1 Thessalonians 3:9-13
Our theme for Advent is “Signs and Wonders.” The scriptures over the next 4 weeks leading up to Christmas are full of communication from God about the thing that is about to take place, God is about to enter our world in human form and likeness, Jesus is about to be born. This doesn’t just affect us humans, but is about God’s salvation for all Creation, God’s saving power for everything God has made. So everything that God has made is reacting.
In today’s Bible readings, the stars are lining up. The trees are blooming. The seas are crashing. The moon is changing colors. The sun is having an eclipse. The earth is reacting to the coming of Christ and people are trying to interpret the reactions of the earth. What are they communicating? What can we learn from them? The moon and stars, the heavens are acting differently, and the earth is acting differently. What does this mean for us?
The first thing we can know is that something very powerful is happening. If just the plants were reacting, people would know something smaller and more local was occurring. If it was just the plants and the seas, then there might be a bit more concern because of the bigger scope, but we’d know it was localized on earth. But this is affecting the stars, the sun, and the moon. This is a cosmic event that his happening. This is something really big.
So is this something bad or something good? Is this a Tsunami warning? Or is this a “Congratulations!” sign? Should we be afraid or excited?
The Gospel says that many people will be afraid, and many of us are when we think of earthquakes or drought and even more so when we think of meteors and cosmic collisions. However, since we know that God created the heavens and the earth, we know that God who is loving and merciful is in charge over the sun and planets, we know that these signs must be communicating something that is consistent with our loving God. These signs are something to welcome rather than dread.
These are signs helping us to pay attention and stay on track. Sometimes life can be distracting. We get caught up in things that don’t matter. We get lazy or we overwork ourselves. We lose perspective. However, these signs are communicating that it won’t be much longer until we find humanity united under God’s reign. It won’t be long until the baby Jesus will be born in Bethlehem. It won’t be long until the poor are fed and there is justice for the oppressed. Even when it seems like God’s reign is far away, when the earth is shaking and the sky is dark, those are times to pay attention, to look up, to look around.
This is what I saw last week when I came to church. It is dark and cold, but I saw children playing together, adults greeting each other. I heard a flute practicing and a choir practicing. I saw people sharing out of their abundance. I saw people being generous. I saw the Kingdom of God. I saw it again yesterday, when the boyscouts brought in bag after bag after box of food for the pantry. And I will look for it again, on the freeway, in the grocery store, reading my to my child at bedtime, while I am sewing, cooking, cleaning. Simply paying attention to the signs of the nearness of the Kingdom of God, causes us to look up and see it, and see it more often, and soon welcome it, participate in it.
These are signs of encouragement. The road can be long. The way can be difficult. It may be hard to see where we’re going. There is rough terrain. The signs along the way give us the courage to keep going. They let us know we’re on the right track. The one we seek is powerful. The one we seek is loving. The one we seek wants to be found. The one we seek is walking right here beside us. The one we seek has been with us all along.
These are signs to stand up. When we become aware of how near Christ is, our first reaction might be to slink back into the shadows. But the scriptures say to stand up tall. Stand up and take courage. Stand up and be seen. Stand up and speak up for all those who have been neglected and suffered injustice. Stand up for the orphan, for the foster child. Stand up for the wrongly-evicted. Stand up for the one who lost a job because of illness or greed. Stand up against the powers of this world, because the one who is all-powerful is coming to set the world right. We’re asked to be like Zacchaeus, and not only stand up, but climb up the tree. Salvation is coming! I want to see what this is going to look like!
I mentioned that our theme is “Signs and wonders.” Next, we come to the wonders.
I wonder what’s up ahead. I like to know what’s going to happen. I don’t like surprises. But I have to let go of control and put my faith in God, trust the one who is all-powerful and all-loving. When I wonder what’s up ahead, it can be easy to think of the inevitable difficulties. I want to prepare myself for the worst. But because of Jesus, I can have hope, too. God’s promised reign gives me hope. What I want to be careful about is false hopes. I might hope for a new gadget to make my life easier, or that my family will all be healthy, or that everything will stay just like it is, but those are temporary wishes, not true hopes that last. Hope is about love and relationship, it is about courage and vision, it is about being open to being surprised by God, and it can also be about sacrifice, when our branches get pruned that aren’t doing us any good or that could contribute to new growth if we lopped them off.
Another thing I wonder is about thankfulness. How did Paul keep up his faith and gratefulness to God? Paul or one of his disciples was thanking God, even while imprisoned, even while separated from the Thessalonians, even as the Christians were being persecuted. He found a way to be grateful, even when it seemed the sky was falling. Thankfulness is such a good habit to cultivate. When we are joyful, give thanks! When we are afraid, count our blessings! Even when we are angry, find something to thank God for! There is nothing like gratitude to transform us, and to open our eyes to see the reign of God right here, being born in our midst. Some people have a thankfulness journal where they write down everything they are thankful for. Some use prayer, like we started doing here in our prayers of the people. Some pray in the morning or evening or another set time to focus themselves on what God has done. How do you practice gratefulness?
Another wonder of mine is that God doesn’t wait until we’re ready. We haven’t got ourselves together. We push and pull and we can’t make Christ’s reign come. We can’t focus. We wander in circles. We make the same mistakes again and again. Yet Christ brings that reign to us. You’d think he’d go running the other direction when he sees what a mess we’ve made of everything. But here he is, born in our midst, bringing us through the waters, keeping is close in relationship, admonishing us, turning us around again and again to see the beauty and love that is all around us. We are not ready, but he is coming, he is here, and he’s got this covered.
Another word for “signs” is miracles. I guess it depends on your perspective whether you see the miracle or are fearful. For those of us who have it easier, who have more privileges like money or light skin, it’s like there are ramps and elevators to get us over the rough terrain and take us places we want to be. But a lot of people have been picking their way among the boulders, trying to get their footing, the hungry, the undocumented, the prisoner, so these signs that something is changing is good news for them. The branch pulls them to safety. The waves smooth out the road. The earthquake topples the buildings where people experience injustice. What has been going on until now is coming to an end. This is quite the shakeup. But it is a shakeup that results in abundant life for all. Stand tall, lift your heads, and receive your king.