First Thessalonians 3:9-13
An Advent Prayer

Authored By Rev. Takao Kiyohiro, Tokyo, Japan

Celebrating Advent

1.  The church father Cyril of Jerusalem, who lived in the fourth century, taught the following, "We proclaim not only the first coming of Christ, but his second coming which is filled by far with even more glory than the first one.  In the first coming Christ showed great patience, but it was because in the second coming he will come crowned with the crown of the kingdom of God.  ...In the first coming of Christ he was wrapped in cloth in a manger.  In the second coming he will be clad in light for clothes.  With the first coming he did not spare himself the shame but bore the cross.  With the second coming, as one who has received glory, he will come leading a great army of angels.  Therefore, we do not find peace in only the first coming, but we anticipate the second coming of Christ with great hope.  In the first coming, just as they shouted 'Blessed be the One coming in the name of the Lord,' we will shout with the same words in the second coming.  That is, at that hour when we welcome this one who is our master along with his angels we will worship Christ and say, 'Blessed be the One coming in the name of the Lord,'" (Cathechesis 15:1).*

2.  About a month still remains in the twentieth century, though in the church calendar we've started the new year [already].  The season that goes from this holy day until Christmas is called Advent.  The word Advent comes from the Latin "Adventus" and means "coming, arrival."  Of course, it is about Christ's coming.  Going by the words of the church father we read just before, his arrival means a first coming and a second coming.  It means there is a time to think of his first coming and at the same time a time to think of Christ's second coming, his re-appearing.  Christ is coming again.  That's part of the words of the faith which the church has confessed ever since when.  We have expressed this faith, like we did earlier, in the Apostles' Creed, "From hence he shall come to judge the quick and the dead."  Advent season should be a time to confess anew and afresh from the heart our faith that has come to be expressed in this such a manner.

3.  Our lives, as well as world history, are definitely working towards a certain direction.  One thing for certain is that [time] never goes backwards.  Today is definitely heading somewhere more than yesterday, and tomorrow will definitely be heading somewhere more than today.  Many do not intend to face this certain truth; because if they were to look at reality honestly the termination point of the direction in which they are heading wouldn't look like anything worth hoping for.  We won't always be young.  We will definitely be old.  We will wear away.  We will not be able to do the things we once could do.  Our strength and beauty are diminishing.  Does anything seem worth hoping for in the future?  Even during [our part in] the history [of the world] it is the same.  Rather than heading towards order it clearly seems as if heading for chaos and confusion.  What used to make sense doesn't make sense anymore.  What used to have form has become "without form and void."**  Does anything seem worth hoping for in the future?  It doesn't look to us that it does.

4.  However, a faith that is anticipating the re-appearing of Christ allows us to acquire more hope and encouragement for living.  We are hoping in one person alone.  He will come attended by the glory of the kingdom of God.  He will establish the rule of God and God's order.  For everyone who is waiting in hope for God's rule it means the completion or the perfection of their salvation.  Our faith affords us a hope that will never be stolen by anyone.  Saints of every generation and time have lived that way.  We, too, live that way.  When we re-affirm that this is how it is for us, it is Advent season.

Living As A Servant In Wait For The Master

5.  It is the words recorded in the epistle to the Thessalonian disciples, as we read earlier, that are given to us for the first week of Advent.  We would especially like to bring to mind verses twelve and thirteen today.

6.

"Would that God might make you abound richly with love for one another and with love for every person.  And when our Lord Jesus comes with all the saints who belong to him, would that he strengthen your hearts and make you holy and above reproach in the presence of God our Father, amen," (First Thessalonians 3:12-13).

7.  Paul prays for the Thessalonian disciples.  He is praying while thinking of when the Lord Jesus will come again.  What does Paul seek for in prayer while thinking of the Lord's re-appearing?  He prays [the Lord] would "make you holy and above reproach in the presence of God our Father."  A number of expressions vary but the words of a prayer similar to this one is found in the epistle to the Philippians.  "I pray this, that you put on the power to know and the power to see through [to things] and that your love would become more and more abundant and you would recognize what is truly important.  And that you would be prepared for the day of Christ and be pure and above reproach, and receive so much that you would be filled with the fruits of righteousness given by Jesus Christ and be able to give praise to the glory and honor of God," (Philippians 1:10-11).  From this then, we understand that being prepared for the day of Christ was a prayer that was always within him.

8.  When we then read the words of this prayer the way it is, many people are worrisome over the words about a person being "above reproach" or "blameless."  And they would start to question themselves as to whether they could ever be persons like that.  But then they just put the issue off to the side for a long time.  For the time being, I would like us to think together about what it means to be prepared for the day of Christ.

9.  By reading [one of the] parables of the Lord Jesus as recorded in [one of the] gospels we will see the kind of image that Paul and the Christians in the primitive church held in regards to being prepared for the day of Christ.  For example, please take a look at chapter twenty-four and beginning in verse fourty-five of The Gospel According To Matthew.  There it reads as follows:

10.

"Who is a wise servant, which a master has put over the employees of his household and is loyal to decide when he will let them take their meals?  When his master returns, the servant will be blessed who is seen doing according to what his master has said.  I truly say to you, his master will let him manage all his properties.  But, the evil servant goes the opposite, he thinks his master is late, he begins to beat his peers and takes to eating and drinking with winebibers.  Perhaps the master of that servant will return on an unforeseen day, at an unexpected time and will punish him severely and treat him the same as the hypocrites.  There he will weep and grind his teeth," (Matthew 24:45-51).

