“And may the Holy One 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.”
– – 1 Thessalonians 3:12-13
This Sunday begins Advent, the first day of the Christian year. Happy new year. One of the four lectionary readings is from 1 Thessalonians, a letter Paul wrote to a small group of believers in the port city of Thessalonica, Roman capital of the province of Macedonia.
Scholars have reached a broad consensus that of all the literature that now makes up our New Testament, 1 Thessalonians was written first. It’s an odd thought. Before the Gospels were circulating, telling stories about Jesus, Paul was writing letters to these little communities, recently birthed.
The letter expresses Paul’s pastoral love and concern for the people, encouraging them to treat one another with this same kind of generous love, as the verse above indicates. It also shows clear signs of early Christians’ expectation that Jesus would soon return to earth to gather the faithful, the living and the dead, and reign as Lord of earth in place of Caesar.
The idea of a second coming of Christ is now more helpfully thought of as the continual coming of Christ. Christ is always on the way in. Love is forever the vehicle in which Christ travels. Expectation, attentiveness, and mercy enable us to better participate in the coming of Christ, and recognize its shape when it appears, however briefly, within the dulled realm of our senses.
Our worship theme this Advent is “Do you sense what I sense?” We hope to heighten our perceptions of the continual coming of Christ.