“I AM BAPTIZED”
First Sunday of Advent
Scriptures: 1 Thessalonians 5:1-11
St. John’s Baptist Church of Charlotte, NC, November 28, 2021
The Rev. Dennis Foust, PhD, Senior Minister
Well, children of God, here we are again celebrating hope. Every year, on the first Sunday of Advent, we focus on HOPE. Why? Why do we not begin with peace, then focus on joy and love and finish with hope just before Christmas?
We begin with HOPE because it shapes how we live each day. We live in HOPE because God is faithful.
Hope is more than optimism. Optimism sees the future confidently based on what is observable. Optimism sees a win when the score is 106 to 84 with 4 minutes left in the game.
HOPE, however, is rooted in God’s covenant with us. Even in darkness, hope assures you that God is light. Hope enables us to see more in any situation than what can be seen on the surface. Even in the darkness of a pandemic, we begin each new day in hope for God is with us.
Whether it is a seed in the ground, a baby in the womb, or Jesus in the tomb, new life always emerges from darkness.
You always have hope because defeat is transformed into victory in darkness.
In a recent ministry conversation with a mother whose family is walking through extremely troubling days, she said to me, “We are walking through shadows and crevices of darkness, but we are children of light.”
This mother is neither naïve, shallow, nor simplistic. She is sincere as her words witness of God’s hope giving her assurance. She lives in hope as a child of God and a follower of Jesus.
Living in hope during troubled times, she is finding new life always emerges from darkness.
Today’s scripture from 1 Thessalonians offers us an eternally relevant message.
These words were written to people living during troubled times.
Thessalonica, Greece was one of the largest cities in the Mediterranean region.
Yet, followers of Jesus were suffering and confused.
Many people in Thessalonica were talking about ‘the Day of the Lord.’
They were so convinced that Jesus would be returning soon that many had stopped working.
You could call it the Great Resignation of the first century.
Paul saw ‘no need to talk with them about times or seasons or the Day of the Lord.’
He reminded them the Day of the Lord would happen suddenly – like a thief breaking in at night or like a woman going into labor.
Since they were people of God’s light, they needed to do the work of the Lord while it was day.
Amidst their suffering they were not to be focused on the troubled times.
Paul challenged the Thessalonians to be a strong community of hope.
He referred to them as brothers and sisters 28 times to emphasize community.
Some members of the church had stopped gathering for worship, learning and fellowship.
They had been lured into apathy, detachment and mediocrity.
Paul encouraged the Church in Thessalonica to focus not on fear, but on God’s hope & assurance.
As we begin this new Christian Year, many people are focused on today’s troubled times.
Some have been lured into apathy, detachment, mediocrity and even fear and depression.
You are often in a place to encourage them, to challenge them, or to remind them of hope.
Here are two stories to help you underscore the message of God’s hope in troubled times.
Jürgen Moltmann had to find the solid foundation of hope amidst despair.
He was a German Prisoner of War in WWII. Prior to the war, he had grown up in a home where faith was not active. He planned to become a scientist or mathematician. But, after being drafted into the Nazi army at age 16, he realized the evil that was part of the Nazi effort. One night, under cover of darkness, he surrendered to the first British soldier he met. In the prison camp, he met a group of Christians and was given a New Testament by an American chaplain. Eventually, he was moved to a POW camp in Scotland to help rebuild areas damaged by German bombers and then to a POW camp in England which was operated by the YMCA. There he met several other Christians and started reading books in theology and Bible interpretation. He began to understand how God is still active on behalf of those who are suffering and how hope redeems human life. After the war, he studied and became a professor of theology. Today, at the age of 95, he is viewed as one of the most influential theologians of the 20th century.
I tell you Moltmann’s story to help you understand his message. He witnessed the most devastating war in human history, a war that ravaged an entire continent made up of largely apathetic Christian nations. He watched the massacre of Jews in the name of Jesus and nationalism. In his volume, Theology of Hope, Moltmann presents a message that is still encouraging people to live as God’s people of light in the midst of darkness. God’s hope inspires us to persevere with steadfast diligence and vision amidst chaos and evil. He wrote, “Those who hope in Christ can no longer put up with reality as it is, but must begin to contradict it….The God who creates out of nothing, the God who makes the dead alive, justifies hope that is otherwise unjustifiable.”
Beloved, God’s new world doesn’t begin on the Day of the Lord in the hereafter. God’s new world begins every day, as followers of Jesus work with God to build a better world. When God raised Jesus from death, God’s hope was revealed as light that overcomes darkness. Every day dawns with the glow of God’s everlasting hope.
My other story involves Martin Luther who knew troubled times. In 1524, while under attack by the Roman Church, he was asked by both German Lords and Peasants to support their cause. He wrote to both sides saying, “Now dear people, there is nothing Christian on either side….For God’s sake,…do not start endless bloodshed in Germany.” However, war ensued and more than 300,000 peasants were killed by the aristocracy. During those days, Luther said he was able to continue his ministry and focus on God’s hope by repeating one phrase to himself. That phrase was this: “I am baptized.”
Beloved, as we take these first steps into a new Christian Year, one which includes our centennial year amidst a pandemic, with all kinds of trouble around us, be not afraid.
You are children of light! You have nothing to fear. Your only cause is the mission of God.
My prayer for you is that when troubles of today weigh heavy upon you, you will repeat to yourself, ‘I am baptized!’
Amen and AMEN