11.  In this parable the important point is that the servant does not know the hour when his master will return.  The master comes back at an unexpected hour.  This point is also emphasized in the Lord's words written just before it.  "The day and the hour no one knows," (Mt 24:36).  Since the hour when the master will come back is not known, the servant's behavior is determined by one thing, which is, it is decided by "Do I wait for my master or not?"

12.  In the preceding parable, the reason the punished servant is called "a wicked servant" is not because he takes to eating and drinking with the alcohol drinking crowd.  The problem was before that.  What do we have written in the text?  It says, "... he thinks his master is late."  Since he conducts himself thinking, "My master will undoubtedly be late in coming back," he is no longer waiting for his master.  When he strikes his peers and behaves as he pleases in eating and drinking, it must be that what is in his heart is that he is thinking, "I don't want him back yet."  He neither loves his master nor is waiting for him.  Therefore, he is called "a wicked servant."

13.  Going back to the epistle to the Thessalonians, in entering chapter four, instructions are recorded for specific daily living.  Paul says, "In truth, the will of God is that you become sanctified.  That is, you are to avoid lewd acts, and you must learn to live with your wife with attention to respect and live each one of you with an undefiled heart, and you should not indulge in sexual desires like Gentiles ignorant of God.  By such means you will not step on your brothers or deceive them; for, as we too warned before and strongly commanded you, the Lord will punish in regard to all these things; for, the reason the Lord called us was not to let us live a defiled way of life, but to let us live a sanctified life," (4:3-7).  These words correspond with the previous parable of the Lord Jesus because by indulging in sexual desires and stepping on one's brother one is not waiting on the Lord and because they are thinking their master will be late in his return.  The whole heart of the problem lies in that we are not prepared for the time when we will meet the One who loves us and gave his very own life for us, but consider it a bother to have Him come back.

14.  Thus, the previous prayer of Paul doesn't seem to be a prayer that one would become what you might call a perfect and faultless person.  Because the important thing is that one is a servant who waits on the Lord.  [He prays] that when Christ comes we might be seen not as wicked servants, but seen as faithful servants who have kept waiting for the Lord.  I think that's what Paul's prayer from before means.

Please Be Filled With Love

15.  Then the one other thing you shouldn't forget is that the place in which we live as persons who wait on the Lord as described above is in the church but also it is in the world we are in.  It is in the specific relationships we have with our neighbors.  Therefore, in verse twelve it is written, "Would that God might make you abound richly with love for one another and with love for every person."  The New Interconfessional Version [Japanese text] has separate sentences in verses twelve and thirteen, but these two verses are one indivisible sentence in the original [Greek] text.

16.  The important thing as a servant who waits on his master is not simply that one be "a pure and upright individual."  More important than that is to live in a righteous relationship with other persons.  In the praise song we used earlier there was the lyrics of "Let not me, not the world, but the Lord alone be."  We can understand this as a song sung of the blessedness of the one who is saved by the Lord, and it is even one of the songs I love.  But, if a person is always seeking only to float around on the cloud nine of "Let not me, not the world, but the Lord alone be," you can't call that sound for the way a servant who is waiting on the Lord ought to be.  In actual practice, we are told there were fanatical ideologues among the Thessalonian disciples who had too much of a consciousness of expectancy for the re-appearing of Christ and ended up quitting their work and became unable to practice normal day to day living in society.  This meant that when they thought of the end, they lost the meaning of every day real life visible to the eye.  But, that is not what we'd expect a person who is waiting on the Lord to be.

17.  A servant waits on the return of his master by considering valuable his own place that he has been given and by serving faithfully in that place in his relationships with others.  It's the same for us as well.  In the relationships with our brothers and sisters in the church we are given and in the relationships with our neighbors in the world we are given lies the very place in which we wait on the Lord.  Therefore, we can say that it is very appropriate that in the prayer of the one who waits on the second coming of Christ the prayer of "Would that God might make you abound richly with love for one another and with love for every person" is included.

18.  We read the words of Paul's prayer together today.  As of today we go into Advent.  This season let's make our prayer the words of this prayer we have been given, and as we pray this prayer from day to day, let's go through this season, in which we remember the coming of Christ, in a meaningful way.

End Note
1. http://www.ccel.org/fathers2/NPNF2-07/Npnf2-07-20.htm#P2005_555697 says the following;

Lecture XV.

On the Clause, and Shall Come in Glory to Judge the Quick and the Dead; Of Whose Kingdom There Shall Be No End,

Daniel VII. 9-14.

I beheld till thrones were placed, and one that was ancient of days did sit, and then, I saw in a vision of the night, and behold one like unto the Son of Man came with the clouds of heaven...
1. We preach not one advent only of Christ, but a second also, far more glorious than the former. For the former gave a view of His patience; but the latter brings with it the crown of a divine kingdom. For all things, for the most part, are twofold in our Lord Jesus Christ: a twofold generation; one, of God, before the ages; and one, of a Virgin, at the close of the ages: His descents twofold; one, the unobserved, like rain on a fleece ; and a second His open coming, which is to be. In His former advent, He was wrapped in swaddling clothes in the manger; in His second, He covereth Himself with light as with a garment · In His first coming, He endured the Cross, despising shame; in His second, He comes attended by a host of Angels, receiving glory. We rest not then upon His first advent only, but look also for His second. And as at His first coming we said, Blessed is fire that cometh in the Name of the Lord , so will we repeat the same at His second coming; that when with Angels we meet our Master, we may worship Him and say, Blessed is He that cometh in the Name of the Lord.....
**Quote from Genesis 1:2

 
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