With all the emphasis that we place on individual piety, salvation, and holiness, we sometimes forget that this spiritual journey was never designed to be a solitary walk. When we are remade in Christ, we become parts of a whole body, members of a family, ambassadors and citizens of a kingdom. Our successes are not ours alone, and we are not the only ones who live with the consequences of our failures.
The future that Isaiah envisioned which provides our Advent reading for Day 2 occurs during a period of decline for Israel and Judah, symbolized in darkness. Yet the prophet imagined not only the restoration of the local and nationalistic fortunes of Israel and Judah, nor even just the reunion of these estranged family members. No, he imagines a restoration of universal significance, centralized in the image of light that comes from the mountain of the Lord. This new kingdom has a just sovereign who will make things right, making it safe for nations to retrofit their weapons and turn them into tools, and put war strategists permanently out of business.
But it's this last sentence that strikes a chord with me today as I spend time thinking about Christian community. "Let us walk in the light of the Lord." It's the message I think we're supposed to take from Advent. If we really catch the vision of the future that God promises, we can walk now in the light of it and encourage each other to do the same. Even if we're in the dark, if we can see the light ahead and continuously point it out to one another, we can make it through the night.
Sunday, November 29, 2009
1 Thessalonians 3:9-13
I miss letters. Although I am fond of phone conversations, emails, and texting, I miss getting mail that is not bills. I miss seeing familiar handwriting on the envelope, the anticipation of hearing the news and reading the sentiments of those I love. I miss update letters - especially those that are individually written and not a form sent to everyone - telling me what I've missed since the last time we spoke. I miss make up letters, first steps to reconciliation. I miss love letters, missives that detail in writing and thus concretize emotions deeply felt. I miss letters. What I miss most about letter writing is the ability to run across the letter after months or years of not having read it and remembering again the emotions that the first reading elicited.
It is instructive, I think, to remember that the biblical books we describe with the technical word epistles are actually letters. They were in most instances written by an author and intended to be read aloud in a community to communicate the author's perspective, theology, and even emotions. Taken this way, the section from 1 Thessalonians that we read in this first Sunday of Advent is actually a love letter and a make-up letter. First, it comes from Paul, whose relationship with the saints at Thessalonica was tenuous, or at least so he feared. He tested the waters through his emissary Timothy and discovered that all was well. Hang in there, he wrote. I can't wait to see you.
Indirectly, though I am reading this and other Advent lessons as letters from a more intimate and much more deeply awaited source, that is, Jesus himself. Through Paul and sometimes through preachers, Jesus sends his message of love by emissaries, not because he doesn't already know where we stand but because he wants to reopen communication. He too is saying, "I can't wait to see you." And I hear him saying, "I am coming to see you." At once, I am elated and petrified.
Paul again steps in. If you want to be ready for your Beloved's appearance, then get your heart right. No need to fear. This is a love letter.