What time is it? Don’t look at your watch or your phone. What time is it? Do you know the time? Saint Paul says you know the time, even the hour. He says the hour has come for you to wake from sleep.
This is not a game. This is real life stuff. The Greek language uses different words to describe time. “χρόνος” is clock time. You might know this word from “chronometer” or “chronology”. “ὥρα” is a unit of time, an hour. Kind of sounds like the word “hour”, doesn’t it? Then there’s the vocable “καιρός”, a word that is translated here as “time”, but it perhaps better translated as “the right time” or “a limited period of time”. That’s the time Paul writes about when he says you know the time.
We live in the right time, certainly a limited period of time. This right time is more than a season of the Church Year, although Advent is a little picture of a bigger picture of time. Four weeks isn’t much time to prepare for Christmas, but it’s the right amount of time within the time that the Church lives.
Confused yet? Let’s take some time and work through what’s happening here. The end times, the fulfillment of the promise of the final coming of Jesus Christ, begins when our Lord takes on flesh in the womb of the Virgin Mary. Christ’s incarnation starts the countdown to the end of “the right time” in which we Christians live. The clock of καιρός time continues to pass. Only our heavenly Father knows when that countdown reaches zero. Nevertheless, we live as if that countdown will end at any second, even though over two-thousand years have passed since the clock started.
Waiting so long causes us to think that Jesus has forgotten about us. We can go about our business as if there is no Father or no Son. There’ll be plenty of time to settle accounts before Jesus returns to judge the living and the dead. After all, God’s chosen race, the Israelites, waited thousands of years for the coming of Messiah.
While they waited, the Old Testament people of the promise also fell asleep countless times. They cast off the armor of light and put on the works of darkness. We heard about one particular time last weekend in the account of making and worshiping a golden calf. The Israelites had broken the commandment of God not to have any other god before their God and call it god. Moses threw down the tablets written by the finger of God to show they had broken the Word God wrote for them.
We also fall asleep, casting off the armor of light and putting on the works of darkness. Mom and Dad told us, “Nothing good happens after midnight.” Yet we live as if midnight is high noon. Our sins are laid bare before the world as we no longer want to wear the full armor of God, giving attention to protection from the devil, the world, and our sinful nature. Instead, we let that evil trio run our life with reckless abandon. After all, there’s plenty of time to spare before Jesus shows up for the final time.
Paul reminds us that the hour has come for you to wake from sleep. For salvation is nearer to us now than when we first believed. Understood from the χρόνος perspective, this is a true statement. But this is not χρόνος time. This is καιρός time, the right time, the decisive hour. Advent is the decisive hour before the fullness of time breaks forth in our midst. This is the time to shake off everything that gets in the way of receiving Jesus Christ’s forgiveness and salvation in His gifts. This is the time to prepare yourself for Jesus’ birth as well as Jesus’ return.
When Paul says salvation is near, he is not necessarily talking from a directional perspective. Salvation is near. Salvation is on the way, just as salvation was on the way in the promise of the birth of Messiah. Messiah will be here soon enough, perhaps before the end of this sermon. The fullness of time came to Bethlehem. The fullness of time will be seen by all, even by those who wish Jesus would never show up. Their indifference will be shown to be foolishness. What looked to be foolishness to many will be seen as prudent waiting and expectation.
While we wait, Paul says to put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh, to gratify its desires. Advent is a penitential season, but not as penitential as Lent. We’re getting ready to celebrate Jesus’ birth according to the flesh. It is appropriate to reflect on why God’s only-begotten Son takes on flesh. He is born to die for you. He is born to suffer great affliction for you. He is born to fulfill the Law for you. He makes no provision for the flesh for you. So much joy at such great cost, yet all of it is for you.
Note again the subjunctive mood of Paul’s exhortation. Let us walk properly as in the daytime. As a baptized child of God receiving the Gifts Jesus gives you, you walk properly before God and your neighbor. It’s a given this is going to happen. You will stumble in this walk because you are a sinner. Your nature is corrupt and shattered. You will succumb to the many temptations that daily gnaw at your heels.
Christ has been put on you. His Word convicts you of sin, of righteousness, and of judgment. You are repented in His Word of judgment. Yet this Word of judgment also quickens you in Jesus’ blood and righteousness. You are judged not guilty of sin. That guilt goes on Jesus, the Lamb of God Who takes away the sin of the world. The hour of judgment, the perfect time to settle the debt, happens on that black Friday afternoon at Golgotha. The hour of judgment, the perfect time to announce the end of Satan’s power over you, happens on that bright Sunday morning at the tomb.
The saying is true: Timing is everything. It’s time for a new church year. It’s time to wake from the sleep of sin and unbelief. It’s time to put on the armor of light and play defense against the old evil foe. It’s time to walk in the light of Christ. This is the καιρός of Jesus Christ. Soon it will end and you will always be with the Lord. Until then, salvation is nearer to us now than when we first believed. Salvation is in this pulpit, on that altar, and in that font, for you. Even so, Lord Jesus, quickly come.