Romans 13:11–14 (NIV) 11 And do this, understanding the present time: The hour has already come for you to wake up from your slumber, because our salvation is nearer now than when we first believed. 12 The night is nearly over; the day is almost here. So let us put aside the deeds of darkness and put on the armor of light. 13 Let us behave decently, as in the daytime, not in carousing and drunkenness, not in sexual immorality and debauchery, not in dissension and jealousy. 14 Rather, clothe yourselves with the Lord Jesus Christ, and do not think about how to gratify the desires of the flesh.
My dear friends in Christ,
How many of you have put up your Christmas trees? How many of you have them decorated already? Why? Why not leave the trees uncovered, unlit, and undecorated? Because they are dark. Dark at this time of the year isn’t very beautiful, is it? In fact, it’s pretty depressing. One of the reasons we decorate our trees is to bring some light and some excitement into our homes.
The apostle Paul encouraged, “The night is nearly over; the day is almost here” (Romans 13:12 NIV). Did you know that he’s talking about the season of Advent? The word “advent” means “arrival” or “coming.” Jesus is coming. When? Christmas? Yes! We’re getting ready to celebrate his birth. He’s also going to come again. When will that happen? We don’t know the day or the time, but Jesus will return. We will see him, riding on the clouds of heaven, to judge the living and the dead. Our Advent worship services are an opportunity to prepare for his return.
The question is, “How can we be ready?” Simple. “So let us put aside the deeds of darkness” (Romans 13:12 NIV). Put aside the “deeds of darkness?” I brought all kinds of decorations along tonight for my little tree. I think they’re beautiful! Take a look. What do you think? Not so beautiful? Pretty ugly? I guess I’d have to agree, especially when we look at what they are. Here’s one—“drunkenness.” That one doesn’t look too bad, especially when we’re the ones doing it. It tastes good. It feels good, especially when we start “loosening up.” That’s usually when the deeds of darkness begin. We drink too much and start thinking, saying, and doing things that people only do when it’s dark and no one can see them. God calls that sin—it’s a deed of darkness.
Oh, here’s another one—“sexual immorality.” That one looks beautiful, at least on the outside. It starts with a thought. It leads to an action. Just ask Matt Lauer, or Garrison Keillor, or the dozens of men who have been accused of sexual harassment over the past few months. It began when they put that deed of darkness on their tree! Oh, and they aren’t the only ones. The temptations are on our computer and television screens, at office parties and in the pages of a book or magazine. Those sinful desires (yes, desires) are deeds of darkness that cover our tree.
How about this deed of darkness—“dissension”? We don’t like to put this one on our tree, but we do it anyway. What good does it do to agree on a plan that someone else came up with? They didn’t listen to my input, in fact, they didn’t even ask for it. Come to think of it, they never ask for my input! That’s a deed of darkness, and as much as we’d like to deny it, it hurts us and everyone around us!
Then there’s the last one Paul mentions—“jealousy.” That’s a popular deed of darkness decoration! “I wish I had what they have. I wish I looked like he or she looks. I want that kind of car instead of the one I have. My home isn’t big enough. I don’t have as much money as that family. My phone isn’t as new as that one. Can’t I have that cool, name-brand pair of shoes instead of these pieces of junk? I want to play sports for that team instead of this one...” Wow! We hang this deed of darkness, jealousy, on the tree again, and again, and again.
There are so many more “deeds of darkness” that could go on our tree. It looked ugly with just one. It looks even uglier when it’s covered with darkness. That’s what God thinks too. “Woe to those who call evil good and good evil, who put darkness for light and light for darkness... Then they will look toward the earth and see only distress and darkness and fearful gloom, and they will be thrust into utter darkness.” (Isaiah 5:20; 8:22 NIV). The deeds of darkness aren’t just ugly on us. They are ugly because they separate us from God for all eternity.
What do we do with our Christmas trees to chase away the darkness? We put lights on them. Once the lights are on the tree, we plug them in and wow! Light! The light fills the room, or if we have put lights on a tree in our yard, it pushes away the darkness. It’s beautiful! I love to sit in a dark room when the Christmas tree is lit. There is something comforting about Christmas lights, something peaceful, something that makes us happy.
The apostle Paul said, “put off the deeds of darkness and put on the armor of light.” How can we get rid of the deeds of darkness that cover us like ugly decorations on a tree? We need to put on the armor of light—turn on the lights. Paul explains what that armor is in the last verse: “Clothe yourselves with the Lord Jesus Christ” (Romans 13:14 NIV). Jesus promised, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life” (John 8:12 NIV). Jesus is the Light of the World. His life shone with perfection. Every deed of darkness had to flee from him. Jesus said, “Your sins are forgiven” (Matthew 9:2 NIV) and sins have to flee. Jesus said, “Get up, take your mat and go home” (Matthew 9:6 NIV). Whatever crippled that man’s legs had to flee and he could walk! Jesus told a man born blind, “Go, wash in the Pool of Siloam” (John 9:7 NIV). The man’s blindness had to flee—he could see again! Jesus shouted to a corpse dead for four days, “Lazarus, come out!” (John 11:43 NIV). Death itself had to flee before the Light of the World—no deeds of darkness can stand in his presence.
That’s all great, but what about the deeds of darkness that cover us? What about the sin, the hurt, the illness, the guilt, the shame? Jesus took all of that on himself. Our deeds of darkness covered him. Jesus experienced the pain, the agony, the torture of hell itself. That day on Calvary, the Light of the World went out. Jesus died. End of story.
No! Not the end of the story, but the beginning. On Easter morning, the Light of the World rose. He conquered death! The deeds of darkness can’t cover us any more. We can clothe ourselves with the Lord Jesus Christ because he is the armor of light. His forgiveness and love cover us and shine brightly to drive away the darkness of sin and death. Look what happens to our deeds of darkness. They can’t darken the tree. They can’t block out the light.
Once the lights are on the tree, what’s the only way to darken it? Turn off the lights. We don’t want to turn off the Light of the World in our lives. Jesus wants to surround us with his brilliant light, and we need that armor. Then we can really start to shine. We can practice self-control with the food we eat and the things we drink, and controlling the places we allow our eyes to look. With the armor of light illuminating our lives dissension has to flee. We can “agree with one another in what you say and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be perfectly united in mind and thought” (1 Corinthians 1:10 NIV). Jealousy can’t exist in that light. As the armor of light shines on the gifts and abilities others have, we can celebrate and thank God for the unique gifts he has given us. The armor of light drives away anger and frustration, replacing it with love that “covers over a multitude of sins” (1 Peter 4:8 NIV).
Are we ready for Christmas? We’re getting there—putting up our trees, decorating and lighting them, getting gifts prepared. We’re getting ready. Are we ready for Jesus’ return? We are ready. As we repent and put off the deeds of darkness, we are ready. We have put on the armor of light and clothed ourselves with the Lord Jesus Christ. We’re ready. We drive away the darkness with Jesus’ light and strength. When he returns, he will take us to live in eternal light and glory—his light. His perfect light. Amen.