Withdraw from sin and 'put on Christ'
Paul explains salvation and calls for a response to this gracious gift from God
November 28, 2004 -- First Sunday of Advent
By Fr. Richard Ver Bust
As we begin a new church year, we begin a new three-year cycle of readings.
It introduces us to many readings which the older, traditional one-year cycle did not afford the opportunity to share and appreciate.
Sometimes as we saw last year, the second reading ties in well to the other two readings. At other times it follows a pattern of its own. This pattern takes us through continued readings from Christian Scripture other than the gospels.
In this way, we hear from the church as it first grew and developed after Pentecost. It
gives us insights into the questions and problems these early Christians encountered. It allows us to reflect with them on what commitment to Christ means and how it should effect the lives we live.
Our second reading today is from the Letter of Paul to the Romans. It is in the section of the letter that deals with our duties as Christians.
Following the typical pattern of his letters, Paul first explains what salvation through
faith in Christ means. Then he attempts to explain what justification, being made righteous in the sight of God, means to the Christian life. He then tries to show how we must respond to this gracious gift of a loving God.
Since our gospel reading tells us to be vigilant and prepared for the coming of the Lord, our second reading fits well in that it tells us that to take care that we do what is commanded of us. Just before today's passage, Paul tells us that love fulfills the law.
He reminds us that Christ taught us to love our neighbor as ourself. He says, "Love never wrongs the neighbor, hence love is the fulfillment of the law."
Our verses then tell us that salvation is closer than when we first accepted the faith. The whole passage has been called an eschatological exhortation, meaning that Paul was telling the Christians in Rome that they were already living in the end times.
Therefore, they were obliged to live in such a way that they witness to this fact and show through their acts of love what Christ had achieved in them. They were the pledge of the first fruits of salvation.
They had put their faith in Christ and now by the indwelling of the Holy Spirit they were already being changed. Paul contrasts actions as deeds of darkness or deeds of light.
Since the Romans had already in faith taken on the light of Christ they must live and perform deeds to show their own light. Finally, Paul uses the expression "put on Christ."
Through baptism Paul envisions a Christian as having become identified with Christ. As converts covered themselves with a new white garment after baptism, Paul envisions it as symbolic of being covered with the image of Christ.
That means as we withdraw from the power of sin we become more aware of that deep relationship with Christ that is growing within us.
(The late Fr. Ver Bust directed the master's program in theology at St. Norbert College, De Pere.)