I’ve learned from spending time with little kids that they are universally into repetition. How many times in a row have you played the “so-big” game? Read a book straight through only to be met with demands for an immediate encore…or three? Or watched a favorite TV episode or movie on loop?
There’s good reason – repetition helps kids learn and facilitates brain development. Repetition and routine also provide comfort and stability, bonding children with parents, teachers and other adults who love and care for them.
After spending time with the epistle lesson, I’ve also come to see repetition as a means of grace. Reminders about “the reason for the season” are sorely needed when things like blackfridaydeathcount.com have cause to exist.
Paul tells us that the Scriptures were written down to be a constant comfort – to be steadfast and ever available in their witness so that they might engender hope and praise, so that they might help us bond with a God who loves us. Paul lists four Old Testament scriptures that support his core message: that Christ “might confirm the promises given to the patriarchs, and in order that Gentiles might glorify God for his mercy.” (15:8-9)
Advent, itself, is an annual reminder that we wait for and celebrate the birth of Christ, the incarnate God and our embodied invitation into relationship with God. Paul also gives us a sense of how to wait and celebrate in a fitting manner.
“May the God of steadfastness and encouragement grant you to live in harmony with one another, in accordance with Christ Jesus, so that together you may with one voice glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. Welcome one another, therefore, just as Christ has welcomed you, for the glory of God.” (15:5-7)
Contrary to what our me-centered, consumerist culture would have us think this time of year, we Christians should be practicing others-centered hospitality, inspired by Christ’s example and in preparation for welcoming Christ into our midst.
Christ welcomed Gentiles – the outsiders – into relationship with God and God’s people at great personal cost. Who are the outsiders in your community, near your congregation? What practices of hospitality will define your Advent so that you will know how to welcome the Christ-child? What will you give of yourself for the sake of your neighbor?
Paul also references Isaiah 11, which gives more context to the culture of hospitality and practices of welcome that Jesus inaugurates. Enemies lie down with each other. Carnivores graze, foregoing the violence of the kill. Justice and righteousness reign. What opportunities do you have to pursue peacefulness as we wait for the Prince of Peace?
Perhaps what I love most about reading this epistle lesson in light of Advent is that we are waiting for God’s in-breaking into the world in the form of a child – an infant that will soon be a toddler. A toddler that surely sat on his mother and father’s laps and heard the stories of God and God’s people. A kid that looked into his parents’ faces and cried, “Again, Mama! Tell me the story again, Daddy!”
The Christ-child comes to us, to your congregation, to the Church this season asking you to re-tell God’s story and re-enact Christ’s hospitality so that we might offer God’s hope to the world. That’s worth repeating.