Summary: The Christmas Season is a time for "Abounding Love."
Well folks, it has officially begun. The Christmas Rush! Like a row of hulking linemen on a professional football team, the season is down and set, poised to plow over us with all its demands, distractions, details, dilemmas, delights and duties.
For merchants, it’s a "make-or-break" time of year. The more exhausted and overworked they become, the better their business is doing.
For teachers, it’s the challenge of keeping a gaggle of fidgety children focused on their schoolwork while arranging some special programs and projects that will honor the season.
For musicians and musical directors, it’s a time for arranging frantic rehearsals, for easing fragile egos and for fulfilling dreams of fleeting fame.
For clergy, it’s a schedule that is suddenly tighter than ever, sermons that must be better than ever, services that are suddenly fuller than ever.
For children, it’s deciding what to put on a list, where to hang the decorations, and who will take them to the mall.
Are you prepared for all this? Is your master list ready with everything you will need to do over the next month? Wait a minute! ... Before you start scrambling through your schedules, your agendas and your calendars, consider that each and every one of us should begin our list with the same item, the same one Paul urges from the Thessalonians -- "Abound in Love." The Christmas season is a time for “ABOUNDING LOVE.”
By way of a little background information, Paul’s thankfulness is in response to the report Timothy has brought him from Thessalonica. Although he had personally been to Thessalonica, Paul’s comments here are based on information from Timothy, his son in the ministry. Paul had remained in Athens, not accompanying Timothy on his journey to Thessalonica.
Timothy succeeds in not only delivering Paul’s message of praises and cautions, but he functions as a return envoy for the Thessalonians. The news is good. Timothy was treated with all the respect and honor he should have received as Paul’s official envoy. He also reports that the Thessalonians think "kindly" of Paul and wish he could return to them in person. Paul’s bubbling-over gratitude and overflowing enthusiasm is seen in two prayers of thanksgiving.
"How can we thank God enough," Paul asks in 3:9, for the good news of your faithfulness. In verse 10, Paul offers his hope that he may "restore" or "supply" the insights and guidance that these Gentile Christians might still be "lacking." Paul is concerned that the Thessalonians see themselves as part of a continuing apostolic mission -- especially as they face adversity and suffering because of their faith. Thus, Paul’s closing words express his own desire to return to Thessalonica and be with them, while he urges them to "increase and abound in love" and good works and "holiness."
A friend found Socrates eyeing merchandise in the marketplace. The friend asked why he was looking, since he never bought anything. Socrates said: "Because I am always amazed to see how many things there are that I don’t need."
At Christmas, Christians need to develop a new discipline. As our celebration of Christ’s birth is being stolen from us by this consumerist culture, why don’t Christians develop a discipline that asks, "What don’t I need?" rather than "What do I want?" At Christmas, why don’t Christians give off an attitude that celebrates wanting what we have rather than having more?
Whatever the nature of your business or your busy-ness, there is only one thing we must all put on our "to prepare for Christmas list," only one thing we must all "want" and need to "have" -- Love. Abounding Love is the essence of our scripture passage today.
What is a Christian that "abounds in love?" What kind of love are we to abound with?
When Paul urged the Thessalonians to "abound in love," he was speaking to a community that already had its capacity to love significantly challenged. Persecutions and suffering at the hands of the city’s pagan officials, condemnations from the Jewish synagogue and contentions within their own ranks had threatened to strain the loving nature of the Thessalonians. Perhaps the eschatological expectations of some of the Thessalonians had led them to focus too intently on the future and to fix too little on the daily-ness of life lived within a community of faith.
If we take Paul’s own life as an example, we can discern at least three ways that the apostle might have expected the Thessalonians, and all Christians, to abound in Love.
1. First, Abundant Love must REBOUND. Rebounding, as every good basketball team knows, is the cutting edge between defense and offense. Whichever team rebounds most successfully becomes the team in control of the ball. The team that rebounds becomes the offense, goes on the move and heads toward the basket. Failure to rebound puts a team continually in a defensive posture, striving to protect its basket from the offensive team’s onslaught.