In this season of Advent, waiting is the name of the game! During this season we spend time focusing on our space in history; this time between Jesus’ first coming and the 2nd. We’re in this kind of limbo where the Kingdom of God has both been ushered in by Jesus and yet is not quite fulfilled until he comes again. And so we wait. And wait. And wait…
But how do we wait? Do we live life as if there is nothing of importance or significance to do? How do we live in this in-between time? The answer rests and is restless in Jesus. Jesus changes everything. Costly grace (Jesus dying for us) changes everything; our whole lives.
The theologian Karl Barth wrote that grace and gratitude “belong together like heaven and earth. Grace evokes gratitude like the voice an echo. Gratitude follows grace like thunder [follows] lightning.” If the essence of God is grace, Barth explained, then the essence of human beings as God’s people is our gratitude or thanks.’”
At essence of the Christian life of waiting is gratitude. The Apostle Paul says as much in his letter to the church at Philippi: “From now on, brothers and sisters, if anything is excellent and if anything is admirable, focus your thoughts on these things: all that is true, all that is holy, all that is just, all that is pure, all that is lovely, and all that is worthy of praise. Practice these things: whatever you learned, received, heard, or saw in us. The God of peace will be with you.” (Philippians 4:8-9).
As Christians our call is not to wait idly by for Christ to come again, but to live out a life of gratitude focusing on that which is true, holy, just, pure, lovely, and worthy of praise. So often in our world, we focus on scarcity: what we don’t have. Our consumeristic society implores us to want more, and more, and more, never complacent and never able to appreciate what we already have to be thankful for. We learn to not only forget to be thankful, but we begin, instead, to fill our lives with a sense of ingratitude. Ingratitude is often marked by a sense of entitlement, of envy, of complaint, of dissatisfaction, of presumption. Ingratitude in and of itself hinders relationship building and can destroy community. In his letter to the church at Rome, the Apostle Paul goes so far as to say that ingratitude toward God is, itself, idolatry (Rom 1:20).
As Christians, we have to reorient ourselves as children of God who are responding in gratitude for the grace of Jesus Christ; grace that defines who we are. Grace is at the root of our existence, of our lives, of our hope, of our salvation. We have to reclaim the essence of our Christian life lived out in gratitude, because its not just who we are, its a part of how God changes the world through us. It’s part of “the way” of Jesus.
We also learn from leading psychologists that gratitude is linked inextricably to stronger health, both mental and physical. Those who continually are thankful tend to be healthier (https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/what-mentally-strong-people-dont-do/201504/7-scientifically-proven-benefits-gratitude ). There is something about gratitude that is not just about spiritual well-being, but at the heart of being holistically healthy in all aspects of life.
The esteemed theologian, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, shared with us that we have to practice not just being grateful for the big things, but also the small things. He writes: “We think we dare not be satisfied with the small measure of spiritual knowledge, experience, and love that has been given to us, and that we must constantly be looking forward eagerly to the highest good…. We pray for the big things and forget to give thanks for the ordinary, small (and yet really not small) gifts. How can God entrust great things to one who will not thankfully receive from Him the little things? If we do not give thanks daily for the Christian fellowship in which we have been placed, even where there is no great experience, no discoverable riches, but much weakness, small faith, and difficulty; if on the contrary, we only keep complaining to God that everything is so paltry and petty, so far from what we expected, then we hinder God from letting our fellowship grow according to the measure and riches which are there for us all in Jesus Christ.’
Gratitude is an everyday way of being in the world. And it takes more than continual reminders from family, friends, and our church communities, but intentionally practicing thankfulness for the seemingly small and insignificant things: waking up in the morning, a place to live, a family that loves us, a church family willing to help us grow in Christ, jobs to go to, shoes to where, a kind word from a stranger, a hug from a friend. The list goes on and on. But the more we practice, the more it becomes a habit, a virtue, and a way of being.
This Advent season, be thankful, dear saints. Remember time and again the grace of God that claims your life and defines who you are. Choose time and again to give thanks throughout your life, even for the small things that seem insignificant. After all, how can God trust us with the big things if we are not even thankful for the small ones?
With Hopeful Anticipation,