“… our salvation is nearer now than when we first believed. The night is nearly over; the day is almost here.” (Romans 13:11b-12)
1. The story has an end
This is true, not in the sense that history is simply moving to a time-based conclusion, but that God’s great plan of salvation is dawning. There are countless references in the prophetic writings to “the day” or “the time” or “the set time”.
When? No one knows. Not even Jesus knew (Matthew 11:27).
Isaiah’s prophecies remind God’s people that the hallmarks of God’s “set time” include righteousness, justice and peace.
The vice–president of the Methodist Conference, Rachel Lampard, quoted the prophet Amos in her speech to the Conference:
“Do you know what I want?
I want justice – oceans of it
I want fairness – rivers of it.
That’s what I want. That’s all I want.”
Amos 5:24 (The Message)
It’s not a matter of loving God first and then as an outcome loving our neighbour: it’s less linear and more circular. Responding to God’s love for us, seeing the sacredness of creation because God loves it, we love God and love our neighbour. In loving our neighbour, and seeking justice for them, our love for God finds concrete expression, is enriched, and we find a closeness with God. Because God has commanded us to walk with God “in the way of righteousness, along the paths of justice.”
Isaiah puts it more poetically:
The Spirit of the Lord will rest on him –
the Spirit of wisdom and of understanding,
the Spirit of counsel and of might,
the Spirit of the knowledge and fear of the Lord –
and he will delight in the fear of the Lord.
He will not judge by what he sees with his eyes,
or decide by what he hears with his ears;
but with righteousness he will judge the needy,
with justice he will give decisions for the poor of the earth.
Isaiah 11: 2-4a (NIV)
Walter Brueggeman, has written:
The vision of Isaiah is “an act of imagination that looks beyond present dismay through the eyes of God, to see what will be that is not yet. That is the function of promise (and therefore of Advent) in the life of faith. Under promise, in Advent, faith sees what will be that is not yet.”
During Advent, when we hear Mary sing out the Magnificat, we hear of kings brought down, of the rich sent away empty, of justice rebalancing the world. Why? Because the story has an end, a purpose.
Change becomes possible because …
2. The Saviour has a people
When John the Baptist comes, his challenge to those who will listen is to take seriously all the scriptures they had grown up with.
He says: ‘You’ve heard:
“Prepare the way for the Lord,
make straight paths for him.”
Mark 1:3 (NIV)
… and he challenges his hearers to straighten out their own lives and not rely on some misreading of the holy book or on the fact that they are “sons and daughters of Abraham”.
John’s warning was that the Kingdom of Heaven had come near – in Jesus. Jesus would tell people that they could know that kingdom in their own lives but the warning in John’s outburst against the Pharisees – “that brood of vipers” – was that action that reflected the values of the Kingdom of God had to be part of any individual’s response.
Rachel Lampard again from her Vice President’s address to Conference:
“The mission of the church, God’s mission, is to be involved not only in the alleviation of human suffering but also in the eradication of the roots of that suffering. Pity and compassion are vital responses, Christian responses, but this experience should also provoke within us the justice response, the why question.
“But isn’t this just one more thing for our churches to do when we’re already struggling to hold it together? Many churches are already involved in this “justice” mission in a variety of ways, perhaps unconsciously so. From the full scale foodbank to the drop in coffee morning which has turned into a haven for exhausted mums or people seeking asylum. To the church members who have a chat with the young people who hang around on the church wall instead of seeing them as a threat or nuisance. To the prayer group which holds different people in the community before God in prayer each week.
“And then perhaps, like the mustard seed, someone in the congregation asks that why question about someone they meet – why are they hungry, or homeless or lonely? – and it becomes like a grit in the oyster, something that can’t be ignored, and which can be transformative.”
You see, The Saviour has a people … in all corners of the world but are we those who ask that ‘why’ question or do we stay silent? We need to remember that the story has an end and the Saviour has a people, but also …
3. The people have a hope
… and that hope is in the words of our text:
“… our salvation is nearer now than when we first believed. The night is nearly over; the day is almost here.”
Romans 13: 11b-12 (NIV)
Again, this isn’t in literal timing but in anticipation of God’s great change.
Susan Grove Eastman, Assistant Professor at Duke Divinity School in North Carolina, puts it this way:
“Paul tells us that as Christians we are all ‘morning people.’ The time is just before dawn, the sky is brightening, the alarm is ringing, day is at hand. It is time to rouse our minds from slumber, to be alert to what God is doing in the world, and to live in accordance with God’s coming salvation.”
Paul thinks it’s so important, he interrupts himself in his writing of Romans 13 to remind his hearers of their common hope in the clear and revealing light of God’s coming day of salvation (vv. 12-13). This hope should spark new ways of relating to one another.
As we go into Advent, you could say that Paul intends to give us “night vision” to see the hope of Christ and to be able to respond in faith.
As children on a car journey – are we there yet?
The point is, of course, we’re not there yet. But, as the Church of Christ in this place, we are the signs of hope. The signs are when we model God’s good news to our neighbours; speak peace into places of conflict and find ways to represent the light where we are.
- The story has an end
- The Saviour has a people
- The people have a hope