
And what is even worse to me is that in spite of the horrible fact that communism murdered over 90 million people last century, a recent survey by a site called federal.com reports rapidly increasing positive attitudes in our nation towards Karl Marx and his beliefs. One generation of our citizens give him a 64% favorable rating. This acceptance of a murderous atheistic philosophy will only further our divisions.
By contrast an important societal fruit of the Gospel is that it heals our divisions. Rather than quarreling and jealousy and covetousness, there is peace and unity and genuine joy when you see your brother blessed. Instead of allowing the government to steal from its citizens and redistribute the wealth, the early Church voluntarily cared for their own because the love of Jesus compelled them to do so. But even then the Church was not given to wholesale welfare. She helped those who could not work, but not those who would not work. We know this because of St. Paul’s admonition in II Thessalonians. He said, “Even while we were with you, we gave you this command, ‘Those unwilling to work will not get to eat.’ Yet we hear that some of you are living idle lives, refusing to work and meddling in peoples’ business. We command such people and urge them in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ to settle down and work to earn their own living.” NLT (3:10-12).
The spirit of mercy and generosity flourished with the Church and it is why so many benevolent institutions around the world today can point to their Christian roots. As one guy put it, you don’t find many atheist run soup kitchens.
I hope that I have demonstrated the relevancy of St. Paul’s admonition for us to cast away darkness and put on the armor of light. But some may think that because they are not actively engaged in addictions or sexual abuse or quarrels that they are off the hook. But allow me to take our application of this passage one step further.
I will remind us that when Jesus taught about these kinds of sins He not only told us not to engage in such activity but He went further and said that if they even exist in our hearts then we are equally guilty. “You have heard that it was said to the people long ago, ‘You shall not murder, and anyone who murders will be subject to judgment.’ But I tell you that anyone who is angry with a brother or sister will be subject to judgment… “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall not commit adultery.’ But I tell you that anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart.”
Thus when we think of not engaging in deeds of darkness we must also address any darkness that may exists in our hearts. And so this penitential season of Advent is a gift to us so that we may prepare our hearts to receive the light of Christ.
And herein is another key point. The text not only commands us to cast off the works of darkness but it also commands us to “put on the armor of light.” How do we do that? Again I go back to the commentators for the English Standard Version. They say, “The metaphor of putting on clothing implies not just imitating Christ’s character but also living in close personal fellowship with him.” (p. 2180).
Brennan Manning writes beautifully of how he came into this close personal fellowship with our Lord. “For too long and too often on my journey I have sought the shelter of hand-clapping liturgies and cerebral Scripture studies…yet when the scholarly investigation was over I was struck by the insignificance of it all…But when the night is bad and my nerves are shattered…when God Almighty shares through his Son the depth of his feelings for me, when his love flashes into my soul…I face a momentous decision…either I escape into skepticism and intellectualism, or with radical amazement I surrender in faith to the truth of my belovedness.” (Reflections of a Ragamuffin p.335).
In his first epistle of St. John tells us two things that God is. John says that “God is light” and “God is love” and the implication is that to experience one is to experience the other. It is the love of God that leads us to His light and it is the light of God draws us to His love. So I pray that the light of this season will draw us deeper into God’s love and as we experience that love we find yourself drawn more fully into the light. Amen. “Put off the deeds of darkness and put on the armor of light