Children of the Day
(1 Thessalonians 5: 1-11)
One of my assignments when I was a young Houston Police Officer back in the late 1970s and early 80s was to the Radio Patrol division and my area of patrol responsibility included a section of the city that was known for its nightlife. It had great restaurants, movie theaters, clubs, and the establishment of bars that catered to the emerging gay population. It also had its seamy underbelly of adult bookstores, street hustlers, dope dealers, prostitutes, juvenile runaways and those looking to prey on them, and assorted curiosity seekers drawn to the allure of the darkness. I would eventually be reassigned to the Vice Division where I would return to the Montrose area in an undercover capacity, getting even more up close and personal to the lifestyle many wanted to keep to themselves. It wasn’t the legitimate businesses like the restaurants, theaters, and nightclubs that were a problem. And it wasn’t really the petty criminals like the street level dope dealers and prostitutes that were a problem. It was those people who came down after the sun set to satisfy some physical or carnal desire that posed a concern for law enforcement and the people who lived and worked in the area. We’d set up stings that would lead to their arrests, usually for soliciting prostitution, that would result in their arrest for what they would protest was a “victimless” crime. It wasn’t hurting anyone so what was the big deal? Some led double lives, respectable by day, pleasure seeking by night, while others had become so consumed, they had gone down the dark hole with no way to come out even if they wanted to They were, for lack of a better term, children of the dark.
And that’s what the Apostle Paul is talking about in our scripture reading for this morning. He’s picked up on Jesus’ reoccurring theme of being ready for his return that we looked at last week in Jesus’ parable about the ten bridesmaids. The Thessalonian believers, like us, struggled with the timing of Jesus’ return. It was particularly difficult for them because they expected it to occur during their lifetime, which was not an unreasonable assumption. They were particularly worried about their loved ones who had already passed away and would not be around for Jesus’ return. After explaining to them that their loved ones and those who went on before Jesus’ return would still be called up to the kingdom, he went on to address their second concern pertaining to the unpredictability of the exact time of the “Day of the Lord”. Paul’s use of the phrase “the Day of the Lord” would be familiar to many of them as it was Old Testament language for the moment when God will act mightily to vindicate His people and destroy their enemies. This day will include both punishment and blessing as Christ will judge sin and set up his eternal kingdom.
Paul tells them that he doesn’t need to write to them about the timing and dates and says: You know very well that the day of the Lord is going to come like a thief in the night. He was referring to what Jesus said in Matthew 24: 43, 44: But you understand that if the head of the house knew at what time the thief would come, he would keep alert and wouldn’t allow the thief to break into his house. Therefore, you also should be prepared, because the Human One will come at a time you don’t know. This was to serve as a reminder to them not to worry about when the day would come and not to listen to those who sought to deceive them by claiming to know. Paul continues by saying: When they are saying, “There is peace and security,” at that time sudden destruction will attack them, like labor pains start with a pregnant woman, and they definitely won’t escape. I think this may be somewhat hard to reconcile especially in light of what Jesus said about all the death and destruction that would precede his return. Perhaps he is talking about all those false prophets and false christs who will present themselves as ones who can save the world, who can fix what is wrong if we will only trust and empower them. Those individuals, I believe, will be the first to feel God’s wrath for purposely misleading His people. Paul reassures them when he says: But you aren’t in darkness, brothers and sisters, so the day won’t catch you by surprise like a thief. All of you are children of the light and children of the day. He tells them that they don’t belong to the night or the darkness and that they shouldn’t sleep like the others but stay awake and stay sober. He says: Since we belong to the day, let’s stay sober, wearing faithfulness and love as a piece of armor that protects our body and the hope of salvation as a helmet. Paul reminds his reader, and us, that God didn’t intend for us to suffer his wrath but rather to possess salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ. He says that: Jesus died for us so that, whether we are awake or asleep, we will live together with him. Our future is secure. Christ suffered so we wouldn’t have to. So, Paul concludes, continue encouraging each other and building each other up, just like you are doing already. Hang in there. Keep the faith.
As believers and followers of the way of Jesus Christ, we eagerly anticipate the approaching Day of the Lord, since we are of the day, with all the moral and spiritual vigor that attends this hope and have nothing to do with the night which has been characterized as a moral and spiritual stupor akin to the experience of slumber and drunkenness that properly belong to the nighttime. Yet, as disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world, we need more than simply know this truth about ourselves; we must act on it. As Christians we are urged by the leading of the Holy Spirit to embrace our identity as “Day People” by not slipping back into night-like behavior, but rather, through the donning of the defensive armor of faith, love, and hope withstanding the impulse to return to an existence that accords with the night. Moreover, believers can be assured of God’s intention to bring them into end-time salvation through the atoning death of Christ, which revitalizes physical life and death to the ultimate reality of believers’ destiny of living with Christ. And all of these considerations should lead to the communal activity of mutual encouragement and edification. Make no mistake, there will be wrath at the day of the Lord, but it will be God’s wrath on the unbelieving world that has spurned and mocked Jesus Christ and all he came to earth to accomplish for God’s beloved children and his creation.
We must not become complacent thinking that eternal life in heaven is our only goal. We have much work to do here in service to God. As Christians, as the people who lovingly do something in Jesus’ name, we must keep on doing the Father’s work until our own mortal death or we are privileged to see the unmistakable return of our Savior. In the meantime, we encourage one another in all that we do in our daily walk in the hopes that a word of encouragement offered at the right moment might be the difference between finishing well and falling short. Look around you. Be sensitive to others’ needs for encouragement and offer supportive words or actions as any child of the day would do without hesitation.
Let us pray.
What a fellowship, what a joy divine, leaning on the everlasting arms; what a blessedness, what a peace is mine, leaning on the everlasting arms. Yes, Heavenly Father, how blessed we are to be your beloved children, children of the day. Move us through your Spirit to lead the kind of lives set by the example of Jesus Christ, our Lord and Savior. Use us in every way you can to take the light of your love out into the darkness so that the lost and struggling can be drawn to your light and escape the darkness that has enveloped them. O how sweet to walk in this pilgrim way, O how bright the path grows from day to day, leaning on the everlasting arms. In Jesus’ name, we pray, Amen.