November 28, 2021 / 1st Sunday of Advent / Richard Holmer
First Reading Jeremiah 33:14-16 / Second Reading 1 Thessalonians 3:9-13 / Gospel Luke 21:25-36
Love in the Meantime
Advent is the beginning of a new church year. However, as God’s people, the church, we are not at all at the beginning, we are somewhere in the middle of our journey. Advent means “coming,” and we live between two comings: Christ’s first coming as the baby Jesus born in Bethlehem, and Christ’s promised second coming, in power and might at the end of history to complete the work of salvation. We put a lot of energy into celebrating his first coming at Christmas – as well we should. His arrival is the pivotal moment in our history. We focus less on the second coming for a variety of reasons: The date of that return is unknown, and after 2,000 years it does not feel like it is imminent. The narratives surrounding that coming are a bit ominous, with talk of great distress and people fainting from fear. The thought of things as we know them coming to an end is unsettling.
Nevertheless, each week in the creed we affirm our belief that Jesus “will come again to judge the living and the dead, and His Kingdom will have no end.” So we acknowledge that there are two Advents on our timeline – and we are living out our days between the two.
How then shall we live in this between time, this meantime between Christ’s two comings? St. Paul addressed this question in his letter to the Thessalonians (which is the earliest of his letters in our possession). The letter was written around the year 50, and at that time Paul believed that Christ would be returning soon – even in his lifetime. Paul wrote to the congregation he had planted in Thessalonica, encouraging them to trust Christ’s promise that he would return. Those new Christians were experiencing social pressure and even persecution from non-believers. Paul commends their endurance in the face of opposition. And this is his prayer on their behalf: “May the Lord make you increase and abound in love for one another – and for all.” As those beleaguered Thessalonians await the promised coming of Christ, Paul prays that they will grow in their love – not only for fellow believers, but for everyone.
Paul’s words to those Macedonian Christians can provide guidance for us as we live between two Advents. Waiting and watching are two common themes in this season. We are urged to be patient and alert. Yet we are to be about more than simply waiting for Jesus to finally return. We are encouraged to increase and abound in love. We are reminded that love is not a static commodity. Love can grow deeper and stronger. In the marriage service there is a blessing of the bride and groom which points to this truth: “…may you find delight in each other, and GROW in holy love until your life’s end.” No matter how much they love each other on their wedding day, husbands and wives can have a love that grows richer and steadier with the passing years.
When Lena asked Ole, “How come you never tell me you love me?” Ole replied, “I told you I loved you on our wedding day, and I will let you know if that ever changes.” We are called to do better than that. Love has no limits. It can increase. We can grow in our love for our parents and children, for brothers and sisters, and for our extended family members. Family ties can be tested over the holidays. There can be tensions over politics and other issues. Past hurts and resentments can surface again. All the more reason to increase in love. It’s no great credit to love those who are likeable. Consciously aiming to love someone with whom we disagree is a game-changer.
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We can also increase our love for our fellow members in this congregation. Isn’t this our primary calling? It’s Christ’s New Commandment: to love one another as he loves us. Can any of us claim to have completely fulfilled this commandment?
How is it possible to increase and abound in love?
You can start by praying. Ask God to let his loving spirit move in you. Ask God to change your heart (and mean what you pray). God wants nothing more than to help us become more loving.
Make an effort to get better acquainted with other members. The better you get to know someone, the better you can be at loving them. Time spent together pays dividends. To know one another’s joys and sorrows opens the door to caring love.
Once a month I have lunch with our Sewing Group. It’s wonderful to experience the care and concern they show for one another. Likewise, the time church council members spend together lends to ties that bind them closer together. It’s not all about handling the business of the church. It’s also about sharing thoughts, feelings, hopes and concerns. It’s getting to know others as more than faces you see on Sundays.
Work projects, study groups, music ensembles all provide opportunities for growing warm relationships. Like the song says: “I hear friends telling friends, ‘How do you do,’ They’re really saying ‘I love you.’”
How can love increase? By actually loving – not just thinking about it. When we are able to speak and act in love, it is reinforcing and rewarding. This is not accident – it’s who God made us to be. The love you share begets love in return – a most positive reinforcement.
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And then beyond love for those who are known to us, there is love for all – “increase and abound in love for one another – and for all.” There is no better approach to the divisions and antagonisms that threaten our society. Back in Lent many of us read Bishop Curry’s book, “Love Is The Way.” Of course he is right. It may sound simple to say – but it is by no means easy. Actually loving different, difficult people is some of the hardest and best work we can do.
We can begin by committing to try. For many of us there are people whom we are in no way inclined to love. Again we can pray for God’s grace to change. And we can pray for those individuals, asking God to bless the very ones we despise or fear or resent. If God does not despise them, how can we? And then we can try to listen and understand these persons. We do not have to agree with someone in order to love them. It’s why Jesus can tell us to love our enemies.
We can do better than ignoring or tolerating those whom we find disagreeable. I’m not suggesting that this is easy. I have work to do. Yet this is the work to which God calls us. Peter says this time and again in his letters:
Make love your aim (1 Corinthians 14:1)
Owe no one anything, except to love one another; for the one who loves another has fulfilled the laws (Romans 13:8)
Without love I am nothing (1 Corinthians 13)
Paul was writing to a small group of believers in the capital city of Macedonia. They were new in faith, and experiencing the stress of persecution. Paul encourages them to love. His closing words in that letter speak to us as we live in a time of stress and conflict – living between two Advents:
“encourage the fainthearted, help the weak, be patient with all of them. See that none of you repays evil for evil, but always seek to do good to one another, AND TO ALL. Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.”
How shall we live in the meantime?
Let us aim to love, in the meantime.