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BELONGING TO JESUS
“In Belonging, We Discover Hope”
Jeremiah 33:14-16; I Thessalonians 3:6-13
First Sunday of Advent – December 2, 2018
The days are surely coming, says the Lord, when I will fulfill the promise I made to the house of Israel and the house of Judah. In those days and at that time I will cause a righteous Branch to spring up for David; and he shall execute justice and righteousness in the land. In those days Judah will be saved and Jerusalem will live in safety. And this is the name by which it will be called: ‘The Lord is our righteousness.’
Alexandra has just read our Old Testament text from the prophet of old, Jeremiah,
who, on behalf of his people, longs for a promise to be fulfilled, a promise for a righteous King.
The people, in the midst of chaos and division, suffering loss and despair,
long for one on the throne who would execute justice and righteousness ,
who would usher in a time when the nation would be saved and the city would live in safety.
Countless souls throughout the world today can relate to that desire for justice and righteousness
to abide in their lands; they understand all too well the longing for their cities to dwell in safety…
On Tuesday morning this past week, I received several texts on my cellphone from my wife:
“We are on Code Red here at school.”
“I am behind a locked door in my office with the lights off.”
“We do not know what is going on.”
Over the next anxious hour, we discovered that every school in Decatur was on lock down.
Students and teachers throughout the city were hovering in corners away from their doorways.
The blinds were drawn on the windows and the lights turned off.
Threatening calls had been made to several schools,
and our administrators responded quickly and efficiently.
Though nothing terrible happened, the event was traumatic for everyone involved –
for the students and teachers in their rooms, for the police who responded to the calls,
for the parents and spouses who waited anxiously and wondered.
A similar situation happened in Dunwoody in the last few weeks, and has happened elsewhere as well.
In retrospect, we can be thankful, very thankful that nothing terrible happened,
thankful for our protective teachers and our prepared administrators.
We can be thankful for our quick-to-respond police force,
who readily swarmed our campuses and did the best they could to ensure the safety of all.
But I found myself on Tuesday afternoon longing for peace, longing for shalom,
longing for the wholeness and wellness of our nation,
longing for the righteousness and justice that the prophets of old sought for the nation of Israel.
Whenever human beings find themselves faced with chaos and division,
with fearfulness and loss, we long for goodwill.
We long for a world without bitterness and strife, we long for security and safety,
we long for all things to be made new.
In the early 50’s of first century Thessaloniki,
there were a number of Jews from the synagogue and devout Greeks
and some of the leading women of the city who had been persuaded by Paul’s message about Jesus.
They had begun to worship joyfully with one another on the first day of the week,
and to build up one another in faith, hope, and love.
But some of the people in the synagogue became jealous.
They formed a mob with the help of some ruffians from the marketplace
and set the city in an uproar…they attacked Jason’s house, where Paul had been staying,
and dragged Jason and others before the city authorities…
They cried out, “these people who have been turning the world upside down have come here also.”
This Paul claims that another king has been born among us,
a king who threatens the power of the emperor. This other king is named Jesus
and his message is turning the world upside down. (see Acts 17)
After he was run out of town by the angry mob, it was too dangerous for Paul to return to Thessaloniki,
so Paul become more and more concerned about the fledgling house church he had initiated.
When he could not wait any longer for news about the church,
Paul sent Timothy, his young apprentice, to see how they were doing,
and to encourage and strengthen the believers who gathered there.
Paul has suffered many persecutions himself and knew that would not be easy for them to follow Jesus,
especially in a culture that was mostly disinterested, even hostile, to Jesus’ message of love and peace.
Paul knew it would be difficult to stand on faith in Jesus when everyone around them scoffed at his name.
We enter Paul’s letter as he recalls the good news he has received from Timothy who has just returned
from Thessaloniki. Hear the Word of God from I Thessalonians 3:6-13:
But Timothy has just now come to us from you, and has brought us the good news of your faith and love. He has told us also that you always remember us kindly and long to see us—just as we long to see you. For this reason, brothers and sisters, during all our distress and persecution we have been encouraged about you through your faith. For we now live, if you continue to stand firm in the Lord. How can we thank God enough for you in return for all the joy that we feel before our God because of you? Night and day we pray most earnestly that we may see you face to face and restore whatever is lacking in your faith.
Now may our God and Father himself and our Lord Jesus direct our way to you. 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. 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.
Paul found great encouragement when he realized that the persecuted young congregation
was standing firm in their faith.
If they were standing firm in the Lord, even under great distress, then Paul would continue to live in hope.
Paul wrote that he was grateful to God for them for the joy he felt because of them.
And just as he abounds in love for them, he prays that they, even in the midst of their persecutions,
may increase and abound in love for one another…and for all.
The so-called “Christmas Truce of 1914” came only five months after the outbreak of war in Europe.
This was one of the last examples of “chivalry” between enemies in warfare.
