November is here. You know what that means: Christmas. At least that is how it seems. Anymore Christmas is encroaching on October and September. That’s how it feels to me anyways. Don’t get me wrong, as a pastor I am all about Christmas and the arrival of our Savior and Redeemer. However, I think we can’t rush the lead up to Christmas. I don’t just mean Advent, I mean the time before Advent as well. Ordinary time. Exile time.
At my church we’re doing a series about the exile as a way of leading up to the expectation and fulfilment of Advent and Christmas. We often forget about the sheer desperation and oppression that Jesus was born into. We tend to gloss over the fact that the Jewish nation wasn’t really a nation anymore and had seen regime after regime conquer their land and rule their people. Add to that the fact that there were “400 years of silence” as we call them. It is no stretch of the imagination to think that the average person might have felt like God was distant.
That’s the way it tends to happen. Everything that could go wrong does and we are left wondering where God was in the midst of it. Lately my family and I have felt that. Over the last couple months we’ve seen family members in the hospital, had our cars break down (and our toddler’s tricycle blowout a tire!), hardships in the three jobs between us, and even lost some of our family members to death. So it is safe to say that my life may have been informing where God has led me in my sermon preparation for the time of the exile of the Jewish people.
Now I don’t say all that for sympathy or even as a pity-party for myself. I say that to share a verse from 1 Thessalonians, verses 5:16-18: “Rejoice always, pray continually, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.”
Rejoice always? Pray continually? Give thanks in all circumstances? How in the world are we to do all that in the midst of our own times of exile? Those times when God feels so distant?
We are called to rejoicing, prayer, and thanksgiving in the midst of those times because we must remember that our ultimate provision comes not from our own abilities and circumstances but from God himself.
Notice, we are not called to give thanks for all circumstances. I don’t know about you, but I find that to be impossible. I simply cannot be thankful when death steals a loved one, evil gains a victory, or I am pushed past my breaking point.
However, I can learn to be thankful in all circumstances. I am strengthened by the reminder that it is God who takes care of me and will protect me and my family and ministry no matter what may come. He is my Savior, Redeemer, and Provider. Period. Even when he may seem distant (which often has more to say about me than him). And I have to remember that even the exile came to end after 70 years. Even the 400 years of silence came to an end after…well, you know…400 years.
So as we head into this time of Thanksgiving dinners and family gatherings, I hope you remember to “give thanks in all circumstances.” Even if this is the first round of holidays after losing a loved one. Things will be different, true. But may these times we share together be times of remembering the good times and finding the things worth being thankful for. May we celebrate God together in all His goodness and may we remember to rejoice always and pray continually.
Matt Upshaw - November 2014