To Put on the Armor of Light: A sermon on Romans 13 and Matthew 24

by the Rev. Anna Doherty14188523_1260289087335740_7885670721171133113_o

I had a coach in college who would start every pre-competition pep talk with the same line…

“You know what time it is…”

So, every time I hear Paul’s letter to the Romans today, I am reminded of pre-game jitters and excitement at what lies ahead.

I have another friend, who always hears this text about “how it is now the moment for you to wake from sleep”….

and he remembers all those mornings when he is excited to get up in the morning, when the day ahead is extra special:

the day you leave for a trip, graduation day, your birthday, your wedding day, the last day before summer vacation.

And this, at it’s core, is really what the coming of Christ is about.

It’s about anticipation, excitement, and pre-game jitters.

It’s not about fear or dread of judgment.

We tend to hear these apocalyptic Advent texts about the coming of Christ with a sense of fear of God’s wrath and judgment.

“The day is near,” as Paul writes today, tends to fill us with dread rather than excitement.

And to be fair, Jesus’ metaphors about the second coming of Christ in today’s gospel of Matthew,

that people will be swept away like the flood of Noah, that one person will be taken, another left, and that the Son of Man will come like a thief in the night…

these are dramatic and scary images.

No wonder we feel afraid.

But I think, at its core, what these dramatic images are trying to convey, is not a sense of fear, but rather a sense of urgency.

The fact that Jesus’ coming ought to evoke strong feelings in us.

But it is an urgency that, rather than filling us with a sense of dread, is meant to leave us with a sense of excitement.

Do you know what time is? Wake up! Christ is coming!

Rather than simply being a scare tactic, I wonder if the urgency of the language around the coming of Christ today is meant to reflect for us…

the fact that we are so excited for Christ’s coming that we want to live in God’s abundance right now.

We are so excited, let’s get started right now.

Let’s see Christ in the world and in each other right now, not just when he comes again like a thief in the night.

This idea of the urgency behind seeing Christ right now, as well as when he comes again, is beautifully described by Paul in his letter to the Romans today.

Paul is so urgently excited to see Christ in the world and in the people around him, that he actually urges the Roman Christians…

…”to put on the Lord Jesus Christ.”

To wear Christ, like a special garment.

Or, as Paul says, to “put on an armor of light.”

This can sounds like an odd, and sometimes even troubling metaphor, for us modern peoples.

In American society, we both value our individuality and at the same time our society tends to reward conformity, blending in.

Some say this might be even more true for us Minnesotans.

Basically, be yourself, but goodness gracious, don’t be too different, too unconventional or it can be a problem.

And so the idea of “putting on Christ” makes us uncomfortable, either because it feels like Paul asks us to give up too much of our individual uniqueness…

…or that Paul asks us to wear our hearts on our sleeves in ways that might make us stand out a little too much for comfort.

It’s hard to miss an armor of light in a crowd.

For ancient peoples, however, so much about how people dressed informed you about who they were.

How people dressed in the ancient world could tell you what a person’s religious beliefs were, it could tell you where they were from,

who they were related to, what they did for a living, how old they were…

You could size people up pretty quickly based on what they were wearing.

And there was no getting away from sharing this about yourself; how you dressed reflected who you were…

You were always, wearing your heart, the details of your life and lifestyle, on your sleeve.

This degree of categorization based on dress doesn’t have many modern day correlations, except perhaps for certain uniforms.

But even to this day, we dress up for certain people, places, or events.

We wear nice clothes to a wedding or to church.

We wear different clothes to work than we would for a day at the beach.

We can still tell something about people, even in broad strokes, based on what they wear.

What if we wore Christ like we did our clothes?

What if, simply by looking at us, people could tell that we are people of faith?

That we believe in Christ so strongly, so urgently, that we wear our faith in the world so that people can see it.

Can see and know what we believe.

Put even more strongly, what if we wore Christ so much on our sleeves, that to look at us, was almost like looking at Christ.

Christ’s work, Christ’s heart, Christ’s hands and feet in this world.

Would not that be a way of living out with excitement and urgency the life of faith until Christ comes again?

With our help, God is helping to bring about a new kingdom and a new earth right now, not just when he comes again.

In fact, Isaiah, Son of Amoz, gets a glimpse of this kingdom of God in our first lesson for today.

Isaiah sees a word from God about what God’s kingdom is like:

“God shall judge between the nations, and shall arbitrate for many peoples;

they shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruning hooks;

nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war anymore.”

The coming of God into the world does not result in fear and devastation.

It is, in fact, the coming of God into the world, God’s judgment of the nations, that allows for peace and justice for all people.

It’s not something to be afraid of, it is something to look forward to and to work toward with all our hearts and minds.

There is a powerful poignancy to these words from Isaiah,

knowing that they are carved into stone just across the street from the United Nations Building.

It is powerful and poignant to know that even as the nations of the world negotiate and navigate terrible conflicts, at home and abroad…

We still hold out and work towards God’s vision of peace and prosperity for God’s people.

Psalm 122 gives voice to this vision of peace and prosperity today,

“Peace be within your walls, and quietness within your towers. For my brethren and companions sake, I pray for your prosperity. ”

Because of the house of the Lord our God, I will seek to do you good.”

This is what we, as people of faith, are working for.

That’s why we are so urgently excited for Christ’s coming.

And that’s why we wear Christ on our sleeves, why we put on Christ, put on an armor of light,

so that all people might see and know God’s peace.