I Thessalonians 3:9-13: 9 How can we thank God enough for you in return for all the joy that we feel before our God because of you? 10 Night 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. 12 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. 13 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.
MESSAGE ”Presbyterian Advent Agenda” Rev. James R. Renfrew
By my estimation, this is now the thirty third year that I have stood before a congregation as a pastor on the first Sunday of Advent. I have done this enough times that I think I can reveal to you that there is an actual Presbyterian Advent Agenda.
A Presbyterian Advent Agenda. Do you have any agendas in your life? Sure you do – grocery lists, household chores, bill-paying, car maintenance, and things like that. Those the day to day agenda items. Maybe you have a long-term agenda, like raise up children and grandchildren to attend college, or like planning the vacation of a lifetime. I make lists of things all the time, short-term and long-term. They are never-ending. As soon as I check off one item, three more appear to take its place.
When our elders, deacons and trustees meet each month at each meeting we have an agenda in our hands, a list of the subjects we intend to address during the meeting. The subjects covered might include worship, Sunday School, pastoral care, finances, personnel, mission, building repairs, hospital visits, and more.
So what would a Presbyterian Advent Agenda look like? We could immediately guess some of the obvious things.
(1) Decorations – not only around your own home, we want our church inside and outside to tell the world that something special is going on here – so our Hanging of the Greens happening after worship today helps us cover that agenda item. We don’t need to deploy large neon signs, floodlights, and loud-speakers, but we enjoy just enough decoration to tell the world that we are engaged in something remarkable, and that we have love to share.
(2) Music – we have a treasury of very special songs that we want to sing together during this season leading up to Christmas – so our Advent Planning Team met a week or so ago to come up with a list of the songs that we will be singing between now and Christmas. And the Choir is adding to that list with other special music. So we are covering this important agenda item today as we began to sing the first Choral Introit at the start of the service. We don’t need to bring in the Rochester or Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra, but if each person leaves this place on Sunday with a song in their heart we have met this Advent agenda item.
(3) Gifts – in addition to the gifts you exchange with your family and friends, our church finds ways to offer gifts to the world around us – an Angel Tree, Christmas boxes, clothing, coats and mittens. Gifts are an important item on the Advent agenda; the giving and receiving of gifts may be our best way to demonstrate the wonder and joy of love in action. So grab a tag from the angel tree, bring in some winter clothing for Quota Club to distribute on Wednesday and you’ve helped us cover this important Advent agenda item.
(4) Food – this is a huge item on the agenda – not only planning for the special meals at your home, but also the ways that we offer food to our community – so it is very appropriate and timely that the Foodlink Mobile Food Pantry occurs during this first week of Advent. I also need to mention the Christmas Cookie exchange happening next Monday, with cookies, recipes, love and sharing. And today, not only are we decorating the church but of course we will be sharing a meal together, courtesy of the Fellowship Committee. It’s amazing how much food is a part of our Advent agenda.
So, decorations, music, gifts, food! Could we really enjoy this season if even one of those things was absent? Maybe we could try, but we never do, because all four of those things are on the agenda, and we enjoy every single one of them.
You may be thinking, what makes these things a PRESBYTERIAN Advent Agenda? Don’t most Christians nearly everywhere in the world have the very same things on their agendas? I suspect that they do. A Baptist Church in Moscow, an Orthodox church in Syria, a Catholic Church in Brazil, a Methodist Church in Canada, a Presbyterian Church in Australia; all of them have some wonderful combination of decoration, music, gifts and food. Not exactly like we do it, but the agenda is similar, and wherever you might be in the world you would find the nearest Christian Church doing something similar to what we do here.
There is one thing that is especially important in the Presbyterian Church, and it should also be included on our Advent Agenda. It is Scripture. Our Advent Agenda as Presbyterians encourages us to root our practices in the stories of the Bible. When you observe the excesses of popular culture, Black Fridays, Shopping malls, countdowns in shopping days, and all of that, you and I recoil a bit because we want the hope of Advent to reflect Biblical intentions, not marketing strategies. So telling the story of Jesus coming into the world is a story that we are happy to tell over and over again. Find a young child, if you can, with whom you can share this story one more time. And tell it not just with the words, but with your whole heart.
I follow a preaching lectionary when I prepare each Sunday service, a schedule of readings suggested by ecumenical church leaders, and this year the lectionary includes this reading from Thessalonians. It doesn’t mention stars, angels, mangers or shepherds, but it does remind us of a very important part of the Presbyterian Advent Agenda. Maybe not just an important part, but the critical part: “may the Lord make you increase and abound in love for one another”.
This is what it’s all about, I believe that this is item number one on the Presbyterian Advent Agenda. All of these things – decorations, music, gifts and food – are for the purpose of increasing the love that the world so badly needs. Love for the hungry, love for the refugees, love for the victims, love for the lost and forgotten. When we are done with Advent, when we are done with Christmas, this will be the mark of our spiritual progress, that by our efforts love is more abundant, that love is abounding, that there is enough new love that we are jumping up and down in our eagerness to share it. If the end of Advent and Christmas only consists of packing up the decorations, putting away the Christmas music, recycling the wrapping paper and cleaning up the dishes, then we’ve missed the mark. Because the result should be, needs to be, must be, love increasing and abounding, more love reaching out, and not at all just for ourselves, but far beyond. Let the light and love from our first candle take us all to surprising, unexpected places. Amen!