“Christ Has Brought Us out of Darkness” (1 Thess. 5:1-11; Matt. 25:14-30; Zeph. 1:7-16)

Twenty-third Sunday after Pentecost
November 16, 2014

“Christ Has Brought Us out of Darkness” (1 Thessalonians 5:1-11; Matthew 25:14-30; Zephaniah 1:7-16)

Well, here we are in the middle of November. It’s cold. It’s dark outside. The trees are growing bare. The days are growing shorter. The earth seems to be dying. Darkness seems to be winning. So it seems appropriate that at this time of year–every year, in November–in the church we focus our attention on the end times. We’re coming toward the end of the church year, before Advent comes and we start all over again. The end times, the last things, Judgment Day, the Second Coming of Christ, and what to do while we’re waiting for Christ’s return–these are all themes we get on these Sundays in November. And rightly so, for these are all major themes that we find in the Bible, and our readings today are good examples of that.

The way it is in nature in November is the way it is in the spiritual realm in our world: The days are growing shorter. The earth seems to be dying. Darkness seems to be winning. But as we look at the Scripture lessons for today, we will hear this good news: “Christ Has Brought Us out of Darkness.”

“Christ Has Brought Us out of Darkness.” That’s also the name of the hymn you’ll see on your insert. Each stanza of the hymn corresponds to one of the readings for today. So let’s read each of the stanzas, one at a time, and this will guide us through the lessons for today.

The first stanza, together:

Christ has brought us out of darkness,
Made us children of the day;
With his blood our Lord has bought us,
Clothed us round in bright array.
Faith and love will be our breastplate;
Hope, our helmet, staves off fear.
Watchful, wakeful, we are waiting,
As we see the Day draw near.

This stanza of the hymn corresponds to the Epistle for today, from 1 Thessalonians 5. In that text, St. Paul reminds the Thessalonians that the day of the Lord, that is, the return of Christ, will come like a thief in the night and that sudden destruction will fall on this world. But this should not surprise the Thessalonians or catch them off guard. For they are not sleeping in the night or unable to see in the darkness. No, Paul tells them, “you are not in darkness.” “For you are all children of light, children of the day. We are not of the night or of the darkness.”

And this is true for you, dear brothers and sisters, for you who are here today. You are all children of light, children of the day. God has made you so. You are baptized. The Holy Spirit has enlightened you with his gifts. You have the gift of faith, so that you trust in Christ your Savior. “For God has not destined us for wrath, but to obtain salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ, who died for us so that whether we are awake or asleep we might live with him.” This is the gospel, this is the good news! Jesus Christ died for you! He shed his blood for you, purchasing your forgiveness. Through him you will obtain salvation from the wrath and the destruction that will fall on this world.

And so now, while we are waiting, we have the armor of God to protect us during these days of danger and spiritual warfare: “the breastplate of faith and love, and for a helmet the hope of salvation.” This time of waiting is a time of danger and temptation, a time when Satan is at work to shoot his darts at us, a spiritual attack. Maybe you have felt these assaults and attacks, which would shake your faith in God’s goodness. So we need this armor which God has given us, the breastplate and the helmet, the faith and love and hope God gives us.

Now let’s turn to the second stanza of the hymn and read that together:

Christ the Lord, our gracious Master,
Takes our sin and guilt away,
Gives us gifts and grace to use them,
So at last we’ll hear him say:
“Well done, good and faithful servant,
Faithful in your Lord’s employ.
Over much I now will set you;
Enter now your Master’s joy.”

This of course corresponds to the Holy Gospel, from Matthew 25, the Parable of the Talents. What is this reading telling us about our life in these end times? It’s telling us that God has given us gifts to use, for his purpose, during this time of waiting. God does not intend for us to sit around idle, burying the talents he has given us. Rather, God’s will is that we put our talents and abilities to work, in service to our Master’s will and according to how he has gifted us. Our talents may vary. Some may have more than others. But the point is, God would have us put our talents to work, in the accomplishing of his will and for the work of his kingdom.

