When morning gilds the skies, my heart, awaking, cries, “No. No. Not already!” What I like much better is what everyone has been saying ever since smart phones became popular: “There’s a nap for that.” Please don’t tell me I’ve been hearing that wrong!
So here is perhaps my very least favorite commandment from Scripture: “Do this, knowing the time, that it is already the hour for you to awaken from sleep; for now salvation is nearer to us than when we believed. The night is almost gone, and the day is near. Therefore let us lay aside the deeds of darkness and put on the armor of light.” (Romans 13:11-12, NASB)
Night is almost gone
Don’t you love sleep? Besides being refreshing, it’s a time when nothing much happens. It’s the perfect escape from waking reality.
Not everyone has sweet dreams all the time, but even in the most unsettling dreams, we have no responsibilities. We routinely do all kinds of things in dreams that are impossible when we’re awake.
Here’s something else many adults find impossible to relate to any more: not wanting to go to bed or take our naps when we were small children. It’s easy enough to understand, though. Children, like dreamers, have no responsibilities. So they don’t need sleep to duck them.
So what does that verse mean, that the night is almost gone? It’s summer now, so that must be some time before 5:00 in the morning. Favorite quote from MASH: “The Winchesters only recognize one 5:00. This isn’t it.”
Worse yet is to remember being in England one summer. Summer days are so long there that the sun is probably up by 5:00. I hate to think of what it would mean to get up there when the “night is almost gone.”
I expect Paul enjoyed sleep—and maybe even a good nap—as much as anyone else. But he wasn’t talking about ordinary daily sleep cycles. He wasn’t talking about physical sleep.
Night symbolizes the reign of Satan as the god of this world. Darkness symbolizes the gloom of sin. People of faith cannot and must not wait until the light of Christ returns to take up the responsibilities of spiritual daytime.
Day is near
We talk about being saved or not. Salvation is a present-day reality in many scriptures, but here, Paul says it is “nearer to us than when we first believed.” There is a salvation we cannot experience while it is still night, but we need to prepare for it while the world sleeps on.
In case anyone wondered what “Do this” meant as they read the passage above, the preceding verse says, “Love does no wrong to a neighbor; therefore love is the fulfillment of the law.”
Love—first for God and consequently for every other human—is the Christian’s sole responsibility. Everything else we can think of as a Christian duty comes automatically as a byproduct. And not one of us can consistently fulfill that duty.
Isn’t the hymn “I Need Thee Every Hour” wildly optimistic? Every hour? What about every minute or every second? It’s just that neither of those shorter units fits the meter or the rhyme scheme. We need God constantly, but our flesh wants no part of him.
There’s a nap for that, too.
Unfortunately, Jesus spoke in parables about people who were asleep when the Master expected to find them awake. Things don’t turn out well for those people, do they?
So in Ephesians 5:14, Paul writes,” For this reason it says, ‘Awake, sleeper, and arise from the dead, and Christ will shine on you.”
He does not directly quote from the Old Testament, but he certainly alludes to several passages in Isaiah.
In Isaiah 51:9, the people of Jerusalem urge God to wake up, as if he formerly helped Israel and decided to take a nap himself. In both Isaiah 5:17 and 52:1, God responds by telling Jerusalem to wake up.
“Clothe yourself in your strength, O Zion, clothe yourself in your beautiful garments . . . Shake yourself from the dust. Rise up, O captive Jerusalem; loose yourself from the chains around your neck, O captive daughter of Jerusalem.”
Reminds me of the angel waking Peter from a sound sleep in prison. His alternative to waking up was death! But it gets better.
Day has actually come!
“Arise. Shine, for your light has come, and the glory of the Lord has risen upon you.” (Isaiah 60:1)
As far as the world is concerned, night is almost over, but daylight is only near. For the spiritually awake, the light of Christ is already shining. It’s not time to put on our grubbies for grunt work. No.
It’s time to put on our brightest, most beautiful clothing. It’s time not only to bask in the light of Christ, but to reflect it. It’s time for us to shine like the moon. It’s time for us to love God and others not in our own strength, but by reflecting God’s glory into dark places.
But first, we have to wake up from spiritual slumber.