As we did throughout Advent 2011 and Lent 2012, we are blogging our way through the Advent 2012 Lectionary Readings. We love this time of year, and sharing with you in this way. Our overarching theme during this season is “Preparing the Path” and our prayer is that as we march together toward the manger, we will prepare the way for Emmanuel.
Today, we are excited to have Rev. Neal Locke guest blogging for us. Neal and I met 15 years ago as students at Oral Roberts University. I am thankful that all these years later I can still call him my friend. (And, can say that we both successfully graduated.)
Neal, his wife, Amy, and three children, Grady, Abby, and Jonah live in El Paso, Texas, where Neal is the Senior Pastor of First Presbyterian Church.
A reading from Paul epistle to the Thessalonians.
How can we thank God enough for you in return for all the joy that we feel before our God because of you? Night and day we pray most earnestly that we may see you face to face and restore whatever is lacking in your faith.
Now may our God and Father himself and our Lord Jesus direct our way to you. And may the Lord 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 3:9-13 (NRSV)
Paul wrote Thessalonians because he couldn't be in two places at once. He had recently started a church in Thessalonica, and was anxious that these young Christians not lose their newfound hope in Jesus Christ. And yet, other cities, other mission fields, required Paul's attention, too. So he turned to two great cutting-edge technologies of his day in order to bridge the distance: The written letter and the Roman road upon which it was transmitted. Because they have been with us for so long, we tend to forget how revolutionary both of these things were in Paul's time and that they are, properly speaking, technologies.
Paul expresses (in 1 Thessalonians 3:10) an earnest desire to see the members of the new church “face to face” in order to “restore whatever is lacking in [their] faith.” When I read these words, I can't help but think of some new 21st century technologies that now actually allow us to see and communicate with one another “face to face” across the miles—Skype, Facetime, Google Hangouts, to name a few. We may never know for sure this side of heaven, but there is little doubt in my mind that Paul would have embraced enthusiastically any device that helped him to “restore whatever is lacking” in the faith of his distant congregations. This is not to say that he would have abandoned meeting with people in the flesh—we see in verse 11 his prayer that God might “direct our way” to them. But I think it's safe to say that using communications technology (letters & roads) to establish a virtual presence across the Mediterranean was at least a significant part of Paul's approach to ministry.
In verse 13, Paul speaks about the second coming of Christ, and later in 1 Thessalonians he addresses the concerns of those who are disappointed that it hasn't happened sooner. We are still waiting hopefully and faithfully for that day, as the season of Advent—a season of waiting—reminds us. Here at the beginning of the letter, Paul gives us a great example of how to pass the time while we wait: Give thanks for one another. Pray for one another. Love one another. But his actions speak just as loud as his words: Don't let geographical distance stand in the way of fellowship, teaching, and communication. Use whatever gifts God has given you—materially as well as spiritually—to reach out across the distance and build one another up in love.
So, you don't have to turn off your phone / your laptop / your tablet this Advent season…but maybe…just maybe…if you keep it on, give the Angry Birds a rest and take a page from Paul's book (pun quite intended). Try putting God's creation—yes, technology is part of creation too!—to the use for which it was truly intended: Let all things praise the name of the Lord!