How has God gifted you? Do you have talents you could put to use for the good of the church and the spread of the gospel? It may be something as simple as doing a work of love for your neighbor in Christ’s name. Inviting a friend or neighbor to join you at church. It could be asking your pastor or a congregational leader this simple question, four words: “How can I help?” And what about supporting the ministry of the gospel financially, through your offerings? It’s really God’s money, after all. We are just stewards, managers, called to put what God has given us to good use.

And the amazing thing is that our Master will reward us, freely and by grace, for being stewards of God’s gifts. By God’s grace, you and I will hear these words one day: “Well done, good and faithful servant. You have been faithful over a little; I will set you over much. Enter into the joy of your master.”

Then finally we turn to the third stanza of the hymn. Let’s read it together:

Lord, we see the Day approaching,
Dawn is breaking through the night;
Help us live as faithful servants
And as children of the light.
From the day of devastation
Save us, Lord, we humbly pray;
Give us joy and life eternal
On that great and glorious Day!

This stanza, which talks about the Day approaching as the day of devastation–this corresponds to the Old Testament Reading from Zephaniah. The prophet Zephaniah was telling the people of Judah that the day of the Lord was coming, a day when the Lord would come down and visit the nation. But it would not be a day when the Lord would commend them and bring them glory. No, rather, it would be a day of judgment, a day in which the Lord would visit judgment upon them for their impenitence and sin. “A day of wrath is that day, a day of distress and anguish, a day of ruin and devastation, a day of darkness and gloom, a day of clouds and thick darkness, a day of trumpet blast and battle cry. . . .” And indeed, that is what did happen when the Babylonian army swept into Judah and devastated their nation.

Friends, this prophecy of Zephaniah is a warning to us. The day of the Lord is coming, and it will be a day of judgment, the Day of Judgment for the whole world. How will we stand on that day? Let us heed the call to repentance, for if God were to judge us on our own, we would not make it. Our sins would cry out against us. All those times we have not heeded God’s Word, when we have tuned the Lord out and gone our own way. Deceit, pride, lust, greed, gossip. All the acts of lovelessness, when we have not helped and loved our neighbor as we ought. All these things would stand against us on the Day of the Lord when Christ returns.

But, thank God, the Day of the Lord will be not only a day of judgment but also a day of salvation. For those who have turned from their sin and trusted in their Savior, this will be the great and glorious day of God’s salvation. Christ has won forgiveness for our sin by his death on the cross, and so our sins will not be held against us. We have been joined to Jesus in Holy Baptism, and so we will share in his resurrection victory. Joy and everlasting life await us.

Zephaniah has a hard word of judgment at the beginning of his prophecy. But listen to the beautiful word of hope he has for the faithful remnant at the end: “Sing aloud, O daughter of Zion; shout, O Israel! Rejoice and exult with all your heart, O daughter of Jerusalem! The LORD has taken away the judgments against you; he has cleared away your enemies. The King of Israel, the LORD, is in your midst; you shall never again fear evil. On that day it shall be said to Jerusalem: ‘Fear not, O Zion; let not your hands grow weak. The LORD your God is in your midst, a mighty one who will save; he will rejoice over you with gladness; he will quiet you by his love; he will exult over you with loud singing. . . . At that time I will bring you in, at the time when I gather you together; for I will make you renowned and praised among all the peoples of the earth, when I restore your fortunes before your eyes,’ says the LORD.”

And this too is a word for us. We have this same hope. The Day of the Lord is coming, and it will be a day of restoration and joy. Our Master is returning, and he will reward us, purely by his sheer grace. How sweet will be those words we will hear, “Enter into the joy of your master.” Meanwhile, God has given us productive work to do while we are waiting, and he has also given us the armor we need, breastplate and helmet, to protect us from the attacks of the enemy. “For God has not destined us for wrath, but to obtain salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ, who died for us so that we might live with him.”

Yes, dear friends, the darkness will not overcome us, for we are children of the light, children of the day. Christ has brought us out of darkness and into his marvelous light.

Published in: on November 16, 2014 at 7:52 pm  Leave a Comment  
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