advent lettering

O Come All Ye Faithful


Today's Reading

Romans 13:11-14

Christmas has taken on various meanings these days. Whereas for many years, it was a moment of reflection on the birth of Jesus, today, it is a time of parties and presents and almost unbridled revelry. Materialism fills the airwaves, and people party almost to excess.

Prior to the church establishing December 25 as the celebration date for Jesus’ birthday, Romans celebrated it as a pagan holiday, filled with hedonistic activities. Perhaps our world has come full circle.

Today we focus on a man whose life was wrapped up in this type of wild materialism—Augustine of Hippo.

Augustine was born into a split religious home in a small town in North Africa in 354 AD. His father, a Roman official, held to traditional pagan rituals, while his mother, Monica, was a stout believer, continuously praying for the salvation of her family.

As a young child, Augustine showed incredible academic promise, and his parents provided him various education opportunities. Since learning came so easy to him, he spent a good bit of his time in frivolous activities and indulging in whatever carnal pleasures he could find.

Continuing in his lavish lifestyle, he headed to the city of Carthage along the path to become a lawyer or public official, just as his father had done. He excelled in rhetoric and consumed the writings of Cicero and other classical Roman authors. He also took for himself a concubine and through that relationship had a son.

But something still lacked in his life. So he went from the writers of rhetoric to the philosophers of Rome, becoming a student of Manichaeism, which is a dualistic worldview that saw everything as a fight between the light (spirit) and the darkness (physical). Accordingly, salvation could only be achieved by abstaining from all things physical and focusing solely on rational thought and purified rhetoric. For nine years he studied with this group until he finally felt that all of their answers to life left him hollow.

Next, someone introduced him to Neoplatonism. This new outlook helped answer some of his questions, but many others arose, and he continued to have a nagging feeling that something was missing from his life. And he knew what it was, Jesus.

His mother had continually prayed for Augustine, and he knew all of the answers, but his heart wasn’t willing to give up on his ambitions and pleasures. He wrote that often he prayed, “Give me chastity and continence; but not too soon.”

The back and forth dragged on and on until finally he could take it no more. One day as he was spending time with his friends, he broke and ran away from them to take solace in a nearby garden. As he sat on a bench, with a Bible in front of him, he heard a simple voice calling out, “Take up and read!” It sounded like a child’s voice, perhaps from a house around the corner, but he couldn’t see anyone.

So he did what the voice said and picked up the book and read it. And his eyes came to these words in the book of Romans, chapter 13: “Let us behave decently, as in the daytime, not in orgies and drunkenness, not in sexual immorality and debauchery, not in dissension and jealousy.”

Can you see the look on Augustine’s face as he read this? Here he was, struggling with whether or not to join the faith of his mother, a faith that he had seen first-hand direct her life and the lives of many others, but a faith he had continually rejected. For him, Jesus was merely a run-of-the-mill teacher. Sure he was famous, but he wasn’t special, and his followers were no better.

Besides, he loved his life, or so he thought. Reading the passage, he must have thought through his lavish lifestyle and all of the joys he thought he should have received from it but didn’t. Every act of debauchery just left him more and more empty. This was a truth that he had to face. And then he found his answer as he continued to read.

“Rather, clothe yourselves with the Lord Jesus Christ, and do not think about how to gratify the desires of the sinful nature.”

In that moment, Augustine stopped fighting. In that moment, he ceased trying to fill his life with empty pleasures and surrendered to God. In that moment, he met Jesus.

“I had no wish to read further, and no need,” Augustine explained. “For in that instant, with the very ending of the sentence, it was as though a light of utter confidence shone in all my heart, and all the darkness of uncertainty vanished away.” (Confessions, Book 8)

From that moment forward, Augustine committed his life to the cause of Christ, becoming one of the most influential Christian leaders throughout all of church history. And all of that happened because he discovered a simple truth, we are broken without Jesus.

One of the most famous lines in his Confessions sums it up perfectly: “For Thou hast made us for Thyself and our hearts are restless until they find rest in Thee.”

In the midst of the clutter and materialism of Christmas, ask yourself if you are restless. Are you wandering around trying to fill that hole in your heart with friends, money, power, influence, relationships, or anything else?

Even believers struggle with this issue. And that is why we should use the example of Augustine, clothe yourselves with Christ.

When we surrender our all to Jesus, taking Him as our only hope, we finally find rest and finally find the love for which we all have been searching.

This December 25, don’t engage in the revelry as everyone else. Engage in the worship of the One who fully satisfies the longing of every heart. O come, let us adore Him!

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