* Given at Midtown Christian Community, December 2, 2006
Almighty God, give us grace to cast away the works of darkness, and put on the armor of light, now in the time of this mortal life in which your Son Jesus Christ came to visit us in great humility; that in the last day, when he shall come again in his glorious majesty to judge both the living and the dead, we may rise to the life immortal; through him who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.
1 Thessalonians 3:9-13
It is Advent season, and this is the first Saturday of Advent, the time of year when we begin to look forward with ever-increasing anticipation to the latest in a string of “must-have” gifts. Some years ago it was “Tickle Me Elmo,” and adults were beating each other silly in order to demonstrate for their children how to participate faithfully in lustful and reckless consumerism. Our collective discipleship in the global economy mandates such behaviors though it’s a bit of a downer that the kid won’t give a rip about the item after New Years. This year, from what Jake and Riley tell me, the “must have” toy is the Playstation Wii or the Playstation 3—whatever it’s called.
Of course, we all know it’s not that Advent season. But keeping our heads on straight takes serious discernment. It takes an intentional effort to be alert to how our culture works on us and exerts its will on us. It takes everything we’ve got to avoid being caught up in this alternative Advent season, and to participate fully in the real Advent season, rehearsing the excitement of creation itself as we together await the celebration of the arrival of the Son of God.
That’s why we’re happy at Midtown to follow the church calendar. This is an intentional thing we can do to name the seasons of life in Christian terms, instead of being content with the seasons of life being named in terms that are supplied to us by the world, or by the mall.
In the normal course of our lives throughout the week, we practice a “liturgy of the world,” utilizing other modes of speech to name reality, relationships, and the passing of time. When we gather together as church, we spend time practicing specifically Christian speech, reading Scripture, issuing blessings in the name of Jesus instead of in the name of Ohio State or the Pittsburgh Steelers, or the Gap or Macy’s, Toys ‘r’ Us, Sony Playstation, or whatever else we might be talking about.
And as church we eat a meal together thinking about how wonderful Jesus is, instead of thinking about how amazing McDonald’s is, or Wendy’s, City BBQ, or Chipotle.
So, our time together as church is an exercise in living in the world in other terms, in Christian terms. Here, we’re no longer professors and students, rich and poor, people from Springfield, Yellow Springs, or Cedarville. We’re brothers and sisters in Christ, each being loved by Jesus and empowered by the Spirit to love and serve each other and this neighborhood for the glory of the name of Jesus Christ. We’re practicing the true nature of reality, and we do it for a very important reason—so that we might gain discernment for going back out and living truthfully and faithfully in the world.
Jesus calls on us in Luke 21 to be alert to what season it is, to pay attention to the signs all around us of what is really going on in reality.
This text raises for us a question: What is going on in the world? What is God doing in the world and what does he want us to do?
The great problem in the world is that creation is trapped in sin, both the creation itself and humanity that inhabits creation. Humanity is functioning within creation wrongly, using the creation in destructive ways.
Our other texts refer to the rhythms of day and night, along with the seasons of the year. We are filling “night” and “day” with evil and destructive deeds, destroying ourselves and others. According to the Psalm, we’re not being human very well, using our body parts—our tongues and our mouths—to speak evil and to tell lies, instead of using the parts of our bodies to lift up the name of God and to bless others.
In response to this, God makes the promise to enter creation himself to set it right, resulting in a radical re-ordering of creation. This is depicted in Zechariah by the Lord coming down to an actual physical place—the Mount of Olives. Creation reacts violently, with the mountain splitting in two, creating a massive new valley. Further, there will be a total transformation of creation, so that there is no longer “day” and “night,” neither cold nor frost, but continuous light, with living waters flowing out from Jerusalem.
The city of God, inhabited by the people of God, will no longer be a source of news about conflict, suicide bombings, buses and cars blowing up, and raids on settlements. The city of God will now be a source of life and blessing and nourishment for the whole world. Creation will be transformed so that it gives life and so that everyone will know that this is indeed God’s world and that God is a God of love, peace, goodness, and truth.
But what are we to do in response to this? How do we participate in God’s mission to renew creation?
It’s fascinating how these texts give us some help in answering this question, and they do so with specific reference to creation. So, we could ask the question this way: If God is remaking creation itself, restoring “day” and “night” and seasons of the year, how should we fill out creation so that we can demonstrate or make obvious the fact that God is actually in the process of re-taking and reclaiming his world?
Look at how Paul answers this question. In 1 Thessalonians, Paul tells us what he does with “night” and “day.” He spends his night and day in service to others, longing that they may be restored to actual bodily presence and mutual enjoyment of one another. “Night and day we pray most earnestly that we may see you face to face and restore whatever is lacking in your faith.”
Note also that Paul sees his life as a fulfillment of God’s promise to make the people of God a blessing to others. Just as God is now going to make Jerusalem a place of refreshment to the earth and to the nations, so Paul and his ministry partners “abound” in love for his readers, overflowing with the love and blessing of God for others. And they are praying that the Thessalonians would also “abound” in love for one another. This is language that recalls the flourishing of the earth. God had originally created the world to be a place of blessing and refreshment. In Christ, God is setting the world right, so the people of God in Christ must play this role.
This is the same impulse that runs through the song that is sung at this time of year:
O holy night! The stars are brightly shining,
It is the night of the dear Saviour’s birth.
Long lay the world in sin and error pining.
Till He appeared and the soul felt its worth.
A thrill of hope the weary world rejoices,
For yonder breaks a new and glorious morn.
We must fill our days and nights with being a blessing to others in the name of Jesus. When we do this, the promise in Zechariah will be fulfilled—that promise that God is coming to reclaim and redeem his world, so that it will be made plain that “the Lord is king over all the earth; on that day the Lord will be one and his name one.”
In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, Amen.