Fr. Bill Carroll – First Sunday of Advent, November 27, 2022

Let us lay aside the works of darkness and put on the armor of light.

In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.

About twenty years ago, in a parish far, far away, I found myself talking to the youth group about the struggles in the Episcopal Church about the ordination of women.  And the youth could not believe that people once refused to receive communion from a woman priest.  They were even more shocked when I told them about people spitting on early women clergy as they processed down the aisle.  

One of them, a fifteen-year-old girl, asked me why a Christian would do something like that.  It’s a great question—but hard to answer.  After thinking for a moment, I told her that  “People come to church for many reasons.  Not all of them have to do with Jesus.”  

Now that I’ve been around the block a few more times, I am better acquainted with the bad behavior of Christians.  Sometimes we all forget what following Jesus is all about.

That’s what Paul is talking about in today’s Epistle, when he urges us to “lay aside the works of darkness and put on the armor of light.”  “You know what time it is,” he says, “how it is the moment for you to wake from sleep.  For salvation is nearer to us now than when we first believed.”  

Beloved, the Day of the Lord is near.  He is coming soon.  And, as followers of Jesus, we are supposed to live joyfully and righteously.  We are supposed to get ready—to stay awake—as we long for Jesus to return.  As Paul tells us, we are to “put on the Lord Jesus Christ and make no provision for the flesh.”  

Now, sometimes in Scripture, “flesh” is a good thing.  Sometimes the word “flesh” just means our human nature, as it does in the Prologue of John. There, the Word becomes flesh, a real human being, and he lives among us—forgiving our sins and showing us how to love.

In the letters of Paul, however, the word “flesh” almost always means our tendency to rebel against the God of love.  The “flesh” refers to our disordered desires, which create disharmony in our relationships.  In the Bible, the sins of the flesh involve a lot more than sex.  The flesh is anything that draws us away from God—and away from each other.

In a couple of places, Paul speaks about the works of the flesh.  In Galatians, for example, he mentions “fornication, impurity, licentiousness, idolatry, sorcery, enmities, strife, jealousy, anger, quarrels, dissensions, factions, envy, drunkenness, carousing, and things like these.”  Opposed to the works of the flesh are the fruits of the Spirit, including “love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.”  These are examples of how we will love like Jesus, when we allow his Spirit to lead us.

In every time and place, we have to wrestle with the power of sin.  I suspect we are all acquainted with the works of the flesh.  We just have to watch the news.  We just have to pay attention to our own strained and broken relationships.  

Advent is the beginning of a new Church year.  It is time for us to get ready for Jesus.  By the grace of God, we can make a fresh start and do better.  Throughout this holy season, Jesus stands at the door and knocks.  The waters of grace are gathering like a mighty flood.  They are about to spill out in the flesh of Jesus, so that his love can change us all.

That’s why our reading from Romans today is so fitting.  Paul is urging us to wake up, because the Lord is near.  He is calling us to cast away the works of darkness and live more loving lives. “Put on the Lord Jesus Christ,” he tells us, “and make no provision for the flesh.”  What would happen if every time we were tempted to do something destructive, we doubled down on loving each other?

Last week, on Christ the King Sunday, I spoke to you about the corporal works of mercy.  How are we to show mercy and do justice to our neighbor’s body?  This traditional list of loving actions comes from the twenty-fifth chapter of Matthew.  There, Jesus commands us to feed the hungry, clothe the naked, house the homeless, welcome strangers, and visit those in prison.  “As you did it unto one of the least of these, who are members of my family,” he tells us, “you did it unto me.”

The spiritual works of mercy are less frequently cited, but equally important.  How are we to show mercy and to do justice to our neighbor’s soul?  As Christians, we are supposed to instruct the ignorant, counsel the doubtful, comfort the sorrowful, admonish the sinner, forgive injuries, bear with those who trouble us, and pray for all people, both the living and the dead.  As Paul once said, writing to the Galatians, we are to “bear one another’s burdens  and in this way fulfill the law of Christ.”

Praying for everyone—especially for the people who trouble us most—helps us to see our neighbors better.  We need to train ourselves to see each other like Jesus does.  We need to bear with one another and practice Christ-like forgiveness.  We need to speak the truth and encourage one another in all the ways of love.  For we are good but imperfect people, who are worthy of love and capable of loving others.  Here at Trinity, let us renew our commitment to love, as we prepare our hearts for Jesus.

Let us lay aside the works of darkness and put on the armor of light.  

Let us put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh.