Grace and peace to you.
So begins the apostle Paul's first letter to the church at Thessalonica (also known as First Thessalonians). I won't bore you with the history of Thessalonica, except to mention that it was a wealthy city with a large population, and the church in that city was under heavy persecution at the time Paul wrote his letter to them. I suppose if Paul was writing letters today, they would be emails, or blogs, but during those first 50-75 years after Jesus' death and resurrection, Paul would send letters to groups of people who were gathering together (oftentimes in someone's home), and the letters would be read aloud in the group.
Imagine this scene: a group of people who are gathered together in someone's home, quite possibly in fear of their lives, and Paul's letter begins with this simple phrase:
Grace and peace to you.
It seems to me that this simple phrase has enormous power, and in these words lie an extraordinary gift, for anyone who wishes to receive it. Let's unwrap it together, and perhaps you'll find it a gift to you. When I looked up the words grace and peace, I was greatly encouraged by what I found.
Grace can mean many things, but this first definition captured my attention:
Grace - elegance or beauty of form, manner, motion or action
Have you ever loved someone? I mean, deeply loved someone? There is a mystery about love, because it transforms both the lover and the loved. It is often said that a person who is considered "unattractive" by societal norms, immediately becomes attractive when another person loves them. I've experienced this before - I have seen single men, and women, who would be considered only moderately attractive, suddenly become handsome or beautiful, after having fallen in love, and having become the object of another's affection.
What is the message on this first day after the beginning of the Advent season? We are loved by God, and because we are loved by God, we are, each of us, endowed with an elegance and beauty of form that cannot be explained in human terms. This is the gift of Advent...that you are deeply loved, and whether you've realized it yet or not, this love has the power to make you extraordinary, and beautiful, and elegant. And in this abiding love, no matter what else is going on in your life tonight, you can find peace.