Advent Sunday

Our gospel passage today is a hard one to crack.
What on earth can these words about ancient social trauma and pictures of the convulsions their society is and will experience have to say to us today?

We need to think about the context.
This was written around thirty years after Jesus’ death and resurrection.
Jerusalem had been through many governors, and they seem to have gone from bad to worse.
Political tension was building and conspiracies were abounding. And Roman oppression was still with them.
However, day-to-day life went on.
People were trading, growing their crops, tending their livestock and practicing their skills.
The temple was continuing to operate; there were sacrifices, music and seasonal feasts.
The temple building project that had started nearly 70 years ago was nearly complete.

The followers of Jesus in Jerusalem were older and more confused.
Some were friends with Paul, who was now in prison.
Some were friends of Peter, who had been gone for years. James, the brother of Jesus, was still leading the followers of Christ in Jerusalem, but he was getting older, and his prayers didn’t seem to be being answered.

The exciting things in the faith were happening overseas, and they only heard of them from the occasional letter, or traveler.
The followers of Jesus were ridiculed by those around them.
They seemed to be waiting for a messiah who never arrived.
It would have been very easy for these Jerusalem Christians to become weary and discouraged.

However, that was not the whole picture.
These Christians continued to break bread in remembrance, kept reminding one another of the stories of Christ’s life, and continued to gather to worship.
They gathered to pray for strength.
They repeated the sayings of Jesus.
They were confident that they would be vindicated.
They knew they had to keep alert.
The first excitement may have gone, but they had been told to be patient.
And they were aware of Jesus’ presence with them.

And maybe now we can see how this passage might speak to us. As Christians we can be ridiculed;
some people are very quick to point out that our faith doesn’t seem to be delivering the goods.

Many will speak of the damage and destruction that religion brings [whilst ignoring the huge benefits it has bought].
We too are experiencing social instability and uncertainty about the future.
It is easy to become weighed down with the cares of this life.

However, we can learn from the Jerusalem Christians: to keep alert and be patient.
These challenges are what we have been told to expect. Our eyes may become heavy with tiredness; spiritual, emotional and physical.
Our faith is not an exciting battle, with banners and glory; it’s a day-by-day hope and prayer, scripture and sacrament. That’s the real deal.
That is why we have been given the fruit of the Spirit: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.
These are the things we need to help us keep the faith.

This is the time of year when we read the story again, when we remind ourselves what Jesus said, when we encourage one another to stay awake.

May Paul’s words of encouragement to the Thessalonians be words of encouragement to us.
That this Advent time we may have our faith restored,
be directed by Christ
and increase in love for one another, and for all.
That we would know that we are loved,
that our hearts may be strengthened,
and that we would be found blameless, waiting and awake. Amen.