A sermon for the Third Sunday of Advent 2005
1 Thessalonians 5:12-28
In my parent’s house, as I grew up, it was always Christmas. Or, rather, I should say that any day could be Christmas because my mother picked up potential Christmas gifts all year long, often wrapping them, and then would hide them – promptly forgetting where she’d put them. Come Christmas morning, there was usually plenty to open, so apparently she realized she’d “lost” some presents (or dramatically over purchased, which is less likely) and put others under the tree. However, those lost gifts would show up at unexpected times – like when the winter clothes were put away and the summer ones brought out, or any time a closet was organized, a corner cleaned out… you get the point, I think.
In a sense, I grew up understanding Christmas (at least the gifts part) as always underway… always living with the perception that Christmas was already, but wasn’t done yet, and was still coming. I didn’t understand that the way the Lord would want me to, and indeed has revealed in his Word, but my mother had revealed to me a deep theological truth – it is always Christmas, Jesus is always coming to be with us, Jesus has always been with us. The whole of scripture communicates this truth as the Hebrews lived hoping for something better, that the people of the first covenant lived looking for Messiah, and yet – save for a few – largely missed the fulfillment of their hope in their own time. Today, with 20/20 hindsight, we can see that through the eyes of our faith – yet how do we live day-to-day with the knowledge, the expectation of Jesus return? I believe that is the question we are called to consider this morning as individuals and as Christ Church.
The prophet Isaiah, in the passage from chapter 65 we heard this morning, is speaking the word of the Lord to a people who have just come through the Exile and are now back in Jerusalem – fulfilling God’s promise to bring them back – and yet realizing that is isn’t quite what they expected their return home to be. The temple was still a burned out shell, where would they “be with” God… things were not as they expected at all.
In this Word, Isaiah is speaking God’s renewal of his promise to restore all things; the very same promise whose completion we await, we hope for, we proclaim together when we say “Christ has died, Christ is Risen, Christ will come again!” during this Advent season and all through the year in our worship together. This is a promise that has, and is, moving steadily forward at God’s pace – which we must honestly acknowledge is not our pace… God longs to move his plan forward, he has patiently awaited our response since the day Adam and Eve ate the forbidden fruit and loosed the knowledge of good and evil into Creation. Since that moment the Creator has spoken throught the Prophets, corrected through the Apostles, commanded through Jesus, longed and acted to make all things new again… the plan to restore Creation is already in motion, but we’re not there yet.
17 “Behold, I will create
new heavens and a new earth.
The former things will not be remembered,
nor will they come to mind.
18 But be glad and rejoice forever
in what I will create,
for I will create Jerusalem to be a delight
and its people a joy.
19 I will rejoice over Jerusalem
and take delight in my people;
the sound of weeping and of crying
will be heard in it no more.
20 “Never again will there be in it
an infant who lives but a few days,
or an old man who does not live out his years;
he who dies at a hundred
will be thought a mere youth;
he who fails to reach [a] a hundred
will be considered accursed.
21 They will build houses and dwell in them;
they will plant vineyards and eat their fruit.
22 No longer will they build houses and others live in them,
or plant and others eat.
For as the days of a tree,
so will be the days of my people;
my chosen ones will long enjoy
the works of their hands.
23 They will not toil in vain
or bear children doomed to misfortune;
for they will be a people blessed by the LORD,
they and their descendants with them.
24 Before they call I will answer;
while they are still speaking I will hear.
25 The wolf and the lamb will feed together,
and the lion will eat straw like the ox,
but dust will be the serpent’s food.
They will neither harm nor destroy
on all my holy mountain,”
says the LORD.
The prophet’s words answer the longing of the people of post-exile Israel for restoration and they seek to expand their vision and reassure that God is already at work, but the time is not yet.
Even in John the Baptist’s day this longing remained, and by it they questioned him, and he answered using the words of the prophet Isaiah. Again, the promises of God are already being fulfilled, but were not yet completed.
The disciples who hid in fear and grief, wondering if they’d gotten it wrong, who touched the Savior’s hand and side, who ate and talked with the Risen Christ, were seeing God’s promises already being fulfilled, the way opened, God at work already, but not finished yet.
We, too, see God at work among us, and act out our faith by feeding the hungry, helping the needy, healing the sick and praying for the suffering. We know the power of the Holy Spirit, yet we also long for there to be no more death, no more destruction, we long for the day all things will be restored. I believe the question to us from all through the generations is “how are you waiting?’
The time is coming, the time is now. Do we live that way? The 1 Thessalonians passage speaks to us about how we might wait well. The book is the earliest Epistle written by Paul (about 20 years after the Resurrection), in which he writes as a faithful pastor to one of the churches he’d planted on his second missionary journey. In it he reinforces God’s way of being a community in Christ
12 Now we ask you, brothers, to respect those who work hard among you, who are over you in the Lord and who admonish you. 13 Hold them in the highest regard in love because of their work. Live in peace with each other. 14 And we urge you, brothers, warn those who are idle, encourage the timid, help the weak, be patient with everyone. 15 Make sure that nobody pays back wrong for wrong, but always try to be kind to each other and to everyone else.
16 Be joyful always; 17 pray continually; 18 give thanks in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.
19 Do not put out the Spirit’s fire; 20 do not treat prophecies with contempt. 21 Test everything. Hold on to the good. 22 Avoid every kind of evil.
As well as we serve heal the sick, proclaim Christ, feed the hungry, cloth the naked, help to set the poor, addicted and oppressed free from their chains… As well as we have community and strong friendship among us, there is more, there is better and it is available to us as we “make straight the path of the Lord in the wilderness” of our own hearts. It, this better way, is available to us through our faithful repentance, by intentional peacemaking among us – yes, it is more than a handshake and a hug – and by coming together as a community to the altar as Jesus is revealed to us in Holy Communion. This will hasten the coming of the Kingdom in us, this will grow the Kingdom of God, this will bring the revival and the he
aling of which we sang just a short time ago. Do you want revival? I do too, and I hope we all will take to heart the Advent call of John the Baptist to clear the way for the Lord to enter in, bringing revival in our own hearts, in our community, in the world, to the greater glory of God. Amen.