Gratitude and Its Alternative
This Lord’s Day is the first after our Thanksgiving holiday, and is also the first Sunday in Advent. Because we want to stand against what might be called morbid penitentialism, we want this season to be suffused with a glad anticipation. The only conviction we want to awaken would be a spirit of penitence for things we should be repentant for at any time of year. At the same time, if you hear His voice today, do not harden your hearts.
“Wherefore he saith, Awake thou that sleepest, and arise from the dead, and Christ shall give thee light” (Eph. 5:14).
BACKGROUND TO THE TEXT:
For many evangelicals the parable of the wise and foolish virgins, and wedding preparedness, is related to the doctrine of the Second Coming. But some of you may have noticed that in our Cantus, this seems to be an image that is often used in the context of Advent. For example, consider Behold the Bridegroom Cometh (p. 218), How Lovely Shines the Morning Star (pp. 220-223), and Wake, Awake for Night is Flying (pp. 228-229). Why do we do this? Why think about the Wedding Feast of the Lamb during our preparations for Christmas? The reason is that wisdom can be described as having the end in mind at the very beginning. When Mary was holding Jesus as a baby in her arms, she was told about the crucifixion (Luke 2:35). When she was pregnant and visiting Elizabeth, she exculted in the end o f the matter, in the fact that the mighty would in fact be pulled out of their seats (Luke 1:52). She anticipated the end at the beginning. And this is what we want to do in the course of Advent. We know the whole story, and we should live and act as those who know the whole story.
SUMMARY OF THE TEXT:
The text is an invitation to the unbeliever, closed up in sleep of his sins, to wake up. When he wakes up it is from a condition of spiritual death, and the light of Christ will shine upon him. In the surrounding verses, we have a description of the nature of that death, as well as a series of exhortations to Christians on how to relate to it. Christians are told first that fornication and other forms of uncleanness should not even be named among them (v. 3). He then says that they should not be crude in their joking either (v. 4), but instead they should give thanks. That kind of unclean living is not a trifle; those who live that way will not inherit the kingdom of Christ and of God (vv. 5-6). Christians are then told not to be “partakers” with them (v. 7), just as they will be told not to have fellowship with those works (v. 11). That this partaking has to do with speech is clear (v. 12). Believers used to be that way (vv. 8--10), and should not long for the old ways. That is darkness, and they are now in the light. We are supposed to reprove such works (v. 11), and the reproof is supposed to consist of the light that we shine (v. 13). So this is how unbelievers have the light of Christ shine on them—through us (vv. 13-14). Because of the evil of the surrounding darkness, we should be careful to walk carefully, as those who are wise (v. 15). Time is limited, the days are evil, and so the time should be wisely used (v. 16). We should be wise enough to understand what the Lord’s will is (v. 17). We should not drink to excess, even at Christmas parties, but instead be filled by the Spirit’s work (v. 18). We can tell this has happened because of how we speak (v. 19), and the speaking of psalms, hymns and spiritual songs is the way that we give thanks for all things to God in the name of Jesus (v. 20).
THIS, NOT THAT:
It is really interesting to note how Paul reasons here. For another example of it, Paul says that a thief should quit stealing, and should work iwth his hands instead (Eph. 4:28). This tells us that Paul thinks that this is a basic alternative. Hard work drives out dishonesty with property and dishonesty with property drives out hard work. Here he says that our language should not be characterized by coarse jesting, but instead by thanksgiving (v. 4). Gravitation toward dirty jokes, foul movies, crude entertainment, and so forth is a principal indicator of an ungrateful and discontented soul. Further, a soul that is overflowing wtih thanksgiving in the way described in this passage (vv. 4, 20) will naturally recoil from filth. If your nose works, no one has to “make a rule” requiring you stop smelling putrid things. And if you consistently gravitate toward putrid things, this means that your sense of smell is shot. What must you do instead? You must give yourself to the giving of thanks. And if this is something you cannot do, then wake up, oh, sleeper, and Christ will shine on you. If thanksgiving arrives, then crudity is gone.
More than a few Christians think that in order to be effective evangelistically, they have to minimize differences between themselves and the unbelievers. They have to fit in, they have to share entertainment standards, they have to go along to show that they don’t think “they are better than other folks.” But the end of this strategy is that you are telling an unbeliever to wake up because the room you are asleep in is just as dark as his.
SING THE STORY:
In Romans 1, Paul tells us that the unbelieving man hates two things above everything else. He does not want to honor God as God, and he does not want to give Him thanks. Our task, in this dark and sinful generation, should therefore be to honor God as God as much as we can, and to thank Him as much as we can.
And so here is the glorious thing. During the Christmas season, because of our Christian heritage (which the secularists are busy trying to eradicate and outlaw, see above), we still have an open invitation to honor God as God, and to give Him thanks. We can shine the light of the whole story. The sovereign God who arranged for the birth of Jesus at Bethlehem is obviously in control of everything—stars, wicked kings, pagan astrologers, shepherds, and all the rest of history. Tell the story. And He is also the one who did this for us men, and for our salvation. With thanksgiving, sing the story.