“What’s on Your Christmas List?”
Text: I Thessalonians 5:2
For you yourselves know very well that the day of the Lord will come like a thief in the night.
I can probably guess what a few of you might be thinking about now…what is he thinking? Doesn’t he know what time of year it is? What happened to all the nice Christmas verses? What happened to the shepherds and angels and stables?
OK, give me a minute; I promise this will get around to Christmas soon enough.
You probably know this already, but the text I read a second ago is believed to be about the second coming of Jesus and not the first. For historical reference it is important for us to recognize that some of the letters of Paul are among the earliest of all the writings we have available to us in the New Testament. This is particularly true of the first and second letters to the Thessalonians; these letters are among those dated as early as 20 or 30 years after the execution of Jesus. Now it is important for us to remember that in the very early days of Christianity, most people felt like Jesus was going to return at any minute. It was like the hurricane warning had already been put out and people were just waiting around for the storm to hit. I recognize this about this text. But sometimes I think it is useful to think about a text in a new way.
That is what I want to do today. I want to use this text in a new way to help give us a new perspective on the season of Advent, as we wait for Jesus, and what it might mean to have Jesus come to us like a thief in the night.
So let’s begin with this thief imagery. The idea of Jesus coming to us like a thief in the night is a little like a reverse Santa Claus. You know that Santa comes in the middle of the night, when everyone is sleeping, undetected by the household and then leaves the presents for everyone under the Christmas tree. We even make lists for Santa so he will know what to leave.
The image of Jesus coming like a thief in the night isn’t all that different, with one important exception. That exception is that a thief takes things away, a thief steals, and Santa brings more stuff. So this text that I read kind of makes me think about Jesus and this Advent season like we are waiting for Jesus the thief in the night to come and take things away.
Now think about that for a minute. If we make a list for Santa as to what he should leave behind, how about making a list for Jesus about what we would like for him to take away? Have you ever thought about the Advent season as preparation for Jesus the thief who comes in the night? Probably not. But maybe we should.
One of the scriptures we often hear around this time of year is a text about a “voice crying out in the wilderness” and that voice is telling us to prepare the way of the Lord. This is to be the voice of John the Baptist. Now John the Baptist was quite a character. One of the other things that John the Baptist was noted for is the use of the word “repent” – he would stagger out of the wilderness with shoulder length hair, scantily clothed with animal skins and with a piece of locust still stuck in his teeth from lunch and tell everyone to “repent! For the day of the Lord is at hand!” Little wonder he attracted some attention.
You know, I never used to like the word repent. I would hear it used over and over and over again by TV evangelists or hardline Christians. The message always seemed to be focused on bad behavior of some kind. The message seemed to always be judgmental. The message was simply that you are not living your life the way I think you should and you need to repent. You’re doing it wrong! You need to stop this sinful lifestyle and repent! You need to stop doing this or stop doing that and repent! For me, when I heard these things, repent was a call for behavior modification and sounded judgmental and narrow. It was a threat, really. Stop being bad and start being good or else God is going to be so irritated with you that God will throw you into to hell to burn for eternity. Repent!
It just never felt quite right to me.
Then I was introduced to the word “metanoia”. This is the English phonetic spelling of the Greek word for repent. The word metanoia is the word you will find in the Greek New Testament when John the Baptist is quoted as saying repent. In the Greek, John the Baptist used the word metanoia. The thing is that in Greek metanoia isn’t really about changing behavior, it is about changing your mind and the literal translation is to have a new thought. All of the sudden, John the Baptist is telling everyone that Jesus is coming and it’s time to have a new thought about how we have always done things. Metanoia-to have a new thought. Repent! Stop thinking the way you always have and have a new thought.
Isn’t this interesting to consider that repent actually means to think about things in a new way? You know this would support what Paul has to say in Romans 12 about “do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed, by the renewing of your minds.”
What if true repentance means that we are finally freed from the bondage of thinking the same thoughts over and over and over again? What if repentance means we are free to let go of some of the thinking which has held us back all these years? What if repentance means we are to move away from how we have always done things? What if repentance means we are freed from the negative thoughts we have had about ourselves all this time?
Ah, there it is. Repentance frees us from what we sometimes think about ourselves.
Remember the text I began with? Remember Jesus coming like a thief in the night? Remember the lists we make; one for Santa of things to leave behind and one for Jesus to take away when he comes like a thief in the night. What’s on your Christmas list that you would like Jesus to steal from you? What thoughts hold you down and keep you from becoming all you can be?
Maybe John’s call to repentance and preparation for the coming of Jesus is a call to new thoughts and new ideas. Maybe it is a call to let go of some of the things we think about ourselves; things like I’m not smart enough, I’m not rich enough, I’m not young enough, I’m not old enough, I’m not good looking enough, I’m not thin enough, I’m not talented enough, I’m not, I’m not, I’m not…
Repent and have a new thought! This Advent season is about the anticipation of looking for the coming of Jesus like a thief in the night. A thief to steal away all those old thoughts and ideas and bring us into the light which overcomes the darkness and allows to see with new eyes and new ideas and to illuminate our thinking with new thoughts and a new vision of who we can become.
Repent and do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind as all the old is stolen away and behold, all things have become new.
A new idea and new food for thought. Amen.