Thursday, December 31, 2015
Watchnight Sermon: Romans 13: 8-14 Telling the Time
Do you know what time it is? In a few minutes, we’ll move from 2015 and begin the new year of 2016. As each second ticks onwards, and we come to that particular second, we go from December to January, from an old year to a new year. And as it happens, we might be singing, or praying (and hopefully not still preaching!). But for some people gathered in other places, the particular second will be very important. They’ll want to know the time.
So, in New York, (in a few hours time, with the time difference), they’ll be watching the ball drop on the stroke of midnight in Times Square. Over in London, they’ll be listening out for the chime of Big Ben. The clock strikes, the time has come, the new year will have begun.
As Paul writes to the Christians in Rome, his letter is like the chime of Big Ben, telling them the time. And as we read these words tonight, they’re telling us the time as well. You see, these words aren’t a calendar - something useful for a year and then you chuck it out (or recycle it). This isn’t like a diary. Instead, the letter to the Romans is like an alarm clock, telling us to wake up.
You know the way people describe life as being like a year; growing in spring, flowering in summer, falling apart in autumn and dying in winter; well Paul portrays the whole of human history like one day - or rather, one night. It’s as if we’re living in the night time, but the day is coming, the day is at hand. We’re waiting for the dawn (as we’ve heard in our readings tonight).
So as we move from 2015 to 2016, do you know what time it is? It might be night time, but the day is coming. At the end of a year we find ourselves looking back; the newspapers have their review of the year, the TV shows are full of end of the year quizzes and highlights. But Paul points us forward. Don’t focus on the past - but as time moves on think about this: ‘For salvation is nearer to us now than when we first believed.’
Each year is a year closer to glory. Each morning is a morning nearer to heaven. Each sunset is a step closer to the dawn of salvation and Christ’s return. Even if things have been tough for you this year, hold on to this, that you’re that much closer to seeing Christ face to face. ‘For salvation is nearer to us now than when we first believed.’ That’s a wake up call, a reminder of the time; the first glimmer of the dawn is just beyond the horizon, so hold in there. He is coming. Do you know what time it is?
But as Paul sounds the alarm, he also tells us what we should do about it. Because we know what time it is, that the night is far gone and the day is at hand, then we should verse 12: ‘So then let us cast off the works of darkness and put on the armour of light.’ If the day of Christ is coming, and we belong to that day, then don’t be doing night time things.
Around about the time that we were packing up in Belfast and moving to Fermanagh there was a new trend developing. People (mostly ladies, it has to be said) would be seen going to the shops, walking along the roads in their pyjamas. This wasn’t that they had forgotten milk when they were going to bed and nipped into the shop; or that they were ill but really needed to get a prescription. This was unashamedly wearing their nightclothes in broad daylight.
It was a bit shocking, but the works of darkness we’re called to give up are even worse. Orgies and drunkenness, sexual immorality and sensuality, quarrelling and jealousy. These are nighttime things; works of darkness; but that isn’t us - that shouldn’t be us. The alarm has sounded. The day is coming. So take off the works of darkness. Instead ‘put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh, to gratify its desires.’
Every day of every year, that question comes - do you know what time it is? We’re getting closer. HE is getting closer. Just as some will have been planning their New Year’s Eve party dress for some time, and now the night has arrived and they get dressed up, so we are called to be ready, to put on the appropriate clothing - the armour of light; the Lord Jesus Christ himself.
Perhaps that’s something we can try to do each day this new year when we wake up. Before your feet hit the floor. Before your fingers reach for your phone to check Facebook, Twitter or Instagram. Even before you get the kettle on. Take a moment to realise the time - another day closer to seeing Jesus. Another day of putting on the gospel armour, committing the day to Jesus, seeking to walk with him.
This sermon was preached at the Watchnight Service in Aghavea Parish Church on 31st December 2015.