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Third Sunday of Advent, December 14, 2014

It’s the time of the year when children are waiting for Santa Claus to come. They ask their parents, “Is it time for me to start being good for Santa?” They mail Santa lists, telling him that they have been good all year long, so would Santa please bring them what they have asked for. In a recent Red and Rover comic strip, Red begins his letter with “I have been extraordinarily good this year.” Rover says, “Don’t you think Santa knows all about whether you have been good or not”. We see Red stop and think and then cross out extraordinary and leave “good”. In the movie, “Elf”, Will Ferrell, who plays the elf, is really a human being with a father not at the North Pole, but in the world at large. He is shocked to find out that his dad is on the “naughty” list and spends his time trying to change his dad’s behavior so he’ll change lists and get presents from Santa. To Santa Claus, how we behave while we wait for his coming is very important.

As we have learned in the past two weeks, how we behave as we wait for Jesus is very important too. In fact, it is crucial to our salvation. Paul writes the Thessalonian community, one whom he loves and is already behaving faithfully, to tell them exactly how to wait for the Messiah to return. They have been concerned that their loved ones, who have died, will not be resurrected because Jesus has not yet come, even though they have been told he would. They have been persecuted. Paul wants to calm their anxiety and fear, so he writes this, his earliest letter, to the community to reinforce how to behave.

First, the community must be one of joy – joy always. Really, we ask? How can we rejoice always, pray unceasingly and give thanks in all circumstances? But Paul says this is our work. In order to do it, we must carry God from Sundays only into the rest of our lives. We must stop compartmentalizing God to a particular place or portion of our lives and look for God in us always.

Rejoicing always is about praising God for God’s goodness. God has created us and God has redeemed us in Jesus Christ. God is always with us in the Holy Spirit. God has kept God’s promise to us to send a savior. We should be happy about that all the time and our joy will be infectious, bringing more people to a saving knowledge of God. Praying without ceasing seems impossible, but we pray in a lot of ways. We have a community prayer life in the church and we (hopefully) have a private prayer life outside the church. Every decision we make should be based on prayer. Throughout the day, we are to ask for the knowledge of God’s will for us in that moment and the power to carry that out. We can stop once an hour and give God two minutes of our time to pray for the situation at the moment. We also pray when we use our gifts for God’s work in the world. What about thanking God in all circumstances. That can be hard too. There are simply things we are not thankful for that happen to us in our lives, like the persecutions the Thessalonians have been through, but Paul is telling us we can find God’s blessings in all circumstances. Something – or many somethings – surrounding that experience will be a place we can find God’s goodness if we look hard enough.

Sareana Kimia is taking college courses. She has had leadership roles in political campaigns and has held a student seat on the Montgomery County Democratic Central Committee. She works part time at a law firm. She is only 16, and she is homeless. According to the Washington Post, her mother was deeply in debt when she lost her job and had a mental breakdown because of it. They slept in their car and now they are in a shelter with friends. She is giving thanks in all circumstances by using her gifts in the world.

A Christian community must also be discerning about what is good and what is not. They are to be sure not to quench the Spirit among them. They are not to deny the Holy Spirit’s presence with them or ignore the Spirit’s promptings. This puts the Spirit’s flame out. One of the ways they are not to quench the Spirit is to listen to the prophets in their community. We cannot imagine someone getting up in our church and giving a prophetic message. But the Spirit cannot be controlled, and in their community people did get up in the middle of worship and offer messages. Paul encourages people to always listen, but to test everything because not all words come from God. There is real reflection here to determine what is good and to go in that direction instead of doing any evil.

Fortunately, Paul says, the congregation at Thessalonica does not have to do these things all by themselves. God will do it for them. As they work at rejoicing and praying and thanking; as they struggle to determine what is good, God will give them the ability to live in love and joy. God will sanctify them entirely and keep them sound and blameless for the coming of Jesus because God is faithful. (P)

Jesus still has not returned, and we are living between the already and the not yet. This third Sunday of Advent is traditionally called Gaudete or Rejoice Sunday, which is why we light a pink candle. It is a time to let up a little on Advent penitence and underline Advent joy, the joy of knowing that a faithful God will keep God’s promises.

We are no different than the Thessalonians in where we are in relation to Christ’s coming again and we are no different than they are in our instructions for living. In this broken world, which sometimes seems to show no signs of the kingdom, we are to continually praise God for God’s love for us in our creation, redemption and sanctification, especially when negative thoughts threaten to invade our brain. We are to experience God in our whole lives, not just on Sunday, and pray unceasingly for ourselves and others. Obviously, it is a lofty goal, but we can grow into it. I can’t imagine praying all the time, but I do pray in the shower, while I’m getting dressed, when I’m riding the bicycle, when I’m at work. Try some different times to pray and see if you can wrap your day around God and God’s call to you. And we are to thank God in all circumstances. When thinks are good, when things are bad, all the time, God is good.

Children wait anxiously for Santa Claus. We too are a community in a waiting mode. Sometimes we may not think about it, but we are supposed to wait with joy and expectancy. This Advent, think about your life and about how it reflects your call to wait for the Second Coming of Jesus. We have been promised a great blessing to come and our lives must reflect our hope.

AMEN.

     - Rev Ann Barker