3rd Sunday in Advent
December 17, 2017
1 Thessalonians 5:16-24
“Getting Ready to Get Ready”
Grace, mercy, and peace be unto you all in the name of God our Father and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. The text that engages us on the 3rd Sunday in Advent is the Second Lesson that was read earlier from 1 Thessalonians.
My dear friends in Christ Jesus,
Scott and Paul Nash were football-playing brothers in western Texas. Scott, the older brother, grew up to be big and strong. His brother Paul was smaller, but very fast; he had to be in order to avoid getting beat up by older brother Scott. With Scott blocking on the offensive line, he opened huge openings that speedy Paul ran right through. College recruiters drooled over the Nash brothers, and both signed scholarships to play for Texas State University.
In college not too much changed. Scott continued to pound smaller players on defence and brother Paul, known as “Crash,” would bust long runs. Texas State was already a good team, and the Nash brothers made it even better. By the time they were seniors at Texas State, they were unstoppable. When it came time for the voting for the Heisman Trophy that year, the award given each year for the best player in college football, there was never any doubt. Paul “Crash” Nash easily won the award. His face was on the cover of newspapers and magazines. He was on ESPN constantly. Older brother Scott Nash, however, was mostly forgotten. He was just as important and necessary as his brother Paul, but with all the attention gathered by Paul “Crash” Nash, Scott was primarily ignored. Doesn’t seem quite right, does it? Doesn’t seem real fair, right? Well, for what it’s worth, the story is not real either.
I made that up; it’s an allegory. Al-a-what? You know…a story that reveals another hidden meaning. This allegory is about the relationship of Advent and Christmas. This is the season of Advent (the Scott Nash of the church year), a very important time of the year, but outside of the church the attention is all going somewhere else. This time of year, every year, is dedicated almost exclusively to Christmas, the Paul “Crash” Nash of the church year. Merchants and advertisers have done their best to remind us that we need to get ready for Christmas. But let us not do so at the expense of Advent. In Advent, we get ready to get ready.
So, how are you doing on getting ready? Oh, not so good. You still have holiday parties to attend and gifts to buy or order or wrap or send, some baking to do, cards to mail, and so on. But wait just one second! This is ADVENT! Those kinds of preparations are for Christmas. Advent is about getting ready for something related, but also slightly different from Christmas. How are you doing on getting ready for Advent? Maybe our lesson from 1 Thessalonians can help.
St. Paul did his best to get the people of God ready by sending his letters to the churches in Thessalonica, a bustling seaport town situated on the tip of the Aegean Sea between modern-day Greece and Turkey. These were churches that were heavily persecuted and filled with new converts who lacked direction. Paul, because he could not be there himself (2nd missionary journey; 51 AD), tried to encourage them in their trials, give them some instruction in the faith, and – perhaps most important – give them assurance concerning the future of believers in Christ. In fact, every chapter of 1 Thessalonians ends with a reference to the coming of Christ. Paul wanted the people to get ready to get ready for the coming of Christ…and this is also our encouragement in Advent.
But that is kind of hard to do, and I get it. Even the most gifted scholar doesn’t know when Jesus is going to come again, but almost every 3rd grader in America can tell you when Christmas is going to happen. Then there is all the noise and hustle of this time of year. There are the constant financial pressures that Christmas brings. Shopping itself is no picnic with the crowds and the strain to find the right gift for everyone on your list. The emphasis of this season may be one of “peace, love, joy and hope,” but in reality a great many people are stressed out, burned out, tapped out, and ready to check out. But there in lies the rub…Advent isn’t supposed to be about that kind of preparation. Advent is getting ready to get ready; preparing by repentance for the coming of Jesus Christ.
Whether He comes as a child or a Judge over all, Christ Jesus comes into our hearts and our lives, and His presence changes us. As we sit or lie in the darkness of our day’s regret brought by our repentance, we often wish we were different people, wiser people, better people. But we are who we are in our coming Savior Jesus. The knowledge of what God has done for us in Christ gets us ready to receive Him in a manger, on a cross, or on a great white throne. The true beauty of the narrative doesn’t end in the fields of Bethlehem or in the manger or with the wise men. For that same child born in Bethlehem was also the One who would face the cross and the tomb for us, but He did so to bring the gift of salvation and redemption – the same gift announced by angels the night Jesus was born. That knowledge of our sure and certain salvation by faith in Jesus gives us hope, gives us peace, and gives us joy and gives us love this time of year and always. It’s not about cards and parties and gifts. It is about Jesus…it always has been.
God Himself gets us ready to be ready for the coming of Christ, and Paul gave us a laundry list of things we can do as we live in a state of readiness: be joyful or rejoice always, pray continually, give thanks in all things, allow the Holy Spirit’s fire to burn brightly inside us for all to see, hold on to the good, and avoid evil. These are more than just words from an ancient letter; this is a picture of repentant Christian living IN ACTION! Your Advent faith is a living, breathing thing; don’t “shelf it” in favour of Christmas bustle. Don’t overlook the preparation of the Advent season in favour of the more glamorous, much-hyped Christmas season in which we sing “Joy to the world, the Lord IS COME.
With that being said, Merry Christmas everyo…I mean, Merry Advent everyone.