Advent is here. In repentance and humility, let us consider our lives in relationship to what God wants us to do.
The Holy Spirit says through Saint Paul, “Owe no one anything, except to love each other, for the one who loves another has fulfilled the law.” As we inspect our lives and behavior, we may feel that we love our neighbor. But do we really? The commandments of the law show us what loving behavior is like, and these we have broken.
So the law says, “You shall not commit adultery.” Each of us in some way has broken this commandment, even if we have not committed outright fornication. If only by not treating our marriage partner as well as we should, or if only by not respecting God’s institution of marriage, we have broken this commandment. You men have surely had lust in your heart at some times in your lives. What man in this culture, bombarded by sexual images, can escape that completely? The erosion of the integrity of marriage saturates our culture, and seeps into our lives as well. We reveal that we are following our culture’s lead by living together outside of marriage, or having intercourse outside of marriage, or by divorcing for any reason besides the cheating of a spouse. If only by thinking that homosexuality is not a sin, we have broken this commandment.
In breaking this commandment, we fail to live in love.
Paul mentions the fifth commandment, “You shall not murder.” Surely few of us have taken an innocent human life. But perhaps a few of us have pressured someone into having an abortion, or had one ourselves. Perhaps a few of us have supported a woman’s right to choose an abortion. Supporting these forms of murder makes us guilty of murder. Or perhaps we have hurt someone. Perhaps we have failed to help them in their time of need. Or perhaps we have used angry, hateful words. Who can drive down the highway without doing that sometimes? Even if we do not give voice to the words we want to use, the emotions that are the seeds of murder are in our heart. We can detect such emotions sometimes, if our self-righteousness does not deny that they exist. They are in each of us.
When we break this commandment, we also show that we do not love our neighbor as we should.
“You shall not steal,” says Moses and Paul and Christ. In this commandment, we are so subtle and clever that we even fool ourselves. We drive hard bargains, but that’s just good business practice. We keep the extra change that we should not have received, but hey, next time we’ll get cheated, so why not? We cut corners in a hundred varieties of ways, or do the bare minimum amount of work. We may be lazy in our job, yet fight like a tiger if they want to pay us a cent less than we think we deserve. Or we fail to keep up or defend our neighbor’s property or income.
Again it says, “You shall not covet.” Here the heart betrays us so easily; the jealous glance; the admiring look that turns a little too admiring; the thoughts that wonder if there is a way that maybe this could become our property. Perhaps we are a little too sympathetic toward the spouse going through marital difficulty, too easily lending the understanding ear to hear them unload all their negative feelings toward their spouse. Or, in the church, we too often look the other way when someone decides that they need to go looking for a new congregation, when we should urge them to stay and do their duty, as the commandment directs.
In all these ways, we fail to show love.
Don’t get me wrong. Not everyone breaks every commandment in every possible way. But you have broken all ten. So have I. We break them so much that we desensitize ourselves to our own sins.
Notice them. Pay attention. This may require hard work on your part. But think of this: The King is coming. The royal King of light, holy and glorious, should not find us wallowing in the works of darkness. He should not find us in wild parties and drunkenness, as if our religion was a bottle, or we lived only for our own enjoyment. The King should not find us in sexual immorality and sensuality, although many of us have fallen into such things from time to time. He should not find us in quarreling and jealousies, but far too often those are the underlying bedrock of a congregation: quarreling and jealousies.
We should be ashamed. Too often we are not.
Most of all, we must not fall asleep. The new day might arrive at any time. If the King comes and finds you spiritually napping, then woe to you. This serious and dangerous trap catches many believers. If we are negligent about our faith, we may very slowly and gradually lull ourselves to sleep. We may find that we do not want to put much effort into the Word, or no longer feel that preaching and the Word are sacred. But who would notice if we simply nod our head and look like we are paying attention. On some level we know that we are supposed to be gladly hearing and learning, but sometimes we do not have the energy.
But we may console ourselves that it is so difficult to get to church for Bible study during the week. It is so hard when our lives crowd in on us, demanding our time and effort until so little is left for God’s Word. After all, we may say, we are doing all right, aren’t we?
The King is coming, but He is already here. He is already preaching His Word to you now. He is already offering you His gifts in different ways. But He also sees in your heart whether you treasure those gifts. He comes in the gifts, so the question is whether you treasure Him.
It is easy to say that we treasure Him. But we are also, too often, half asleep.
Wake up. Pay attention. Put on the armor of light, which means embracing the spiritual warfare that is being waged all around and inside of you all the time. This is not a time to be comfortable and relaxed. The devil is contending for your soul. Will you yawn and think that everything is just fine? That’s what he wants you to do.
Instead, repent. Reject your own works that are shameful. This requires you to realize that your works are shameful. Clothe yourself instead with the righteousness of Christ by imitating His works and receiving His forgiveness. You must be empowered by the Spirit who works in and with the Gospel. So receive the Gospel as often and in as many forms as you can. Pay attention to it. This is your life. This is how you put on your armor of light so that you may be found awake.
And He is faithful, so that no matter how shameful our hearts and deeds have been, He is ready to forgive. He fought the fiercest battle of all against the darkness. He wrestled with the principalities upon the dark hill, and He won the victory by bleeding and dying and rising. So He will come again to cast all darkness away forever, and bring you into the kingdom of light that does not end.
For this reason He took human flesh in the Blessed Virgin Mary. For this reason He lived a human life, so that He could redeem yours.
Therefore, let us walk properly as in the daytime, since He has made us people of light.
In His Name, who has come, and is here now, and will come again in glory. Amen.
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