Summary: Year A. 1st Sunday of Advent - December 2nd, 2001 Romans 13: 11-14 Title: “Awareness of Christ’s internal presence removes the urgency of His second coming.”
Year A. 1st Sunday of Advent - December 2nd, 2001 Romans 13: 11-14
Title: “Awareness of Christ’s internal presence removes the urgency of His second coming.”
Beginning with chapter twelve, we are in the practical, exhortatory section of Paul’s letter. He has spoken of the different ways the one Spirit of Christ manifests himself for the good of his “body,” the church. He has given examples of what the one reality-Christian love- looks like and acts like in different circumstances, including a Christian’s relationship to a pagan government, maintaining that Christian love fulfills all the requirements of the old law and then some.
In today’s reading, Paul tells his readers why it is so important for them- individually and communally- to do these things, that is, to live a life of love, and to do them enthusiastically. It is because the Parousia is nearer than ever. Paul no longer believes the Parousia, Christ’s full and final return, will happen in his lifetime, before he physically dies, as he wrote in 1Thes 4: 15-17. He has come to realize that he and all Christians will “meet Christ,” in that dramatic and visible way at the time of personal physical death Phil 1: 21-23. But he also realizes that these two “ages”- the old and the new- have already “met,” in Christ. Paul tells us that we as Christians are already living in the end, the new age, and the new creation and that the Parousia has a dual character to it. It is “not yet,” in the chronological future. Yet, it is “already,” present in the ontological sense. In our text he will fluctuate between these two dimensions, using earthbound words to express heavenly realities, stretching their meaning to the point of seeming absurd and illogical to an unbeliever.
Verse eleven, and do this because you know the time: The word for “time,” here is kairos in Greek, not chronos. “Chronos,” time, chronology, is earthbound, tick-tock time, historical time, that relentless undulation of one minute into the next. Paul is not talking about the Parousia, the full and final coming and presence of Christ at the end of some time frame. He uses kairos, opportune time, opportunity time, decision time, carpe diem time. If chronos is “time,” kairos is “timing.”When announcing the kingdom’s coming Jesus used this word when he said “The time is near.” Paul has the inner experience of this presence of Christ already being within him and all Christians. The awareness of this presence removes none of the urgency he spoke of in his earlier writings. It translates it into a higher key, one of enthusiasm and energetic purposefulness. One’s chronological time is, in fact, short by any calculation, but one’s “opportunity time,” is better described as “ripe,” ready to be tapped, picked or whatever metaphor one finds compelling.
It is the hour now: “Hour” is John’s favorite word to point out the “timing,” of Christ’s death. Paul may be using the word in the same sense here. The translation has “now,” but the Greek has “already.” The sense would be that the “hour,” the time of Christ’s death, has already occurred, giving Christians the opportunity, timing time, to act with that power and in the light of that accomplished fact.
To awake from sleep: While this is a frequently used metaphor in apocalyptic literature and there is a relatively mild apocalyptic tone here, Paul uses it, as does Jesus, in an ethical sense. The eschatological, or eternal, perspective has been translated into an ethical one in the light of the obvious delay of Christ’s physical return. Christians are to retain all the urgency of the expectation of the Parousia, second coming, but are now to use that awareness to maintain enthusiasm, energy, dynamism for the living and spread of the gospel. “Awaking from sleep,” means being aware of what others are not- the hidden but real presence of Christ in and among them- and of living out that truth. Christians are not to lie down, become passive, awaiting the Second Coming of Christ in the clouds.
For our salvation is nearer than when we first believed: Paul uses the word “salvation,” as both a chronologically present and a chronologically future reality. However, on the ontological plane it is but one timeless reality. Some take its meaning here to be a synonym for Christ’s Parousia, second coming, our full and final experience of salvation. But this would give it too much of a chronological sense. Certainly, when Paul “first believed,” when he converted, he believed his full salvation was quite close in chronological terms. Then he realized that Christ might not, physically and visibly, come again in his earthly lifetime. So, chronologically speaking, he would consider “salvation,” to be further away that when he, “first believed.” That is clearly not the sense of the term as used here. The meaning is more like this: There is less a difference, less a gap, between “first salvation,” salvation at first, salvation at Baptism, and “final salvation,” salvation at the Parousia, than Paul first believed. He understands it as one continuous reality. The “new age,” is already inaugurated. It will not begin at the Parousia, but merely continue in an even fuller way and indeed in a different dimension. Because of this one can easily become inured of the great mystery of salvation, take it for granted, ignore it or “fall asleep,” so to speak, right in its, Christ’s, presence. Hence the need for constant reminding, constant exhorting, constant refreshing.