December 16, 2018: 3rd Sunday in Advent

Let us pray: Dear Savior, today we pray for joy in our hearts as we walk toward Your manger!  Give us a spirit of awe and appreciation of Your great gift of love given to us!  Moreover, may every day be filled with such joy and awe and may it influence and direct everything we say and do.  Amen

GRACE MERCY AND PEACE ARE YOURS FROM CHRIST, THE BRINGER OF GODLY JOY!

TEXT:  I Thessalonians 4: 16-24

Dearly Beloved By Christ:

272 words.  That’s how long Lincoln’s Gettysburg address is.  He penned it on the train to Gettysburg on the back of an envelope.  His short speech came after the 2 ½ hour talk by another dignitary.  His address was an afterthought to that famous orator.  Yet, only Lincoln’s words are remembered today.  It always amazes me how in just 272 words that President could capture what took place on that hallowed ground where 50,000 men lost their lives.  Yes, the Gettysburg address is probably the best speech ever written by a mere mortal.  It captures life and death to a tee in that snapshot of time.

I had a speech teacher in high school who made us memorize the Gettysburg address.  It comes back to me whenever I read a really pithy text from the Bible, like the one before us.  For God was a better speech-writer than Pres. Lincoln.  And in today’s text, God, through St. Paul says far more than Lincoln did and God does it in just 86 words!

I

This is the “joyous” Sunday of Advent, the pink candle one.  Immediately you can see why this lesson was picked: “Be joyful always.”  Joy is an emotional attitude of the heart.  True joy cannot be faked.  It can come upon you at a moment’s notice, even amid tough times.  Little things cause joy and big things bring joy.  A baby’s first steps, a wedding, a first kiss, victory in war, or even a warm day on the beach.  But, how about that word: “always.”  Ah, that’s a lot tougher.  Always includes sickness, pain, death, disappointment and all those other negatives of life.  Why should we be joyful then?  I’ll tell you why.—Because the eternal Son of God has come into this world to save us eternally from such soul-crushing times.  He came to bear our burdens and griefs and carry our sorrows.  Emotions change on a dime.  But the joy over being God’s beloved child is always with us because the Source of it, Jesus Chris, is always with us.  “Lo, I am with you always to the very end of the age.”

“Pray continually.”  When you’re joyful you want to talk about it.  Prayer is talking to God.  So, bring to Him words of thanks and praise throughout the day.  Spill your guts to Him.  Nothing is too small or too large to share.  He always has a ready ear and He’s always going to help you.  After all, He invested His life and His blood in you.

“Give thanks in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.”  When you’re joyful it usually means you’re thankful.  But when you’re thankful it always means you’re joyful.  Being thankful is a huge part of being a Christian.  It also says a lot about God’s heart, doesn’t it?  His will is for us to be thankful all the time.  His will for us is that we never fail to share with Him our thankfulness.  For when we do, it brings God joy, too.

II

When Lincoln spoke his address the graves of thousands dotted the hills around him.  The carnage of battle was still evident.  Everyone in attendance knew about tough times and evil and hatred because the evidence was before their eyes.  One of the most uplifting truths of Christianity is the good always triumphs over evil in the end.  That’s part of our hope and our joy.  But we still need to be reminded of that fact on a regular basis.  And now Paul does just that: “Do not put out the Spirit’s fire; do not treat prophesies with contempt.  Test everything.  Hold on to the good.  Avoid every kind of evil.”

As pilgrims on the way to the manger, those are our earthly marching orders.  It’s easy to skip over those “boring” sections of the Bible.  It’s easy to get caught up in all the human stuff of life, like the fluff surrounding Christmas, ignoring the beacon of light flashing from the manger.  It’s easy to swallow the latest drivel dominating the media and let it crowd out Christmas joy.  It’s easy to play with evil  and listen to gossip, tearing people down instead of building them up.  I just read that Christmas Eve at 10 p.m. was the highest time of heart attacks during the whole year.  I’ve also read that the suicide rates hit their peak during the holidays.  So, God’s Word rings true: “Hold on to the good” instead.

III

As humans God has made us with a body, given us an eternal soul, and also put a part of Himself, the spirit of life, within us.  So, physically, mentally, and emotionally we belong to Him through and through.  Our final words bring out the meaning behind all that: “May God himself, the God of peace, sanctify you through and through.  May your whole spirit, soul and body be kept blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ.  The One who called you is faithful and he will do it!”

Note well that Paul doesn’t say: “You do these things!”  That’s because we cannot.  We’re sinners.  We’re imperfect.  We oscillate between emotional highs and despondent lows every day.  We cannot save ourselves.  We need a Savior Who can.  And that Savior is God’s Son, soon to be born in Bethlehem’s manger.  He can save us.  He has saved us.  And He will save us.  He’s faithful because we are so faithless.  And that, my friends, is exactly why you can be joyful always!  Yes, in these 86 words, God encapsulates our entire lives, doesn’t He?  Amen