Trinity Episcopal Church
Year C - Advent 1 - November 29, 2015
1 Thessalonians 3:9-13
Here we are again at the beginning of another church year. There is a feeling of freshness about today as we break out the advent wreath and the blue vestments and as we start counting down the days of our Lord’s return in great glory to renew the face of the earth. The world is on the threshold of salvation and God is fulfilling God’s promises, not only to Israel, but to us.
One of the most thought provoking things that I have seen as this season begins is a picture that is floating around on social media that says, “You cannot spell adventure unless you begin with advent.” - and I would go further to say that you cannot have an Adventure unless you start with an Advent! Brothers and sisters, we are all on a grand adventure of living out God’s promise to restore the world and bring forth the kingdom of justice and righteousness and this is a celebration of the beginning. This is our Advent.
Advent is the beginning of our grand adventure… and it’s a bit scary if we stop and think about it. The unknown lurks in the shadows of Advent. What is --- is yet to be revealed. Some of you have heard me say before that Advent is living in that thin ‘tween space of the already and the not yet… between what has happened and the beginning of what is yet to happen.
It’s sort of ironic that this is the time of year when folks break out the Christmas greeting cards and reconnect with friends and family over the miles. For me, it’s always a joy to get a card from someone that lives far away. I remember a friend in the family that lived in Ireland, Nellie, who would send me a Christmas card every year without fail. Each year, the card would have a different kind of image of a Christmas scene and words of well wishes and prayers for the New Year. It warms my heart to this day to even think about it. To think about the way I felt encouraged and together with her even though an ocean and many miles separated us… Even though I was far away.
Cards and letters have a special way of connecting us and helping us, especially through hard times… the dark times in our life when we feel forgotten and alone. Cards and letters can make us feel supported and remembered, and they can help us feel encouraged and appreciated.
At Timothy’s request, Paul sent a letter to the church in Thessalonica… The Thessalonians were struggling with persecution because they had started to follow the ways of a person named Jesus. In this new way, they had given up the ways of their pagan idols. This was a radical shift from what was socially, politically, economically, and religiously acceptable… it put stresses on families and on friendships, it caused turmoil in the workplace and in the marketplace.
The one thing that I think the Thessalonians got right – is that they knew that the world was on the threshold of salvation and they invested their whole selves, everything that they had and were in preparing for the kingdom of God to come. They let the teachings of Jesus take over every aspect of their lives as they were in the advent of their adventure.
But times for the Thessalonians were hard, and they felt like they were in the dark, struggling with their newly kindled faith. And Paul is removed and not able to return to them… and he so desperately wants to be there with them and help them endure their hardships, but the only thing that he can do is write to them and give them a letter of encouragement and hope.
That is the portion of Paul’s letter that we read today. Paul longs to be there with them face to face to help them withstand everything that is being thrown at them. To help them endure and hold fast to the faith that is in them.
How then shall we live, in a world so desperate to rush into store and beat people over the head for sale items just one day after being thankful for everything that they already have? How do we live counter-culturally in a time when gluttony and greed is rewarded and is a socially acceptable display of strength and power? We’re not too far off from having to live like the Thessalonians did when they were persecuted for being different, who had to remain drastically counter-cultural in order to keep the faith.
It sounds a bit like what Jeremiah did for the people of Israel in our Old Testament lesson, reminding them of God’s promises. Giving them encouragement and hope… At this time, Israel was in exile and the prophet Jeremiah points them in the direction and calls them to wait on the Lord for a time of equity and virtue… A time when things that were cast down are being raised up… a time when the old things are being made new… a time when the darkness, pain, hunger, war, and famine will be no more… the things we need to engage and participate in to help usher in the Kingdom of God… things that are of the Kingdom of God.
The community that Jeremiah is speaking to has been defeated and is in darkness, they have been cut down and are in a foreign land with foreign rules, and foreign rulers – in an area that doesn’t know the God of Israel. Jeremiah is sending word from his prison cell to the others in exile, who also feel forgotten and lonely in the darkness of their life.
But, Jeremiah tells them not to worry, that everything will be o.k. – that God has the ability to raise up a righteous branch… a new leader that will rule justly… and he says, “in those days Judah will be saved”… in those days, we will be saved.
We are in the advent of our adventure and we are in a time of uncertainty and darkness. Regardless of how many Advents we have celebrated as a church, we are only still right at the beginning…
There is so much hate and evil in this world, we long for a time when a great leader will rise up and govern us… a righteous leader that will help lead the way - to assure us of God’s love and care for us, to show us the plan of salvation.
Jesus is that leader… and Christ Jesus is that leader who encourages us and teaches us that if we stay alert, and we don’t get all tied up in the worries of this world, then we will begin to develop whatever we need in order to endure the hardships of our adventure.
But we don’t want to have to endure the hardships… We want to avoid them and just skip to the end where everything is perfect and restored. It’s only natural for us to want to get to the end before we ever get started. If you have ever traveled with a small child on a long journey, you have probably heard the phrase, “are we there yet?” “Are we there yet?” is our juvenile way of not being able to wait and anticipate what’s coming.
Jesus says that there will be signs along the way. I know that road signs always help me on long trips. They helps me to count down the miles that I have left to go. Sort of like the advent wreath here helps us mark time during the season… Road signs ease something inside of me as they helps me to visualize the destination, which allows me to enjoy the adventure even more.
“Are we there yet?” The Kingdom of God is breaking forth into the world, and we get to be the midwife. It’s an exciting adventure as we help others understand with words of encouragement and hope that if we remain faithful we will experience God’s plan of salvation… the plan that God has prepared for the whole world.
It’s the dawn of a new church year; a new era, a new and fresh beginning, and we are at our advent, waiting to begin the great adventure of ushering in the kingdom of God.