Read 1 Thessalonians 3:9-13

from Rev. William Flewelling, Proctor

Paul’s letter to the Thessalonians reaches back to a former congregation, one that arose out of his missionary efforts, composed of people whose lives have melded dearly with his own. To such people, sending encouragement, he is embroiled with joy, with longing – not with delay – turning to an invocation of God’s assistance in all of this. The letter pulsates with the missionary pastoral heart. Always there is the element of anticipation, of hope in the coming in the Lord, as the coming of the Lord: the joining and reaching toward each other in the love and grace of God.

In the midst of all these longings and anticipations for matters that extend beyond the immediate care and possibilities of the Apostle or of the Thessalonian congregation, the yearning for this wholeness together in the Lord comes focused on the matter of love. The season of Advent, the anticipation of Christmas, the thrall of a couple millennia of cultural social customs in myriad variation – all that was absent in this exchange of love that Paul invokes. Yet we come to his concern in the midst of Advent, for it speaks fundamentally of the urgency to be at one with the character of the Lord whose anticipated coming so animates the letter Paul sends and the season of the church, then and now.

Abound in love into one another, and into all – just as we also (do) into you. A startling invocation, this asks the Lord to increase this love, to abound this love, to make it be on the order of the love he knows he impressed into them. Love one another as richly as I love you: so writes this apostolic longing for the beloved in Thessalonika. Paul knows full well the extent of such a measure. He challenges the congregation in their inner circles to love so dearly – and not only that, but beyond those circles. This love is not simply a sort of whitewash on events and faces to breed a genial smile; far more than that, it is an active thrust to enter the soul of the others, to set the love so richly as to infiltrate anxieties and saturate desires with all the love that is so thoroughgoingly clear in the anticipated coming of the Lord Jesus. It is the readying for that spark of sublime joy and bliss.

O God, in your beauty we discover love. In the ministry of your heart we know deep throes of love worked into us. In the longing of the Apostle we learn firsthand the gift. Grant us to love into one another and into all in the way of Jesus, our anticipated Lord.