Advent 1: It’s time to wake up

Romans 13:8-14

Owe no one anything, except to love one another; for the one who loves another has fulfilled the law. The commandments, “You shall not commit adultery; You shall not murder; You shall not steal; You shall not covet”; and any other commandment, are summed up in this word, “Love your neighbor as yourself.” Love does no wrong to a neighbor; therefore, love is the fulfilling of the law.

Besides this, you know what time it is, how it is now the moment for you to wake from sleep. For salvation is nearer to us now than when we became believers; the night is far gone, the day is near. Let us then lay aside the works of darkness and put on the armor of light; let us live honorably as in the day, not in reveling and drunkenness, not in debauchery and licentiousness, not in quarreling and jealousy. Instead, put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh, to gratify its desires.

I’ve been having a field day on my social media reposting the pictures of Supreme Leader-Elect Trump that he told NBC he didn’t like. It’s narcissistic and petulant behavior to tell a media outlet that there are certain photos of you that you don’t want used, particularly when you have been as high profile as he has. It’s simply the cost of doing business. Anyone who has their picture taken that often is bound to have a dud or two. So, yes, I have been amusing myself to no end, reposting the least flattering pictures of Trump that I can find.

Then this morning I got called out. A friend that I highly respect mentioned that one of the pictures that I posted was ageist and fat shaming. It was a particularly unflattering picture in which Trump looked very jowly. I didn’t intend it as commentary on his age or weight, but as I’m often reminded, intent does not exempt you. My friend reminded me that it is easy to hide behind the guise of fighting fire with fire. It’s easy to lose sight of the man’s dangerous policies and simply attack the man. “When they go low, we go high,” was Michelle Obama’s rallying cry to Mrs. Clinton’s supporters during the campaign. For many, that philosophy went out the window on Nov. 9th.

Politics is a dirty business and were I to only act as a political creature, it would be perfectly fine to use the same dirty tactics of the people that I don’t like. But I am not purely a political creature or even primarily so. My identity is wrapped up first and foremost in my desire to live in the way of Jesus. My primary mandate is love. On occasion I forget that and so, on occasion, I must be shaken awake.

Love, Paul says, is the only thing we owe anyone. Perhaps it is better stated that love is the thing that we owe everyone, even those with whom we serious disagreements. Without recognizing this debt of love, we are likely to fall into the same cycle of name-calling, mudslinging, and dehumanization that has impedes progress. We slip mindlessly into a mode of insult and accusation. We fall asleep and lose our better selves.

But we know what time it is! The signs are all around us. We cannot afford to do business as usual. We can’t let our conduct devolve as the world erodes around us. The time has come for more compassion, not less. More empathy, not less. More understanding, not less. More love, not less. That doesn’t mean that we sink into base sentimentality. Justice is still a requirement of love, but our work for justice must be done in such a way that the dignity of the oppressor is acknowledged alongside the dignity of the oppressed. This is a tall order, one the church has often found itself not up for.

Now is the time to wake from sleep. When we use the language of being “woke”, it is so often about being alert to the injustices around us, but Paul is calling us to be aware to our own response to the world. We cannot fight injustice with injustice. We cannot fight hate with hate. We cannot fight betrayal with betrayal. We can only counter the darkness with love.

Lay aside the work of darkness… put on the armor of light. It’s interesting that Paul refers to light as an armor. It is protection. Protection for our hearts and minds. Protection so that we might not lose our souls while living in the dark world. Love protects us from the corroding influence of hatred in our lives.

Let us live honorably… We know what a decent, honorable life looks like. It’s not legalistic and stuffy. It’s not a burdensome following of rules. It’s a respectful and loving engagement with the people around us, especially those with whom we have disagreements. It’s about living in a way that people who may not respect our ideas can at least respect the ways that we carry ourselves. It’s about dignity. It’s about not dehumanizing ourselves first and foremost, let allowing ourselves to become something less than what we know ourselves to be.

The way we do things is as important as the things we do. It is time for those of us who call ourselves followers of Christ to understand that. Our speech and conduct often lump us in with those that we condemn. The stakes are too high for us to sink to dishonorable means, even if we believe that the ends justify them. We have to let all that we think, say, do and post be guided by an ethic of love. It is what is demanded of us in the dark days ahead…

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