Advent 3: Give thanks in all circumstances

This selection was not read at our church on Sunday, but it was one of the lectionary (“suggested”) readings in our church calendar.

Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you. (1 Thessalonians 5:16-18)

should we be grateful for this pile of mail?

There is a joke going around online about “First World Problems.” A first world problem is a difficulty only experienced by middle- or upper-class people, such as, “Starbucks ran out of cinnamon dolce lattes so I had to have vanilla instead.” Some of the jokes people submit are crude, but others demonstrate razor-sharp humor.

It never fails to amaze me that during a mission trip, the first-world participants will invariably talk about gratitude. Some give thanks for the comforts they enjoy at home and are currently doing without… and others go to a deeper level, noticing the ways that the people we are visiting give thanks. Sometimes,we even have the awkward experience of the mission trip participants feeling like the people we were helping weren’t thankful enough.

Looking back, I’m incredibly grateful for an experience I had in Guatemala five years ago. We visited a village devastated by a hurricane, and the pastor was not very happy to see us. He was not receiving adequate compensation for his services and travel, and he demanded to know how much I and the other trip leaders were paid in our calls back home. (Pardon me if I’ve told this story before.) The village church presented us with a request for money and we truly had a “first-world problem moment.” Everyone felt wounded, because we had taken our spring break to go all the way to this little village and they didn’t appreciate us.

Later that night, we snapped back into reality (and we owned up to our pouting.) The students realized that even though they were tied down by school and student loans, they knew people who weren’t. We all knew someone who could help. So, to make a long story short, we shared the plight of the village when we got back home, and now they have a great relationship with some good Christian folks who provide all kinds of help. When our college group returned two years later, the village was physically and spiritually renewed. Gratitude was everywhere.

I like how Paul juxtaposes the direction to “pray without ceasing” along with encouragement to rejoice and give thanks. Sometimes it really does look like there is no reason to express thanks … but given some patience and prayer, God can help us turn things around.

I wonder how Mary and Joseph felt as they prepared for the birth of their son. Certainly they were in an awkward and vulnerable place. It would be years before Jesus’ public ministry began, and even then, he would not be universally appreciated. Yet the weary parents carried on, plodding along toward Bethlehem. I wonder if they gave thanks, and for what.

May the Spirit of Christ give us patience for the journey … patience enough to wait for when the gratitude shines through.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: