New Year's Resolutions
Last Sunday was the Church's New Year's Eve; the First Sunday in Advent, is our New Year's Day. I remember New Year's Day services when I still set my clock to secular time. Attendance was slight, the feel cold, the tone somber; there was something resolute about them. Even though I'm not given to New Year's Resolution. Maybe this year I will make some.
Resolved: I want to be different this year. Be done with the works of darkness, orgies, drunkenness, sexual immorality, debauchery, dissension, and jealousy. Whoa, whoa. Maybe I need to put off some of these, but orgies? I can't remember the last one I attended; how about you? What about St. Paul? Notice he starts out saying that it's time for "you to wake up from your slumber." But moves on to saying "Let us put aside the deeds of darknessLet us behave decently." He includes himself as one needing to put aside the deeds of darkness. If St. Paul can say he needs to do that; then it's a fitting resolution for me this New Year's Day.
Paul lists the 6 things to be put away as 3 pairs of 2. The first words orgies, sexual immorality, and dissension are sin as activity. The second words are the basic sinfulness that starts the snowball rolling downhill headed for hell. Drunkenness, debauchery, jealously. Debauchery needs defining; the Greek word means wanton sensuality, animal lust. Other translations have lasciviousness', indecency', wantonness'. The works of darkness begin in the lusts of the flesh. The greed, sensuality, and discontent advertising appeals to and cultivates are the frontlines of my battle against sin, death, and the devil this New Year. How about you?
If your New Year's resolutions don't include a resolve to wage battle against the beginnings, then you're not with St. Paul and you're asleep, maybe hypnotized. Paul says "that the hour already has come for you out of hypnos to rise." The Greek hypnos is the root for our word hypnotized. I'm hypnotized by the sin all around me and the sinfulness within me. "Sleep, sleep, my pretty," they whisper to me. No surprise to me that one of the most frequent places people are lulled to sleep is in church. Read church history. As long as there have been sermons there have been men sleeping through them. The 2 times the disciples are weighed down with sleep is when they are closest to spiritual things that have to do with their salvation. At the Transfiguration Jesus is praying. Heaven comes to earth, and we read, "Now Peter and his companions were weighed down with sleep" (Lk. 9:30). In Gethsemane Jesus tells His closest disciples now's the time to watch and pray. Again heaven comes to earth as an angel sent from the Father to strengthen the Son, but what do we read, "Jesus came to His disciples and found them sleeping from sorrow" (Lk. 22:45).
Who doesn't want to sleep in on New Year's Day? Right? Wake up! You've overslept! The alarm is ringing! You know that panicked feeling. You know going from zero to 100 in moments. You have the feeling Proverbs 24 (:33-34) describes: "Sleep a little. Doze a little. Fold your hands and twiddle your thumbs. Suddenly poverty hits you as an armed man and everything is gone!" The insert misses the very physical pictures Paul is using. He doesn't say "wake up" but "rise" and He doesn't say "behave decently" but "walk about properly." You know that feeling of being in bed and wanting to stay. You think, "I should get up; it's time to get moving." But no amount of wanting to or even resolving to can take the place of getting up and walking about. This is Advent. This is how the Church starts her New Year.
Resolved: I want to be different this year. Resolved not to approach this the way the world does. And that's the way of New Year's resolutions. I will do this; I gotta do that; I resolve to stop doing this and start doing that. That's straight Law and all true. Truer than the more popular doable Law. "I'll try harder." "I'll do good enough." "I'll do better than last year." You can stop the orgies, the sexual immorality, and the dissension. At least, you can hide them. But the second part of the 3 pairs that's a horse of a different color; a wild, leaping, kicking horse that no man has ever tamed. You can lock yourself in a room away from alcohol, the opposite sex, and other people, but if the desire to drink too much, for sinful sex, or lust for what others have is there, you've yet to wake, and if that Day dawns and finds you still asleep more than poverty will hit you; damnation will. More than an armed man will get you; the Devil himself will.
Okay, okay. I will wake up; I will get up, but you're still thinking the way of the world, the way of the Law. So you'll try the peeing puppy method. The puppy pees on the carpet; you put its face in it and say, "No." Look at your sin and sinfulness; don't you feel guilty? Look at last year. How many times did you give in, give up, and stay asleep in your filthiness, your wretchedness, your drunkenness, wantonness, and covetousness? You know where this tack takes you? You sail right into Gethsemane and go to sleep from sorrow.
Resolved not to approach New Year's resolutions in the way of the world which is by the power of the law doable or not, by the power of guilt, or by the power of excuses. I've taught or preached on the parable of The Great Supper (Luke 14: 15-24) at least 15 times. I don't think I've convinced, let alone convicted, even one person that when it comes to spiritual things, i.e. attending church, repenting, or changing, excuses blaming either God or others indicate a person is still sound asleep snoring their way to hell. This despite Luke 14:18 saying, "They all alike began to make excuses." See, you don't feel impenitent when you do this? You don't claim you're not guilty; you're the ten year old with, "Yes, I did it, but I can explain" thinking your explanation deals with it. No, your excuses only show you're fast asleep.
This New Year's Day I resolve to want to be different this year, to not approach my sin and sinfulness the way of the world, and to not dry up. This starts by recognizing that Paul speaks to us as Christians. Just like the powerful chapter 7 where Paul the Christian, the saint, the Apostle, admits that he is like us. The good he wants to do, he doesn't do. The evil he doesn't want to do, that's what he does. So here when telling us to rise and shine, to put aside the deeds of darkness and to put on the armor of light, he is speaking to us as Christians. Luther said Paul speaks to spiritual sleepers not to those dead in the sin of unbelief or to hypocrites who appear to be believers but are dead in living sin. Paul speaks to Christians living lukewarm lives snoring away. Luther says these have departed the slavery of Egypt with their bodies but with their hearts they've returned (Buls, A, 2).
And as confessional Lutheran sacramental Christians, we don't live only in the realm of the spirit, faith in the heart, or resolve in the will. We live, in fact Paul says, we walk about in our Baptisms. Follow the Book of Romans. In Chapters 1-3 Paul puts all men under the wrath of God revealed from heaven. There is none righteous no not one. From homosexual, to greedy, to unmerciful people all are damned. But then in chapters 4 and 5 we find that while we were still sinners Christ Jesus died for the ungodly. God the Son was the Perfect Lamb of God whose shed blood covered the sins of the world so that God's destroying angel passed over. There is forgiveness, there is shelter, there is life in, with, and under this blood. But where is that blood for me? That's Romans 6. And hear how Paul describes a woke up life: "How shall we who died to sin still live in it? All of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus have been baptized into His death, ..So that as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father we too might walk about in a new life."
Tell me you don't see Baptismal imagery in our text. Tell me that you don't recognize when Paul says let us put aside the deeds of darkness he is saying what we confess in our catechism under "What does such baptizing with water indicate"? We answer, "It indicates that the Old Adam in us should by daily contrition and repentance be drowned and die with all sins and evil desires." By daily diving back into our Baptism, our old Adam is not just put aside. He is drowned. And tell me you don't hear Baptismal imagery in Paul's call to "put on the armor of light". This is the new man that daily emerges and arises to live before God in a state of righteousness and purity forever. That means: standing in the waters of your Baptism God sees you as righteous and pure. All those sins your conscience accuses you of, all those sins the Devil rubs your face in, all those sins others won't let go of, God doesn't see in Baptism.
What else but Baptism do you think Paul is pointing to when he says, "Clothe yourselves with the Lord Jesus Christ"? This is the same Greek word he used early when he said "put on the armor of light" and it's the same word Paul uses for being baptized in Galatians 3:27, "For as many of you as were baptized in Christ have put on Christ." Hello; wake up little Susie. Stop looking within you for the resolve to change, the will to change, the feeling of change. Return to your Baptism. Your problem is that you have dried up or you think your Baptism has. Paul says in Titus 3: 5-8 that Baptism is an ongoing "washing of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit." Paul says in Romans 6 that you get to walk about in this new reality. In our text he describes it as walking about as in the daytime.
The great contrary to the 3 lusts and 3 sins of darkness is putting on Christ. That took place not by your will, faith, or resolve but by His action in your baptismal waters. Ever stood behind a waterfall? It's a different world in there. In Baptism you don't need to think about gratifying the lusts of the sinful nature because in Baptism they're drowned, they're dead. Resolved: this year I remember by Baptism daily. Amen
Rev. Paul R. Harris
Trinity Lutheran Church, Austin, Texas
First Sunday in Advent (20191201); Romans 13: 11-14