3rd Sunday of Advent
Grace, mercy, and peace are yours from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ! In the name of Jesus, dear friends in Christ, I enjoy Christmas cookies. I remember growing up my mother loved to cook and so when Christmas time came I always knew there was going to be a healthy variety of 5, 6, 7 different kinds of our favorite Christmas cookies available. Unless you’re watching your diet or your sugar intake, cookies have a way of brightening your day. One mention of cookies in my house and 3 little youngsters perk up with big grins on their faces- they know what that means! Well, in order to bake cookies you need the right ingredients, the right materials, the right contents for the recipe. In our text this morning God gives us a recipe of sorts. It’s a recipe for something that brightens our lives far better than any Christmas cookie. He gives us something not to fill our stomachs, but to fill our hearts, our souls, our lives.
This recipe from God is something that we need to hear again and again. Why? Because there is so much in our world and in our own lives that try to rob us of our joy and peace in the Lord. It troubles us and it weighs us down when we consider some of the disturbing things we hear in the news like our country in dire financial trouble and headed for a fiscal cliff or things like a terrible and tragic shooting like what happened this past week and left 20 some children and adults dead in a school in Connecticut.
And then there are things that happen in our own lives that weigh us down. What is it that is robbing you of joy this Christmas season? It’s interesting how these holiday times can be both the happiest times for some people and the saddest times for others. There’s plenty to make people happy: seeing family and friends, Christmas lights and presents, decorations, family traditions, a few days off work, etc. And yet at the same time there are things that weigh us down, aren’t there? Perhaps it’s a sickness you’re struggling with or an illness of a loved one. Perhaps it’s the prospect of spending another Christmas alone or without that loved one who passed away and you still dearly miss. Perhaps its disappointment as you again reflect at another year and are dissatisfied with where you are in life or the direction your life seems to be headed. Perhaps it’s difficult to prepare to celebrate Christmas because you are filled with a longing for the past, holidays just aren’t like they used to be and the world just isn’t like it used to be. Isn’t it amazing how this time of year can be filled with two completely different emotions? It’s a time of joy and also pain, a time of happiness and yet also sadness, a time of excitement and a time of anxiety and worry.
Well, if you’re experiencing a dichotomy of mixed emotions this holiday season, you’re certainly not alone. In fact, the apostle Paul was no exception to dealing with both good news and bad news. Certainly He had times of great happiness and gladness as he witnessed God working in the hearts of people, bringing them from the darkness of sin to the light of faith. Yet, He also experienced his fair share of disappointments and discouragements. In fact, just consider Paul’s situation as he wrote the letter to the Philippians. He suffered attacks from people, in fact, Philippi was one place where he was brutally beaten and imprisoned for sharing the gospel, he also suffered attacks from people who tried to pervert God’s Word with error and false teaching, he deal with unpleasant personality clashes between members of congregations, he endured persecution, while he wrote this very letter he was sitting in house arrest in Rome, and he even faced imminent death at any point.
And perhaps knowing that makes the words of our text this morning jump off the page even more: “Rejoice in the Lord always; I will say it again, ‘Rejoice!’” This is the first ingredient of God’s recipe for you this Christmas season: Joy. Rejoice always! Notice he doesn’t say, “Rejoice sometimes, rejoice occasionally, rejoice with the occasion permits it, rejoice when things are going well for you, rejoice when you feel like it” NO! He says, “Rejoice ALWAYS!” And this thought is so important to God that he repeats it, “I will say it again, Rejoice!” It implies that God who breathed into Paul to write these words knows how easily Christians can get downhearted and discouraged. We are to rejoice no matter what the circumstances of our life might be; rejoicing is to simply be a way of life for each of us.
