Colossians 1:11–20 (NRSV)
11 May you be made strong with all the strength that comes from his glorious power, and may you be prepared to endure everything with patience, while joyfully 12 giving thanks to the Father, who has enabled you to share in the inheritance of the saints in the light. 13 He has rescued us from the power of darkness and transferred us into the kingdom of his beloved Son, 14 in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins.
15 He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation; 16 for in him all things in heaven and on earth were created, things visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or powers—all things have been created through him and for him. 17 He himself is before all things, and in him all things hold together. 18 He is the head of the body, the church; he is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, so that he might come to have first place in everything. 19 For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, 20 and through him God was pleased to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, by making peace through the blood of his cross.
Leading into the thanksgiving holiday it is important to remember certain things. The discipline of remembering is very important, because when we fail to remember we forget. We forget the blessings we have received. We forget the struggles we faced, and we forget the successes we have experienced. We forget the love that we share and the love we have given. We forget when we fail to remember. We need to be intentional when it comes to the recall of these things, because it is extremely easy to forget as the distractions bombard us. Remember.
God commanded the children of Israel to remember. To encourage the intentional recall of the journey of life these people experienced over the generations, God set up feasts, festivals, and holy days. For some of those days He encouraged the people to celebrate with their close friends and family at their home or in their community. But occasionally He commanded them to travel to the central meeting place so that the collective memory of the entire people group could be remembered, and so they would be reminded that they are not just alone but part of something much bigger than themselves. These pilgrimages were the Feast of Passover (Pesah), the Feast of Weeks (Shavuot), and the Feast of Booths (Sukkot).
We are familiar with Passover, but we sometimes forget that it has many layers. This is the feast where the tribes of Israel are encouraged to remember the Exodus out of Egypt, where God delivered the people out of bondage. This festival corresponds with the Christian holiday of Easter, where we remember the deliverance of humanity from the bondage of sin and death through Christ. Passover also reminds us of hope, hope in the future, hope that God will continue to bless those that call on his name. This holiday is celebrated after the long winter were the ground was gripped by death and dormancy, but as spring comes new life emerges. Passover in Israel is usually celebrated around the beginning of the first grain harvest, barley, so it is also a time to celebrate the first fruits of the year. Passover remains very important to the people of Jewish heritage to this day, where some of the other festivals have diminished in importance, which is one of the reasons we are less aware of them.
The feast of Weeks is one of those holiday seasons we as Christians are less familiar with. This festival reminds the nation of Israel of two things. The first is the giving of the Torah or the law. They are encouraged to remember the days that Moses was up on the mountain named Sinai, and to remember the rebellion the people participated in while they lived without the law. They are encouraged to remember the covenant that God made with them, and to celebrate this some traditions began the festival by reading the entire Torah in a day, the day of Pentecost. This is not the only tradition that has emerged from this festival though. The feast of weeks is exactly seven weeks after Passover, it is a week of weeks. So if Passover is in the spring, Shavuot is in the summer around the month of June. For many the giving of the Torah and the covenant made between Israel and God was a marriage, so many honored and remembered this covenant by starting their marriages around this time. Even today June is the month that most weddings occur. But there is more, seven weeks after spring is when the harvest of wheat happens so this holy festival reminds the people of Israel that God sustains them, with the law and with the harvest. Oddly this festival has diminished in importance overall, largely due to the fact that most people do not live by the harvest, and cannot take a week off in June. But it does remain in part.
The final holy pilgrimages is the Feast of Booths or Tabernacles. This festival was to remind the people of Israel of the forty years they spent wondering in the wilderness, where God provided their every need. This celebration also has seasonal and agricultural attachments; it honors the closing of the harvest. Passover starts the harvest with the lessor grains, Weeks corresponds with the wheat harvest the main staple of life, Booths is the close of the fruit harvest. To celebrate this the entire nation would come together, building temporary shelters and would share the harvest with everyone around them. And as they shared they remembered that God provided for their ancestors in the wilderness and He provides for us.
This final feast of the holy year it the one that our American ancestors tried to establish with the holiday of Thanksgiving. The majority of the harvest was in, and now we should share and celebrate the blessings that God has given us. There is something powerful in these holidays, they cause us to remember. Even the seasons remind us of God’s presence throughout our year and life. This Thanksgiving I hope we take the time to remember. Remember the provision that God has given you, remember the blessings of our families and friends as we gather together, remember the covenants that we have made to one another and to reestablish those commitments. It is a time to remember that everything we have and everything we are is a gift from God.
Unfortunately, the attitude of gratitude is so easily forgotten because life gets in the way. This week as I was studying I listened to the entire letter to the Colossians several times. Paul begins this letter with thanksgiving, and continues to remind the people of the church to remember who God is, who they are, and to be grateful. Paul reminds them of the grace of God, and encourages them to live that out.
