How can we thank God enough? 1 Thessalonians 3:9

Times and signs. Loving and thanksgiving.

The readings for today the first Sunday of Advent  focus attention on these words .  These words, especially times and signs, strike a chord with both Christians and non-Christians since there is still today a strong desire to know when the world will come to an end and so many people are taking events of the day as signs, which to predict the end of the time.  For the Christian I daresay however that there may just be too much concern with these signs, and too much fear of what is to happen. Not even the angels in heaven know the time, nor the Son of Man. Why should we? And why should we fear when the day of the Lord will usher in the fullness of god’s Kingdom in which we already live.

But while human beings have no control over the end of time there are things which believers can do to prepare themselves, and the community around them for this time.  Indeed believers are expected to behave in a way which represents Jesus to the world, which shows Jesus to the world, and to relate to their neighbours in a spirit of love. In the second lesson for the day Paul advised these very strongly.     He also encouraged believers to give thanks to God daily through sharing their resources with each other in response to God’s love in them.

When we live like that the day of the Lord then loses its fear and will come in God’ s good time.

With God a day in the life of the world is virtually insignificant – it is a small matter. When we consider what Peter said in his second letter at chapter 2 and verse 8 that “with the Lord one day is as a thousand years” we begin to appreciate that a day is to God even less than a second in the day is to us and one day is really like the next. God does not see times and days like we do for with him is like a fleeting moment. 

Yet for this we like to make distinctions between one day and the next day and to give importance to certain days. 

We make them important when we assign names to them – Monday and Tuesday and so on and we give them a character – worship on Sunday, do our chores relax and on Saturday and work the remainder of the week. And we determine  that after we have spent three hundred and sixty five days, or in some occasions three hundred and sixty six, we should start our cycle of days over again – a new year and New Year’s day. Within a church context we name a day as Advent Sunday when the Church’s year begins. And in the sphere of nationhood we highlight Independence day.

While these days are like any other we vest them with more importance than other days and we even change our entire schedule to accord them the respect that we consider is due to them. 

It is only within the human context then that the day of the Lord, and the concern with its timing, becomes as important as it is.

It was important in the Old Testament as the day when God will destroy all opposition to his will. For the prophets in those times it was a day of judgment for the people of Israel. And in order to show how different it will be on that day very colourful language is used to describe it -  such words as terror and fear and trembling and such events as earthquakes with mountains parting their ways and flooding are common. And in all this the Son of man rides on a cloud. 

For  Zechariah in today’s old testament lesson the day of the Lord  focuses on the destruction of Jerusalem. Mountains will separate and valleys will be blocked. But Jerusalem will eventually be redeemed and will become a source of life and energy to the nations around. God will be king over all the earth.

In today’s Gospel Luke  addresses the concern among the early Christians with the timing of the day. When will it be? There were some then, as they are now, who were convinced that the world would come to an end in their lifetime.   Luke however does not give a definite answer and he is very vague in dealing with this aspect of the day – its timing. Indeed he refers to signs and to the Son of Man coming in the clouds and he gives the parable of the fig tree. But all he says is that when these things happen then the time is near. Not much to go on.

Luke did not appear to be as interested in determining the time as in preparing the early Christians for the day of the Lord. And so at verse 34, which is not part of the Gospel reading, he advises the believers to prepare for such a day by being  alert and on guard in order to avoid the terror of that day. From that message we today learn that we should be vigilant as we wait.

The day of the Lord did not happen in their time – indeed it has not materialized yet. There is however still concern with its timing. There are many of us who see signs of it in the various events of the day. The wars which are being fought are seen as signs. The increasing violence in the world and the region; the increase in promiscuity and worst of all the increasing lobby for the same sex relations.   Indeed the movie 2012, which is currently showing in our cinemas,  suggests that some time in 2012 the world, as we know it, will come to an end. But this is not the first movie on this subject and I am sure it will not be the last.

But in the words of today’s gospel we are encouraged to be vigilant– to be prepared, to be alert and to be on guard. These words all suggest that there are threats in the environment in which believers live and that if they are not careful then they could be overtaken by them. They give the impression that the life of the believer will not be a trouble free one as there shall be many challenges to their faith. The words suggest further that the life of the believer is one of a fight. It is as if the kingdom might come and not be noticed thus the need to be alert.

And so the question this morning is this – do we experience the struggle that is the life of the believer? Are we alert for the return of Christ? And if we are not then what can we do to be alert?

In encouraging the Thessalonians in their struggles Paul urges them to increase and abound in love to one another.   In other words one of the things they ought to do, and we ought to do as well, is to increase in love to one another. We express this love by sharing of ourselves – of who we are and what we have with others. In this way we recognize God in ourselves and we accept that what we have comes only from Him.

The love we express is then in thanksgiving to God and we can never thank God enough.   Believers should be always thanking God for his goodness as they await the second coming. A life of love for our one another and of thanksgiving to God must be an alert life and one in which the person is on guard.   

Today we have much to thank God for.

In a few hours we celebrate another year of Independence as a nation. In our anthem we recognize that we could not have come as far as we have except God had been our guide over the years –   years of hard work and suffering for some;  years of nation building for all; years of growth and development into what we have now. Today we now reap some of the fruits of the labour of our fore-parents. We have much to give God thanks. But do we behave as if God is still our guide or have we taken over the wheels now?

But we should be mindful of our responsibility to leave some of God’s creation for those to come and so we rededicate ourselves to God seeking his guidance over the coming year.

For us in the church today begins another period of deeper reflection on God in the world, God in our lives. At this time we focus our attention not on the signs that may be out there in the world that are open to many interpretations. Rather we focus on ourselves as signs of God’s Kingdom? And we ask ourselves the question what kind of sign of God’s kingdom are we? And how can we be better signs of God’s Kingdom?

As signs of God’sKingdom our primary purpose is to spread the good news of God’s coming into the world and what that means for us – the messages of new life, submission to God, obedience, joy and kindness.

At St Paul we have given today a special significance – we have called it Stewardship Sunday and in it we have agreed to do something special. We have agreed to make pledges of our time, talent and treasure to God and we have also agreed to bring one day’s wage to the church for the work of the church. These actions are simple in themselves and may be mistaken by those who do not understand their significance. They may also have no meaning for us if we do not do them within the right context either.

For they are actions which fall within the context of today’s lessons.  These actions of ours express our beliefs that :
- We are  people of the kingdom
- We are called to be signs of that Kingdom to the people among whom we live;
-  God makes us who we are and what we are and we recognize that we cannot thank God enough
- Our pledges and offerings at this time reflect our love for God and our thanks to God.

It is my hope that this Advent we m ay come to experience the incarnation fo God, God with us, more fully and that we may come nearer to offering ourselves more fully to God in thanksgiving for al that he has given to us.

How can we thank God enough?

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