Daniel E. H. Bryant
First Christian Church, Eugene, Oregon
This year, our Advent season begins with a
simple message from the apostle Paul to the early Christian community in
Thessalonica. This text, by the way, is the first letter that Paul wrote
that we have, that has survived. And therefore it's the oldest Christian
document that we possess, older than the Gospels probably by a couple
decades. And so we read, then, from this early witness to the first
letter of Thessalonica, and Paul writes:
How can we thank God enough
for you in return for all the joy that we feel before our God
because of you? 10Night and day we pray most earnestly that we may
see you face to face and restore whatever is lacking in your faith.
11 Now may our God and Father
himself and our Lord Jesus direct our way to you. 12And may the Lord
make you increase and abound in love for one another and for all,
just as we abound in love for you. 13And 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.
Later on in chapter 5 in the same letter, Paul
expands on this notion of the coming of our Lord Jesus with all his
saints, what we typically call the second coming of Christ. And because
Advent is a time when we anticipate and prepare for Christ's first
coming, the text taken from the epistles in the cycle of Scripture
readings often draw from these epistle readings from this image of the
second coming. And the point is not that we need to be ready because it
could happen any day now (as you know, I find that a rather nonsensical
notion here, now 2000 years later) but the point is that we live as a
people who are to be always ready, to always be looking for new ways in
which Christ comes to us. For the new ways in which God is made known
among us. And so Paul is a good reminder of these things.
And what Paul, I think somewhat unwittingly shows here in this first
letter (written not just to that community of folk in Thessalonica but
also for all Christendom, although Paul certainly could not have known
that at the time), but what he shows, and later I think would come to
realize himself, was that the return of Christ was already happening
through the early Christian community. What Paul so aptly names as the
'body' of Christ.
Now, Jesus may not have returned as Paul once expected (in his lifetime)
but Christ is very present through the love of those Christian
communities. In places like Thessalonica, and Philippi, and Galatia, and
Ephesus, and Corinth, and. . . . well, maybe not Corinth :) If you know
anything about early church history, you know the community of Corinth
was a little bit of a troubled place, had all kinds of squabbles. But
it's interesting that it's precisely to that community in Corinth that
was so deeply divided that Paul writes that great hymn of love in 1
Corinthians 13: "If I speak in the language of tongues but I have no
love, then I'm nothing but a noisy gong. If I have faith enough to move
mountains, but have no love, then I'm nothing. If I give my body to be
burned and have no love, I gain nothing".
Paul knew that love covers and corrects a multitude of sin. And so his
prayer for the good people of Thessalonica as well as for the good
people of Eugene is that we may abound in love for one another and for
all. This is the hope of Advent -- not in some magical intervention by
God to save us from this world, our hope is in the love we learn from
Christ that will save us in this world. That whenever ugliness and
disease and harm and violence, and hatred and all the rest, that love is
greater than all of that.
Bob Welch, the columnist for the Register Guard told a wonderful story
at City Club several years ago. While it's not about love in the way
that we may traditionally think about it, I think it just so beautifully
describes the essence of that love for all people. And because I'm the
videographer for City Club, I have all the archives. So rather than
telling the story, I'm just going to play it so we can listen to it:
And I love to hear that story. Not sure if you
heard the first part of it, but this woman, Kaylene, is a waitress at a
bar (Shooters). So that's not a story about church people, though they
may be for all I know, but it's about a woman who works in this bar.
Now, if Kaylene can show such sacrificial love for a customer, how much
more, then, can we?
And you see, Paul, I think, is a lot like Kaylene because she just
didn't sit around at home hoping that the wife of this customer would
get better. She put her hope into action. And so too Paul, only he did
not just act on behalf of the good people of Thessalonica or Ephesus or
Phillip or Corinth, he acted on behalf of his good friends he had not
yet made. Reaching out to form new communities of love wherever he went,
thereby making the coming of Christ into more than a hopeful wish, he
made it into a reality. Bringing the body of Christ to those communities
throughout the Roman empire, demonstrating what the love of Christ looks
like through the love of Christian community.
That is why our hope is not based in fantasy or
fairy tales, neither is it based in ancient predictions of future
events. Our hope is based in the love of God manifest in the birth of a
child to save the world.
Our hope is found in the love of that child, carried on in the community
of his followers.
That love is made real when the people of this church had their picture
taken to show that they are praying for little Max in Texas, and earlier
for his sister, both of whom need kidney transplants. We don't know Max,
he's in Texas. We don't know his parents. We don't know his
grandparents. But we know his great-grandparents, here with us. Because
of our love for them, you see, we are willing to make that effort for
That love is made known when Danette, our office assistant (never been
in the office? you've never met Danette), she challenged every member of
her family to support Lavanya, the child in India sponsored by our
Christian education program, after her father died leaving her family
destitute. And for her Christmas present, Danette asked her family
members to help sponsor Lavanya, a child in India.
That love is made known when people like John Hazen and Wayne Hayner and
Richard Murray and Carl Isle and others donate their time and talents
this past week to replace our sinks and kitchen tops down in our kitchen
-- if you haven't been down there yet, you've got to go take a look,
it's absolutely gorgeous, wear your sunglasses for the bright, shiny
stainless-steel. And they did it not just to serve us, but so that we
can better serve those 250 homeless folks that come for breakfast every
That love is made known when members of our community like Officer Ellis
collect coats and sleeping bags to give to our Helping Hand ministry, so
that we have that to distribute to people when they are cold and in
So in Advent, we don't just wait for Christ to come again. We hope in
the love that we share for all that it will be so.
That God's love for Christ's people will be made known here, the in the
heart of Eugene. May it be.