Advent 1 – Year C
1 Thessalonians 3:9-13
Happy New Year!
No – I mean it! Today is New Year’s Day on the church calendar. Forget about January 1st – November 28th is where it is!
In this season of Advent, we remember again the coming of Jesus in human form as we repeat stories of that first Christmas. We also look ahead to His coming the second time; that time known to God but not us. We wait in hope and preparation for God’s arrival to make sure we recognize him when he comes. In preparation for that we can pray that this Advent is a season of hope, relief and watching.
Hope. Who doesn’t need a little bit of hope today? Hope is like a light shining in a dark place. The Bible has a lot to say about hope:
At this point in his life, Jeremiah has been put into jail by his own King for being right. The enemies of Jerusalem are attacking the city, as Jeremiah said they would. Jerusalem is still standing but it will soon fall into the hands of Babylon.
Sitting in prison, Jeremiah is suddenly filled with hope. Jeremiah knows that restoration will come after the exile – this is what he is talking about when he says, ‘the days are surely coming, says the Lord, when I will fulfil the promise I made to the house of Israel and the house of Judah.’
If the people wait, watch, endure and try to see the hand of God at work, they will be preparing themselves and the people for the time when ‘Judah will be saved, and Jerusalem will live in safety.’ This would have been a mystery to the people listening! This is hundreds of years before Jesus arrived. This is still a mystery to people today; people in our families and friend groups who are not interested or do not know about what it is to be saved.
Jeremiah gives us an incredible example of human faithfulness that will not renounce God, come what may. Jeremiah brings good news too: whatever happens, God is God and God is for us. Even Jeremiah, who was the darkest of the prophets, has moments when he can see beyond the immediate destruction of his people to a time when they will again know that God has not abandoned them. He (Jesus) will execute justice and righteousness.
Secondly – Relief.
Just think for a moment about the last time you felt relief from a situation. That overwhelming sense of ‘this is over!’ or ‘well that wasn’t so bad’ or ‘thank God that passed me by’ Advent brings relief – the weary world rejoices!
Paul has been worried about the Thessalonians to whom he is writing. Paul got so worked up about it that he sent Timothy to visit them and he has come back with good news. The letter to the Thessalonians is an expression of Paul’s relief and joy for these new Christians. ‘How can we thank God enough for you in return for all the joy that we feel before our God because of you?’ (verse 1 asks)
Paul’s prayer is that they will use their time to prepare for their final meeting with God. There is no time to waste, every minute is vital according to Paul. He wants the Thessalonians to grow and abound in love for each other, to have their hearts strengthened in holiness so to be blameless before God at the coming of Jesus.
This is a big part of the Advent journey; are we ready for the great return? If we are ready then we will know relief when he comes back. However , we should not be too comfortable while people around us do not know the Good News.
There is a verse in this reading that really stuck out to me – Paul wants to see the Thessalonians face to face and ‘restore whatever is lacking in your faith.’ What is lacking in your faith this Advent season?
Thirdly and finally – Keep watch. We need to prepare for Jesus’ return. This means taking the promises of God seriously. Where are our priorities towards God right now? Is he 2nd place behind our distractions and self-interests?
Luke tells of the signs that are coming in the sun, moon, in the stars and on earth. There will be distress among the nations and confusion in the seas and the waves. This passage is different from the rest of Luke. Luke tells the wonderful stories of the shepherds and sheep, the stable and the manger; it is Luke who tells the story of Mary and Joseph, Elizabeth and Zechariah.
Luke now gives us this rather frightening story of the Son of Man coming in on a cloud with power and great glory. The seasons are going to change and we need to be ready to change with them. Not only that, we need to watch for the signs of the coming of Jesus. This is not an easy task! We need to pay attention to the world around us, pay attention to what God might be saying to us.
The fig tree is the key to all three of today’s readings. Just as we know how to watch for the signs that mark the changing of the seasons, so we have to train to be people who can recognize the signs of the coming redemption.
Jeremiah and Luke talk about seeing the signs in times of turmoil and Paul is speaking into a situation of growth and joy while trying to keep a note of urgency. We too need to wait with intelligence, noting the signs, paying attention in situations of joy and relief and in turmoil too.
In Robyn Wrigley-Carr’s Advent book for this year, Music of Eternity, we are reminded that God is at work and draws us into His coming action. God is the prime mover, the initiator who is always present on the scene before we arrive. We need not worry or work under our own steam. By spending time with God, he will reveal what He is doing in our lives and the wider world. It is then that we can begin to recognize him.
In Advent, we are waiting for God’s arrival and we need to recognize him when he comes. We wait in hope, we wait for relief and we wait and watch for God – both now and in the not yet.
Happy New Year!