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First Sunday of Advent 2019

Out of The Darkness And Into The Light”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 armor of light.” (Romans 13:12).

As I was preparing this sermon I was fascinated by the abstract nature of how darkness and light are used. It got me thinking about why clergy wear black, the color of evil and wrongdoing. Well it turns out we have 16th-century fashion to blame for black clothing. Black cloth was a status symbol in the 1500s because it was expensive to produce requiring multiple treatments in green dye until the cloth appeared black. It became the custom for the lower clergy to use it as they were basically the same rank in society as doctors, lawyers, and minor gentry, though very often the lower clergy used a cheaper black cloth made using multiple applications of woad (cabbage used to produce blue dye) to get the desired colour. Of course, all of that has nothing to do with Paul’s Epistle to the Romans.

Paul tells the Romans “to cast off the works of darkness” which for most people conjures up an image of the bad things that are done at night. “Darkness” is used approximately 177 times in the bible to portray that which is evil. Paul continues with “put on the armor of light” which brings to the mind’s eye an image of safety in the light and protection from the evil of the night’s darkness. The word “Light” is used 272 times in the Old and New testaments combined, to show us that which is good. Let’s look at a few examples. Mathew writes in the 6th chapter of his Gospel; “But if your eye is evil, your whole body will be full of darkness. If therefore the light that is in you is darkness, how great is the darkness!” He is saying that if you are looking to do evil your whole body will be filled with the influence of the evil one. If you are thinking about ways to break the laws then every fiber of your being may be evil. In other words, the way you think is the why you will live your life.

St. Luke wrote in the 11th chapter of his gospel “The lamp of the body is the eye. Therefore when your eye is good, your whole body is also full of light; but when it is evil, your body also is full of darkness.” Here Luke makes the equation explicit light equals good and darkness equals evil taking Matthews thought to its logical conclusion.

In chapter 3 of his gospel John takes the idea of good and evil a step further when he writes “This is the judgment, that the light has come into the world, and men loved the darkness rather than the light; for their works were evil.” Judgment? Light into the world? When did this light come into the world? What is John trying to tell us?

Of course, the light first came into the world in the beginning; “And God said, Let there be light: and there was light.” (Gen. 1:3) But light came into the world a second time. Jesus told us “I have come as Light into the world so that everyone who believes in Me will not remain in darkness.” (John 12:46) Jesus, God incarnate, brought to the world a new light for all to receive. If light represents goodness in antithesis to the evil associated with darkness, it is a natural step for us to understand God, the ultimate good, as light. We must “awake out of sleep” by abandoning the darkness and coming into the light of Jesus Christ “for now is our salvation nearer”; judgment day is closer than it was when we first believed.

I dare say that your experience of awakening “out of sleep”, acceptance of Jesus Christ as your Lord and savior, is different from that of anyone else’s experience. Some have accepted Jesus from an early age and others have had a conversion experience at a later age. Our Epistle today from St. Paul has achieved lasting fame for having influenced the conversion of Augustine of Hippo. In his “Confession” St. Augustine tells the story of his acceptance of Jesus Christ: He was walking in his garden, his heart was in distress, because of his failure to live the good life. He kept exclaiming miserably: “How long? Tomorrow – why not now? Why not this hour an end to my depravity”. Suddenly he heard a voice saying: “take and read; take and read.” It sounded like a child’s voice; and he racked his mind to try to remember any child’s game in which these words occurred, but could think of none. He hurried back to the seat where his friend was sitting, where he had left a volume of Paul’s writings. He snatched it up and read silently the first passage his eyes fell upon: “Let us not walk in revelry or drunkenness, in immorality, and in shamelessness, in contention and in strife. But put on the Lord Jesus Christ, as a man puts on a garment, and stop living a life in which your first thought is to gratify the desires of Christless human nature.” He neither wished nor needed to read further. With the end of that sentence, as though the light of assurance had poured into his heart, all the shades of doubt were scattered. He put his finger in the page and closed the book. Turning to his friend with a calm countenance he told him, “Out of this word, God has spoken to me.” St. Augustine of Hippo was a Roman African, early Christian theologian and philosopher whose writings influenced the development of the Western Church and Western philosophy, and indirectly all of Western Christianity.

St. Augustine was concerned that he had failed to “live the good life”. He had not yet come out of the darkness and into the light. Once he entered the light then his concern was not with a life of revelry or drunkenness, immorality, and shamelessness, or contention and strife but with living a life according to God’s laws. Paul tells us that living the good life, a life in accordance with God’s laws requires that we “Owe no man anything, but to love one another: for he that loveth another hath fulfilled the law.” But life in this world is like a revolving door, as we go round and round in it we pass from darkness on the outside to light on the inside. Every day we struggle with fulfilling the law, with not sinning in thought, word or deed. We step out of the door into the darkness when we fail to live according to God’s law, re-enter the door and step back into the light when we confess our sins and are truly repentant. Around and around we go and where we will land only God knows. Where we land depends on our personal effort to be in the light. We make that choice with every thought, word, and deed.

Augustine, like Paul, had a sense of urgency about him and so must we. The early church expected the second coming at any moment, and therefore it had an urgency to be ready. That expectancy has grown dim and faint with the passage of time. One permanent fact remains; not one of us knows when God will rise and bid us go. The time grows ever shorter, for we are every day one day nearer that time. We, too, must have all things ready. We must put on the armor of light, now in this time of mortal life, that through faith the Holy Spirit may be with us at all times and that we may rise to life immortal through him, Jesus Christ our Lord.
Amen