Now this is a particular kind of joy. This isn’t the cheap, trivial, and artificial joy offered by this world which comes and goes as fast as the airplanes at the airport, this is true and genuine joy. So much at Christmas is fake and artificial- we have fake Christmas trees, fake Santa Claus, people even fake being nice just because it’s Christmas time. But our joy at Christmas time is real and true. Why? Because we “rejoice in the Lord.” We rejoice because Jesus is Lord, because Jesus is our Savior, because God held true to His Word and at just the right time in history he sent His son born of a woman, born under law to redeem those under law, redeem and save you and me! I like to say that Christians are “pragmatic optimists.” And by that I mean, we understand who we are, sinful human beings, and we understand what the world is, totally corrupted with sin, we understand that, yet we’re also optimists all the time. Why? Because there isn’t one day when you’ll wake up in the morning and Jesus hasn’t already come, there isn’t one day when Jesus hasn’t already suffered and died for your sins, there isn’t one day when Jesus hasn’t risen from the dead and lives ruling all things eternally. No matter what we have a joy that exists underneath us every day- no matter the circumstance or trouble, no matter the excitement or good situation: Rejoice in the Lord always!
After the ingredient joy God mixes in another ingredient: gentleness. “Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near.” God says the Lord is near. Certainly our celebration of the Lord’s first coming is near, Christmas is a little over a week away. Yet, the Lord’s second coming is near too. It could come at any moment so we live in a state of constant expectation of His coming to take us to our eternal home. We are simply sojourners, temporary residents and are awaiting our Promised Land. One day all the things of this world will lose their value. And knowing that allows us to be gentle to all. The word translated “gentleness” is an interesting one. It’s really a humble, patient steadfastness, a forbearing attitude, it’s being subjected to injustice or maltreatment without harboring hatred or malice, it’s a simple trust in God in spite of what’s going on or how you are being treated. We live our lives putting other (all others) needs ahead of our own. Not thinking how can I make Christmas enjoyable for me, but how can I make it enjoyable for someone else. Not thinking I’m only going to get them a gift if they get something for me. Be gentle, the Lord is near.
The next ingredient God mixes in is: prayer. “Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.” We worry and are anxious about many things in life, aren’t we? We worry about driving in icy and snowy conditions, we worry about our family or our children, we worry about our next doctor appointment, we worry about our job or about our checking account. If we took all of our worries together what a mountain it would be! We sinful humans worry from morning till night and then sometimes wake up in the night worrying! Worry is lacking simple trust in God. Worry is making ourselves god and then realizing we can’t do anything about it. But God doesn’t tell us not to worry or be anxious without giving the antidote. Prayer. In everything God wants us to take it to him in prayer, to leave it in his hands, and to trust Him to deal with it appropriately as he will. We pray to God because he has the power to do whatever needs to be done. We go to God like we might go to an old friend who’s helped us out in the past and we confidently know will help us out again. So we pray.
And the final ingredient in God’s recipe for you this morning is: Peace. “And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” When we pray to God He never assures us that He’s going to do exactly what we want, but we are assured of this promise of peace. The battleground of our worries, troubles, anxieties of life is in our hearts and our minds. We often say, “I can’t make sense out of all of this.” Our minds are struggling to understand our situation or whatever it is that we are concerned about: tragedies on the news, sudden dose of bad news, a big decision to make. Our minds are troubled because we are trying to use our minds to solve the various troubles we are facing, but we can’t find any solutions. The peace of God is totally different. The peace of God comes by trusting in Him, by saying to the Lord, “Lord, this is yours to handle, this is in your hands.” So no matter what I see on the news, the Lord is still in control, no matter what big decision I’m facing the Lord is with me and will be with me either way, no matter what difficulty I’m facing the Lord won’t leave me or forsake me. That’s true peace. The peace that comes from God to those who know God will provide for them, who know that the sufferings of this present world are not worth comparing to the glory that awaits, who know that God works all things out for the good of those that love him, those who trust in God are rewarded by Him with peace. A peace that is far better, far greater, far superior to anything our minds could come up with. And this peace stands guard, as a sentinel or a sentry who guards the believers’ heart from every evil that tries to come in.
So today, enjoy the ingredients that God has put together for the perfect Christmas dessert for your souls. And you’re ready for it. Ready with our hearts full of joy, our lives full of moderation and gentleness, our mouths are filled with prayer and thanksgiving, our souls full of the peace of God. With that let’s look forward to Christmas with joy! God is here! God is present among us! God the Almighty Creator and Universal Ruler chose to make His home among us, to live among us, to save us, so that we might live in His presence forever! Let’s go to Bethlehem once again and worship our Lord! Amen.