1 Thessalonians 3:9-13
Who knows what Advent means? Advent means arrival. We’re in the season of Advent, so who’s arrival do you think we waiting on? Who are we waiting to show up? Jesus! But today’s gospel isn’t about Jesus showing up as a newborn baby, is it? It’s about Jesus coming back someday to fix things—to make the world right.
So, can you think of things that God needs to fix in this world?
I think God can begin to fix those things now, and we’re going to pray for that. But here’s the deal—God uses us to help fix and take care of the world. So, when we pray, we’ll also pray for the courage to help God do that work. God it?
Peacemakers from South Sudan, Palestine, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Colombia, and the Philippines gathered to conspire how to work together. They wanted to share resources for how to provide psychosocial support, accompaniment, and human rights training for women who have experienced violence in places of deep conflict. One question they had was how you can know a woman is gaining confidence to lead her from being a victim to being a survivor to being a human rights defender to transformer of her community. Around the room, from every culture and experience, the common phrase describing this confidence was “she lifts her head.” She lifts her head in power, in hope, and in persistence to change that which has so harmed her and other women and children.
She lifts her head. This struck me as I read the gospel passage this week. Typically, I’ve heard this passage and thought of all the ways that Jesus describes the world when he comes again. “Signs in the sun, the moon, and the stars, distress among nations, roaring of the sea and the waves, fainting and fear and foreboding, powers shaken. Be on guard, because the day will come and trap you unexpectedly. Pray that you have the strength to survive.”
So, that’s a little scary. Not something anyone would want to happen. And yet, aren’t we suppose to long for Jesus to come again? Isn’t that part of the Advent season—to wait with expectation not only for his birth but for his arrival to set all things right, to re-create a new heaven and a new earth?
So, you’ll understand my surprise when I discovered that I had been reading the passage all wrong. And I missed a most important part—“When these things begin o take place, stand up and raise your heads, because your redemption is drawing near.”
That’s good news, right? That’s what we’re hoping for and waiting for and praying for and longing for. So, why do we—or at least I—jump straight to reading this as if I should be preparing for something awful instead of something beautiful?
It’s fear. Yep, fear has done it again. We’re so good at fear—not so great at hope. Not real hope. We can muster up optimism, but hope means letting go of fear. And that’s a tough one. David Lose says it this way:
“fear is the means by which we turn those who are in some fashion different from us into an enemy, a people against whom we should war. Fear causes us to horde, assuming we will never have enough and seeing those around us as competitors for scarce resources. Fear drives wedges of distrust into our communities that fracture solidarity and compassion. Fear causes us to define ourselves and those around us not by what we share but by what makes us different. Fear creates an “either/or” and “us/them” mentality that makes it nearly impossible to find common ground, let alone see each other sympathetically. Fear, in short, drives us inward, hardens our hearts, darkens our vision, and stunts our imagination.”
Well, that sounds about right. Look at the passage again. Yes, there will be signs in the heavens. And there will be distress on the earth—but the distress will be among those who are confused by the roaring of the seas and the waves. And those who are confused will faint from fear and foreboding of what is coming because the heavens will shake as the Son of Man comes down to us—again. But for those who have been waiting with hope, we are to stand up and raise our heads, because our redemption is here. Redemption for the whole world—Jesus will come to set things right.
But for those who have taken for granted this life and the blessings we have received from God through creation, this will not fell like good news. For those who have relished in their status, this will be a fearful time, indeed. Because putting the world right means just what Mary says when she learns she will give birth to Emmanuel: “His mercy is for those who fear him from generation to generation. He has shown strength with his arm; he has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts. He has brought down the powerful from their thrones, and lifted up the lowly; he has filled the hungry with good things, and sent the rich away empty” (Luke 1:50-53).
So, all of this is fine for what is to come, but what does it mean for us now? How are we to live knowing the promise of redemption? We are to live with heads raised, with courage to meet the future, with hope for what God is already doing. Because we have heard the promise and the words that will not pass away—“This is my body give and blood shed for you,” “Father, forgive them,” “Peace be with you,” and “Today, you will be with me in Paradise.”
We are to live with compassion for those who remain in fear, in fellowship with those who might frighten us, in hope for an unknown but promised future. We are to live with our heads lifted.
A colleague shared about a funeral she recently gave for a 41-year-old man named Matt. Born with various chronic health challenges, Matt wouldn’t have the opportunities in life that we might take for granted. But always in hope, his parents took him to numerous doctors, those who believed there was more to his life. They traveled the country, making sure Matt’s experience of the world was bigger than a hospital bed.
Matt’s dad was a firefighter. And as the funeral began, more than fifty firefighter from all over the county processed to his casket and saluted him, one after another. In dress blues and work clothes, some literally running in at the lsat minute to join the procession, they honored one who the world would too often ignore. And, she said, “I found myself wondering at this—this if I, if we, had not simply stood up and raised our heads, we might have missed this altogether: this living witness to a promised world where the lowly will all be lifted up in Christ’s return.”
And so, this Advent, we wait. Just as we wait for a newborn baby in a manger with anticipation and expectation, we wait for his coming again—bringing with him new life for the whole world—life where fear has no place, where violence has been wiped out, where tears and grief have been silenced, where terror is no longer necessary. We wait with hope, standing tall, our heads lifted up, and our hands extended to the world, caring for neighbor and stranger until he comes again.
Pastor Tobi White
Our Saviour’s Lutheran Church