“Owe no man any thing, but to love one another: for he that loveth another hath fulfilled the law… And that, knowing the time, that now it is high time to awake out of sleep: for now is our salvation nearer than when we believed. The night is far spent, the day is at hand: let us therefore cast off the works of darkness, and let us put on the armor of light.” Romans 13: 8
Our text today contains two great themes: the first theme reiterates Christian behavior inside and outside the Body of Christ as love fulfilling the law. The second half is a call to conversion in light of the Second Advent of Christ. The gifts of the Spirit are attitudes and acts performed within the Body of Christ — a common life that is marked by patience, true love, kindness, prayerfulness, putting one another first, and looking out for one another’s well-being, as well as forgiving one another any trespasses just as each of us has been forgiven our trespasses by God the Father for the sake of his Son Jesus the Messiah. From there Paul directs the attention of the Church to the pagan community in which they lived; to neighbors, co-workers, and other relations who would not identify themselves as members of Christ’s Church.
How should the Church and her children behave in the world that does not share our horizon? First, what do I mean by horizon? A literal horizon is the limit of my vision from a specific point of reference. What is inside your horizon has meaning for you. What is outside your horizon is meaningless. Your horizon includes not only what you believe and Whom you worship, it also includes what you reject as unbelievable, what you discard as wrong worship, behaviors you work to avoid as errors in life, as well as behaviors you want to be a part of your life. These are judgments about what is true, good and beautiful in worship, doctrine and life. That is your horizon.
We share as much as we can of Jesus’ horizon and that knits us together and fosters our growth corporately and individually. We will never out grow his horizon because he is God. But God has no horizon since there is no limit to his knowledge and understanding. However, because Jesus is truly man as well as truly God he has a perfect human horizon and we, because we have been baptized into Jesus, now have the power to see what matters in life and live accordingly.
The world knows nothing of Christian conversion and to live as Christians in this world we have to remain attentive to that fact. Paul is concerned that Christians behave toward their pagan neighbors in a manner that may be summed up as our imitation of Christ.
To Romans in that day such a response to mistreatment was a sign of weakness and such weak behavior would cover one’s life with shame. But for baptized Roman Christians, as distasteful as it may have been, wishing evil upon the person who has harmed you, was simply irreconcilable to following Jesus. Furthermore Paul says that treating one’s enemies with loving kindness, not permitting evil to get the upper hand in one’s life, turning the tables, overcoming evil with goodness, is what Jesus wants us to do.
Our entry into Jesus’ horizon is a gift from God, and yes, it is a growing and maturing grasp of seeing the world of men and things the way Jesus sees the world, of valuing what Jesus values, making his ultimate concern our ultimate concern, which includes behaving the way he wants us to behave, but all that comes about through ever deepening conversions, conversions that are made possible through our baptism in Christ. How appropriate it is that Advent Sunday, the first day of the new Church year, begins with a call to conversion:
“And that, knowing the time, that now it is high time to awake out of sleep: for now is our salvation nearer than when we believed. The night is far spent, the day is at hand” Romans 13:11
There has always been the man or woman who believes that this empirical life we see with our eyes is the only reality there is, the only heaven there is, right here, right now. Life is but a span, beauty is consumes away, and all of it always withers, decays, dies, and because of that people live in the fear of death their whole life. But Paul is saying that life is not a matter of my death, or your death — what matters most of all is the Second Advent of Christ when our Lord’s horizon will be manifested as the truth that sets us free. Death will vanish like an old gloomy dream, nature will be perfected by the grace of the risen Christ, and the whole world will be delivered from sin and death for good.
That is the sure and certain future of this world and St. Paul declares that the knowledge of the future should shake us from our slumber, converting us to live sensibly as Christ would have us live in this present day, looking for the appearing of our great God and savior Jesus Christ. Furthermore that end is inescapable. Every single probability that is emerging in every single human life is inevitably folding into the narrative of Jesus the Messiah and all that has, is, or will be in the universe is moving to the finality, the goal, and given its ultimate meaning in the life story of Jesus Christ. That is the reality of our world:
“awake out of sleep: for now is our salvation nearer than when we believed. The night is far spent, the day is at hand: let us therefore cast off the works of darkness, and let us put on the armor of light.” Romans 13:12