December 13, 2020 “The Nature of Life As the People of God”
“The Nature of Life as the People of God”
“To celebrate the future as a memory, and to praise God for having already done what lies before us to do, is the nature of life as the people of God.” Fred Craddock
Welcome to this, the 3rd Sunday in the season of Advent, December 13, 2020. I’m not sure why, exactly, but for some reason I felt it important to put a time stamp on this particular day in this particular time. It happens every year, and this year is no exception: Advent begins in late November or early December; we bring out the Advent wreath, we start to light the candles; and sing the hymns about Emmanuel, God with us, Come Thou Long Expected Jesus. It’s pleasant, it’s comforting, and it not only gets us in the spirit of Christmas, but it prolongs this season of light; this season that we have come to rely on for decades to get us through the dark days of winter.
This year, we are having to do things different. I guess that’s overstating the obvious, but on this the 3rd Sunday of Advent, it’s especially painful. I mean, think about it: this is the Sunday known as Gaudete Sunday; Gaudete being the Latin word for “rejoice”, or simply, “Joy.” Lord knows, we could use some joy right now. So, all week long I’ve been wracking my brain how in the world to find, to create; to conjure up what it is to be joyful. Now I’m not talking about happy here. If we win the lottery, we are happy. When we are able to gaze upon our first grandchild – that is joy. When we are able to find the perfect gift for the perfect person and they even say those words: “O, it’s perfect!” we are happy. But later on when that perfect person comes up to us and tells us, once again, of the perfect love that they have for us, that is joy. That is joy.
My search for joy in this season of conflict and uncertainty, surprisingly, led me to something that a preacher named Fred Craddock said some time ago. When I first read through it, I didn’t know what to think. But after a while, it started to make sense. Craddock tells us, ““To celebrate the future as a memory, and to praise God for having already done what lies before us to do, is the nature of life as the people of God.” (X 2) Now, we will come back to this later and when we do, hopefully, it will seem a lot less like some sort of word puzzle and more like a wonderful description of the source of our joy as followers of Jesus Christ. But first, a word about the writings of the Apostle Paul to the congregations of Thessalonica.
The opening words of this passage say it all: (1 Thess 5:16) “16 Rejoice always, 17 pray without ceasing, 18 give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you. Let’s break this down a bit.
“Rejoice always!” For those who might think of Paul as being somewhat of a crabby-pants, it’s good to remind ourselves that joy is always a core theme for Paul. Always. Walter Bruggerman tells us, “but it is not to be confused with our commercialized exuberance at Christmas. Nor is it “Christmas joy” that comes in a bottle.”
“Rather Christmas joy, for Christians, is a deep, glad confidence that God’s good will for the world will outrun all of our troubles and tribulations. A deep, glad confidence that God’s good will for the world will outrun all of our troubles.” This is the will of God in Christ Jesus for us all. This is nature of life as the people of God.
Next, “Pray without ceasing.” Once again, Bruggerman tells us: “For Paul, prayer is neither an occasional pious act nor an exercise in “thoughts and prayers.” No, I’d like to think rather that prayer is the ability to hold up the world with all its wants and needs in the confidence that when we address God in our prayers, he has the ability to meet those needs. To put it another way, we pray to praise God for having already done what lies before us to do.
And finally, “Always Give Thanks.” Always. Of these three expectations of Paul, I have to say that this one is the easiest for me. God has given me gifts far beyond what I could expect or deserve. I’ve squandered and wasted them, yet there is no end to his generosity. Once I got that in my head, all I could think to say was, “Thank you; thank you Lord,” and the words from the 126th Psalm ring out once again, “Yes, the Lord has done great things for us, and we are overjoyed.” To celebrate the future as a memory seems an odd way to say it, but such is the nature of the people of God. God’s grace is forever, his gifts are eternal. My future – our future – is in God’s hands and quite frankly, I’m OK with that. He has already done what lies before me to do.
Delmer Chilton speaking of Paul’s message here, tells us, “You live the way you would as though Christ were present, physically, right now. Don’t worry about when Christ is coming back – he’s back; that’s the point. Live in that reality as though it’s already happened. Celebrate the future as a memory.”
You know, every year we go through the Advent season saying all the right words and singing the right songs that Jesus is coming; Emmanuel, God with us. This year, not so much. Maybe, just maybe, this could be the year that we might find ourselves identifying with John the Baptist, believe it or not. Maybe this could be the year when all we have that’s for sure is our joy that we serve a loving God. And when people ask who we are, we can joyfully reply, “Well, we ain’t so much. But someone greater stands among you, whom you don’t recognize. He’s coming. And even though we’re not worthy to untie the straps of his sandals, he’s coming. The Lord has done great things for us, and we are overjoyed. O, and by the way; in case you were wondering, that is the nature of life as the people of God: a life of joy no matter what, a life prayer that won’t stop, and a life where we never have to go looking for things to give thanks for. That’s who we are. That’s who we are.”
Amen & Shalom
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