If the feast of Booths is to remind us of anything, it is to remind us of the relationship we have with God. God was the one that delivered Israel from bondage, it was God that made a covenant with them, and it was God that sustained them through the Exodus. As they settled into the land of promise it is still God that gave them the land, it is God that provides the rains for the harvest, and God who is the bread and wine that provides life. God is life and our life is God’s.
“May you be made strong with all the strength that comes from his glorious power.” What a prayer of blessing that Paul extends to this church. Even within this prayer of blessing Paul reminds the followers of Christ that our life, our hope, our provision, and our love is found in God. I often need to be reminded of this, because often I fail to remember that God is the source of my strength. Often I work long and hard trying to provide all I can for my family and this church. I study, worry, and plan for the future and at times I must force myself to remember that it is not my strength that is needed but God’s. While I’m struggling in my own strength I neglect prayer, I neglect my relationship with God and I struggle to even pray. Why? I know who has all things in his hands yet I fail to intentionally remember.
“and may you be prepared to endure everything with patience,” This phrase of this passage strikes me as odd. May you be prepared to endure. As I read and listen to those words it is as if the Spirit is telling me to rest in Him, and also to focus on my relationship with Him. It is this relationship, the disciplined life where we are prepared and build the endurance to handle the stresses of life. When we fail to remember this aspect of our life with God, it leaves us without the patient endurance that is found in Christ and we are left in our own strength.
“While joyfully giving thanks to the Father, who has enabled you to share in the inheritance of the saints in the light.” Joyfully giving thanks. This is where the attitude of gratitude comes in. Intentionally recalling the history, we have in God and expressing our praises for all he has done.
I want us to slow down right there and look at the phrases together. Paul is calling us to remember the source of our strength, the preparation to endure, and the joyful thanksgiving. Do you see a theme there? This is a statement about the holy rhythm of life that Jesus taught us and called us to follow. Making it his custom to worship in the synagogue, He withdrew often to the isolated places to pray, and he ministered to the needs of those in the community. Strength to serve, prepared to endure through a life of personal devotion and prayer, and joyfully giving thanks in worship. This is the holy rhythm of Christ and it is the example that Paul showed to the churches as he ministered in the provinces of Rome.
Paul then reminds us why it is important to engage in this holy lifestyle. “He has rescued us from the power of darkness and transferred us into the kingdom of his beloved Son, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins.” God rescues us from the power of darkness, he delivers us from various forms of bondage which is the result from a lifestyle of sin. That rescue comes from Jesus the very son of God who showed us the holy lifestyle, the lifestyle of repentance or returning to God. Christ is the center, because it is through Christ that we are united with God.
Christ must be in the center of our faith because it is only through Christ that we can begin to comprehend the things of God. When Paul uses the early Christian hymn which is recorded in Verses 15-20, we begin to see the beginnings of the Christian understanding of God. “He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation.” The term firstborn is a declaration of Jesus’ position in relation to all other humans, he the one through whom the inheritance is received through. He the heir, the ruler of creation and the only way that humanity can connect to God. It is in Christ that the spiritual and physical are united and perfected. It is through Jesus, Paul continues, “all things in heaven and on earth were created, things visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or powers – all things have been created through him and for him.” That is what the first born means, it is all Jesus’ for us to have any lasting place we must go through Jesus. He is the head or the center of the church, He is where the fullness of God dwells, and through the blood of his cross all of creation is reconciled to God.
Can we grasp how important this truly is? Everything we see is Christ’s. Everything we don’t see is Christ’s. Every nation, every government, every kingdom, every association, and institution is Christ’s. Not only are they his, they were created for him. Russia was created for Christ, the United State was created for Christ, China, Mexico, Canada, the United Kingdom, South Africa were all created for Christ. Walmart, Target, General Motors, the United States Postal Service were all created for and through Christ. Your job, is Christ’s, your hobby is Christ’s. Everything we do and everything we have is not our own because it was created through and for Christ. Nothing is truly ours, it is all blessings provided to us by the grace of God. Our intellect was given to us and disciplined through our educational systems for us to use for the glory of God. Our businesses were created by us for Christ. Let that sink in for a moment. God is life and Life is God’s.
Remember, Paul often reminds us. Remember who we are and where we are. Everything and everyone is God’s, are we giving it proper reverence? Your spouse is a gift from God, you children and grandchildren all gifts. Your pets, your car, your business all a gift. They are not yours alone but they are God’s through Christ. The person that annoys you is a gift from God. The suffering we must endure is a gift from God. The president is a gift from God, that we either must endure or are thankful for. But we need to see it in the proper light and treat them all properly. The fruits of our labor, the profits of our investments all created through and for Christ. This Meeting and Meeting house is not ours but it is Christ’s and is a gift from the one through whom reconciled us and delivered us from the powers of darkness and gave us an inheritance with the saints in light. While we join together in our American interpretation of the Feast of Booths, let us look at the world around us in humility and reverence, all we have is given to us for God’s glory. Let us then in all things have an attitude of gratitude and give thanks to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit through whom we have life, and hope, and love.