Second Sunday in Advent: 1 Thess. 5:1-11
Have you ever stumbled through a dark house at night? Ever tried to change a flat tire in the dark? Then you understand the importance of light, the necessity of light. You need light to see. You need light to find your way. Frequently, when hardships come, we say that we didn’t see it coming. We were completely caught off guard. I was blindsided. Christmas is the announcement that the most necessary, most important Light has come into the world, and because of that, Christians are to be a ready people, a prepared people – ready for whatever our Lord has for us.
The Text: Thessalonians is a letter of encouragement from Paul to the Christians in Thessalonica, and where we pick up, Paul has just reviewed the hope of the resurrection (4:13-18). Now whether the “day of the Lord” Paul has in mind in chapter five is the same event or another, Paul’s point stands: Christians are to be people on the look out, ready, prepared, awake. He says that the Thessalonians already know this (5:1), but the day of the Lord will come like a thief in the night (5:2), and sudden destruction will arrive just when people are saying that everything is safe and secure (5:3). But Christians are not in the dark and so they will not be caught off guard (5:4). This is because Christians are sons of the light, sons of the day, and therefore they are not of the night or the darkness (5:5). So the exhortation is to stay awake and be sober like you do during the daytime (5:6). You sleep at night and drunkards drink at night, but we belong to the day (5:7). Christians stay awake and alert specifically by putting on the breastplate of faith and love and the helmet of the hope of salvation (5:8). That hope is specifically that God has determined to save us (5:9) through the death of Jesus in our place so that in life and in death we are safe with Him (5:10). And Christians encourage each other with this hope (5:11).
People Love the Darkness
What’s striking about this passage is that the “day” of the Lord comes like a thief in the “night” (5:2). But it comes like a thief in the night because it’s unexpected not because it’s actually shrouded in darkness. The night is here presented as false peace and security (5:3) as well as inattentiveness and drunkenness (5:6-7). The reason the day of the Lord comes as a thief in the night is because people were drunk and sleeping. But Paul says that the day of the Lord is not like a thief for Christians because Christians are not in the darkness (5:4). Christians are sons of light, sons of the day (5:5). The irony is that spiritual darkness simultaneously breeds (false) confidence and confusion. The reasoning goes something like this (follow it closely): Since I can’t see any danger, I must be safe. Ouch, I just hit my head, how’d that happen? Proverbs says, “The way of the wicked is like darkness; they do not know what makes them stumble” (Prov. 4:19). Jesus said, “he who walks in darkness does not know where he is going” (Jn. 12:35). This is also the warning attached to wine, “Who has woe? Who has sorrow? Who has contentions? Who has complaints? Who has wounds without cause? Who has redness of eyes? Those who linger long at the wine, those who go in search of mixed wine” (Prov. 23:29-30). And the central problem is that people love the darkness because their deeds are evil (Jn. 3:19). And this is because they prefer the surprise of destruction to the acknowledgement and repentance of their sins. Which is to say that they prefer being unprepared and caught off guard; they prefer to stumble and fall. And this is because the darkness is self-centered.
The Light of Vigilance
Many of the passages in the NT warning of coming destruction are specifically concerned with the coming judgment on Jerusalem in 70 A.D. But that doesn’t render those passages useless for Christians of other ages. In fact, arguably, God intentionally birthed His Church in those very circumstances to set a tone for His people. The first Christians faced particular temptations in their historical circumstances, but all Christians are called to be sons of the light by staying awake and being sober (5:5-7). This vigilance is the light that they are called to be. But in order to be sons of the light and sons of the day, their Father must be the light and the day. And so He is: “Every good and every perfect gift is from above, and comes down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shadow of turning. Of His own will He brought us forth by the word of truth, that we might be a kind of first fruits of His creatures” (Js. 1:17-18). Or Jesus says: “You are the light of the world. A city that is set on a hill cannot be hidden. Nor do they light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a lampstand, and it gives light to all who are in the house. Let your light so shine before men that they may see your good works and glorify your Father in heaven” (Mt. 5:14-16). The light comes from your Father in heaven who has revealed Himself in Jesus who says, “I am the Light of the world. He who follows Me shall not walk in darkness, but have the light of life” (Jn. 8:12). We are self-centered, but God is not and we know this because His light has shone on us.
The Armor of Light
Paul says that Christians who are called to be sons of the light must arm themselves with faith and love and hope in the gospel of Jesus (5:8-11). Christians are the kind of people who are ready, people who are vigilant, people who are prepared for whatever the Lord has for them. We do not know the exact coordinates of our mission, but we know that the day of the Lord is coming, and we are sons of the Day, sons of that day. And we are sons of that day by being awake, alert, sober, and we do this specifically by reminding one another of this comfort, building one another up in this hope. And this is why we celebrate Advent and Christmas. Moses told the Israelites to put signs on their hands and foreheads and all over their houses and gates to remind their families that they had once been slaves in Egypt (Dt. 6:7-12). So how much more ought we to string up lights and decorate trees and bake cookies and sing carols and invite friends and neighbors to our table to feast together? When your children ask you why you put socks up on the mantel piece, why there’s a tree in the living room, and why you keep kissing under the mistletoe in the entryway – you say to them, “Because we are the sons of the light, the children of the day, and we want to be ready for whatever the Lord has for us.” Darkness is self-centered, but God’s light is others-oriented. And this is our ready-position.