This kind of truce, as far as we know, has never been repeated—
future attempts at holiday ceasefires were quelled by officers with threats of disciplinary action.
But what happened in December of 1914 serves as heartening proof, however brief,
that even while suffering from the brutal clash of weapons,
the essential humanity of soldiers will endure.
Starting on Christmas Eve night, from their trenches, both German and British troops
began to sing Christmas carols to each other across the lines.
At certain points, the Allied soldiers even heard brass bands joining the Germans in their joyous singing.
At the first light of dawn on Christmas Day, a few German soldiers emerged from their trenches
and approached the Allied lines across no-man’s-land,
calling out “Merry Christmas” in their enemies’ native tongues.
At first, the Allied soldiers feared it was a trick, but noticing that the Germans were unarmed,
they climbed out of their trenches and shook hands with their enemies.
The men exchanged presents of cigarettes and plum puddings; they sang Christmas carols and songs.
There was even a documented case of soldiers from opposing sides lining up to play
a good-natured game of football, or soccer, as we call it. (history.com)
This Christmas Truce of 1914 was significant due to the number of men involved
and the level of participation. Dozens of men openly congregating in daylight during a time of war
was truly remarkable, and is now seen as a symbolic moment of peace and humanity
amidst one of the most violent events of human history. (Wikipedia.com)
In the singing of “Silent Night”, “Stille Nachte”, late on Christmas Eve,
the soldiers realized a common belonging.
In belonging, they discovered hope, hope that one day the crazed violence would end,
hope that one day they would return home to their families, hope that the land would know peace again,
hope that ultimately does not disappoint.
Even today, across human-made lines of faith backgrounds, across aisles of political difference,
across distinctions of tribe and clan, when human beings rediscover some sense of belonging
to one another, when we are somehow reminded of our shared humility before God,
then hope for a brighter future is discovered.
In belonging to God and to one another, we discover hope.
During this Advent season, we are not waiting for a baby to be born.
A child has been born to us, a Son given to us.
What we are waiting for is his kingdom to come, “on earth as it is in heaven”.
We are longing for the reign of the child of Advent to be fully present.
We live in an “already, but not yet” world.
We live in a world of a promised received, yet not fully realized.
Christ has come and has ushered in his coming kingdom, but his kingdom does not fully reign.
His promises are not yet fully realized.
The decisive battle has been fought and won in Jesus Christ, but the war against sin and chaos rages on.
As Psalm 42 declares:
1 As a deer longs for flowing streams, so my soul longs for you, O God.
2 My soul thirsts for God, for the living God.
When shall I come and behold the face of God?
3 My tears have been my food day and night, while people say to me continually,
‘Where is your God?’
4 …I remember…how I went with the throng, and led them in procession to the house of God,
with glad shouts and songs of thanksgiving….
5 (so) Why are you cast down, O my soul, and why are you disquieted within me?…
9 I say to God, my rock, ‘Why have you forgotten me?
Why must I walk about mournfully because (I feel as though) the enemy oppresses me?’
10 …my adversaries taunt me…they say to me continually, (Ha!) ‘Where is your God?’
11 Why are you cast down, O my soul, and why are you disquieted within me?
Hope in God; for (we) shall again praise him, (our) help and (our) God.
Saint Augustine was convinced that our human hearts will be restless until they find their rest in God.
Our hearts will long…our hearts will ache… for many things.
We will long for recognition; we will long to quench our thirsts, to satiate our physical hungers.
Today, our hearts may be longing for our team to win, or for special gifts from Santa Claus,
or for that expected raise or promotion.
But, beneath those more surface longings, our hearts may be longing for so much more.
In the midst of chaos and confusion, of a dis-eased society, our hearts are longing for shalom,
for safety and wellness, for peace and wholeness.
We long for a renewed sense of belonging to God and to one another.
Despite all the evidence to the contrary, you and I are not ultimately followers of a Bulldog Nation
or a Crimson Tide, however satisfying that may be!
We are not ultimately followers of Yellow Jackets or War Eagles.
Our loyalty does not lie with Amazon or Google or some particular store in the mall.
And certainly, our ultimate loyalty is not to the some symbolic elephant or donkey of a political party.
We have been called to follow the Lamb,
the Lamb of God that has been slain, the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world.
He is that “other king”, the king more powerful than any emperor,
the one who will execute justice and righteousness,
the one who turns the world upside down with his good news of love and grace.
In him, all nations will one day be saved. In him, all cities and schools will one day live in safety.
That is the hope of Advent; that is the hope for which we wait and work.
Joseph Campbell wrote:
“We cannot cure the world of sorrows, but we can choose to live (in hope and) in joy.”
So this Advent season, let us not wait for the birth of a baby.
The Child has already been born.
Let us wait for, pray for, long for, and yes, work for, that child’s coming kingdom to be realized,
on earth as it is in heaven. Amen.
Rev. Dr. Todd Speed
Decatur Presbyterian Church