Lectionary Reflection for the First Sunday of Advent, Year C
November 29, 2015
How can we thank God enough for you in return for all the joy that we feel before our God because of you? 1 Thessalonians 3:9
Note: This is the first in a series of Advent reflections focusing on stewardship. Why not cultivate stewardship during this season of waiting and anticipation? The lessons for Year C offer a treasure trove of options to help congregants experience the joy of generosity.
For those of us who live in the United States, the first Sunday of Advent comes right on the heels of Thanksgiving. Even with all of the sports, shopping, and overeating associated with Thanksgiving–not to mention its cultural and historical baggage–the celebration does provide a handy bridge to entering Advent with a focus on stewardship.
The epistle lesson from the first letter to the Thessalonians is all about gratitude, joy, and prayer in the face of suffering and persecution. Paul and Silas have experienced persecution. The Christians at Thessalonica who have turned away from the cultural norm of worshiping idols have also experienced a considerably less-than-hospitable response from their community. And yet they pray. They claim joy. They choose to be grateful.
How about us today? Here in 21st century North America very few of us can truly claim persecution and suffering. We live in a land of abundance with plenteous choices–for some of us at least. Even so, not everyone is doing just fine, thank you very much, and as Christians we dare not forget our neighbors in need. So where do we start, knowing that poverty, problems, and plenty live side by side, hidden in plain sight?
We begin in fervent prayer. reminding our congregants that one in five U.S. children goesd to bed hungry or wondering where they will find their next meal. We begin in fervent prayer, acknowledging the persecution that more and more of our Muslim brothers and sisters in our country face in response to the heinous acts of a few radicals. We begin in fervent prayer, remembering neighbors of color who live in the shadow of racism every day. We begin in fervent prayer with humility, with gratitude, and with purpose.
Like Paul and Silas, we can give thanks for God’s abundance. Even if we are suffering from illness, loss of job or financial stress, broken relationships, depression, or stress, we are still called to give thanks. And in giving thanks and expressing our gratitude, we may experience attitudes shifting, circumstances becoming more manageable, and hope rising like the winter sun. So yes, begin in prayer with praise and thanksgiving.
Next move from prayer to relationship. Give thanks for those around you, for your church community, your family, your friends, and co-workers. Initiate small and simple acts of gratefulness. When was the last time you wrote a note of appreciation to your spouse? How long has it been since you’ve praised your child simply for being unique and worthy as God’s child? When did you last thank your server or grocery store check-out clerk for a job well-done? Be on the look-out during this season of Advent for ways to connect with both those you know and those whom you encounter in your daily comings and goings.
Finally, take action. Prayer, gratitude, and connection lead to action. If you see someone in need–whether it’s material, relational, or emotional–take a simple step to meet that person’s need. How about instead of an Advent Calendar this year, you make each day with a simple act of gratitude? It could be a smile to a harried shopper. It might be a note of thanks and a gift card for your mail carrier. It could be the anonymous purchase of a cup of coffee for the person behind you in line. Or it could even be skipping your own cup of daily coffee to make a special offering through your congregation or through Heifer Project or another ministry.
This year enter Advent with prayer and Thanksgiving. Focus on building relationships rather than credit card debt. Do random acts of kindness and generosity rather than stressing over the perfect Christmas. Lift up your soul to God and watch your spirits lift in response. Know this, fellow preachers and teachers: I give thanks for your faithful witness and partnership in sharing the gospel. You are in my prayers.
Photos: Peggy2012CREATIVELENZ, Guppydas, and Sean and Lauren, Creative Commons. Thank you!)