9 How can we thank God enough for you in return for all the joy that we feel before our God because of you? 10 Night and day we pray most earnestly that we may see you face to face and restore whatever is lacking in your faith.
11 Now may our God and Father himself and our Lord Jesus direct our way to you. 12 And may the Lord make you increase and abound in love for one another and for all, just as we abound in love for you. 13 And may he so strengthen your hearts in holiness that you may be blameless before our God and Father at the coming of our Lord Jesus with all his saints. (I Thessalonians 3:9-13 NRSV)
Today is Christian New Year’s Day. Our new year begins four weeks before Christmas Day. We call it Advent, from the Latin word for “coming.” During Advent we anticipate the birth and second coming of Jesus. It’s a time of preparation.
Advent moves us to Christmas Eve and Christmas Day. We celebrate the birth of Jesus. We continue that celebration for twelve days which brings us to Epiphany. We sing and celebrate the arrival of the Wise Men and the revealing of Jesus to the world.
The secular world begins Christmas somewhere around Halloween. Christmas ends at roughly noon on December 25th. While Christians are celebrating the Twelve Days, the world is planning New Year’s Day. By Epiphany, Valentines appear in the stores.
Our secular Christmas begins early and ends abruptly. Many love the involvement and planning their to-do lists: decorating, baking, shopping and wrapping gifts. It’s a time of parties and presentations of Handel’s “Messiah.” We listen to Christmas carols on our car radio and watch Christmas movies.
The season is also a time when people are kinder, give more to charities and put extra effort into a meal.
Sadly, it’s also a season of feeling stressed, exhausted, emotionally drained and financially debit-ridden. We burn ourselves out with great expectations. The suicide rate soars. We try to forget that Santa Claus won’t be visiting many of the poverty-stricken homes.
Christians clearly understand that our view of the world is different. Very different. We make sense of the world through the lens of scripture, especially the Word of Christ. Christians challenge each other to keep hope alive.
So, what’s on your list?
I’m not talking about the to-do list for your Christmas season. What are your New Year’s resolutions? That’s what Paul and Timothy and Silvanus are asking in this scripture passage. This is probably the first of Paul’s epistles, written to a new church that survived it’s infancy despite obstacles that caused Paul to leave Thessalonica earlier than he expected.
In this short passage, Paul praises the church at Thessalonica for their faith and love. Because of their faithfulness, Paul feels great joy and encouragement. He celebrates this congregation. He wants to see them “increase and abound in love…” (v. 12.) He encourages them to allow this love to increase both inside and out.
Love for one another is what makes a community unique. When a loving congregation gathers in the name of Jesus, they bring the kind of love that encourages and prods at the same time. They hold each other accountable to their Christ-made values. They encourage those who arrive with heavy hearts or sagging shoulders.
That kind of love kept inside becomes exclusive and eventually the congregation dies. That encouraging and prodding love must be sent outside to focus on others who aren’t a part of the community.
So, what’s on your to-do list for the “New Year”? On this Sunday of hope, I wonder if we might take a word or two from Paul and his colleagues in ministry. That we hope and pray that our love will not only increase but abound outside the door of our church, our home, or whichever community helps us love.
We hope and pray that God will strengthen our resolve to spend the next twelve months setting aside that which hurts us and others and hold fast to that which makes a difference in our lives and the lives of others. We hope and pray that we will answer Jesus’ call to deeper discipleship.
What that looks like in your life will be different from others. I encourage you to consider what in the world has you feeling angry and unloving? Dwell on it, if you can. Then consider, how can I use this energy to make a difference in my corner of the kingdom?
What do you long for? What do you expect? What do you wait for?
You’ve just begun your to-do list.
All glory and honor be to God.