Over the years I have written several "book" or "booklets" and many, many, many newsletter and bulletin articles. Because the book market seeks writings to meet specific needs at specific times, my material has never been accepted. I have a tendency to write what is on my mind and so I am left with self publishing. So, with the encouragement from my wife and others, I am beginning this blog in order to put my "ramblings" "out there"! I hope you enjoy!
Please note that while my intentions are to use good grammar, because of the way in which some of the material presented here is presented (orally) the grammar and syntax might not always be the best English. Also note that good theology is not always presented in the best English so there may be times when the proper grammar rules are purposely broken.
Sunday, November 29, 2015
Giving Thanks - November 29, 2015 - First Sunday in Advent - Text: 1 Thessalonians 3:9-13
Happy New Year, or Happy New Church Year. Today is the first day, the first Sunday in our new Church year. Before we get into our text for this morning, and just as a reminder, because I know I have talked about this before but it is always good to review, I want to explain a little about how we get our Bible readings and how I choose my sermon text. The readings we have for each Sunday are a part of a three year cycle of Bible readings. I should also tell you there is a one year series that was used by many congregations for years and some still use the one year series today. These series of readings are not new but have been around for many years and many of the “traditional, liturgical” churches use these same readings perhaps with some variation. These readings come from what we call a Lectionary which is a set of readings. We use the three year series here. This three year cycle of readings is often referred to as Series A, Series B, and Series C. This year we are in Series C. The readings that we have were selected so that over a period of three years the main readings of what the Bible teaches are read. Each Sunday we have a reading from the Old Testament, from one of the Epistles, and from one of the Gospels. In Series A we mostly hear Gospel readings from Matthew, in Series B, from the Gospel of Mark and in Series C from the Gospel of Luke and the Gospel of John is interspersed during the three years. This three year cycle also means that every three years we hear the same readings from the Bible, which means that as we grow older and mature in our faith we can get more out of each reading. There is also an attempt to have readings that compliment each other, although you may have noticed this is not the case for every Sunday. As for as how I pick the text that I use from which to preach, I began years ago with Series A preaching from the Old Testament readings. In the ensuing years I have preached three years from the Old Testament, three from the Epistle readings and three from the Gospel readings and then started over. This year, in Series C I will continue with the Epistle lessons which I used last year in Series B and the year before in Series A. This means that, for the most part, I will be preaching from the Epistle lessons. I pray that as we concentrate on the Epistle lessons for this year that they will be a blessing to us all.
Today is the first Sunday in Advent. Maybe you remember, the word “advent” means coming. Advent is the time, not to celebrate Christmas, but to get ready for the celebration. I will say it now and I will say it again later, if you want a grand celebration you have to take time to prepare. You do not just say, “let’s have a party!” unless you have planned the party, otherwise it might not go as you would like. Likewise, in order to have a grand Christmas celebration we need to begin by getting ourselves ready and Advent is the time to do just that, to get ready.
How do we get ourselves ready? We get ourselves ready by making use of the means that God has of getting us ready, His Word and His Sacraments and notice then that I have moved my language in who is doing what in answer to that question. We do not actually get ourselves ready, but God gets us ready through His means of grace. This morning God gets us ready as we look at Paul’s letter to the Thessalonians. In his letter, Paul writes of his joy as he is pleasantly surprised at the faith of the Thessaloinians, at least as he has heard about their faith. The reason for Paul’s surprise is that he had only a short time to spend with them when he first visited Thessalonica. All he had time to do was to share what he could of the good news of salvation, the Gospel of Jesus, indeed the Word of God. Notice here that the Word of God is the means through which the Holy Spirit worked in the Thessalonians to give them and strengthen them in their faith, quite a statement and example to us today. If we would desire that it be said about us, what great faith we are seen to have through the way we love one another then our desire will be that of being in the Word.
The news that Paul heard about the Thessalonians was great news. The news he heard was that they continued to study God’s Word and continued to grow in their faith. Paul could hardly contain his joy as his words of praise ring out to the Holy Spirit for His work. Paul knew that it was not what he had done, but what the Holy Spirit had done, through the Word, that worked faith and strengthening of faith in them. Likewise, as your pastor, understanding that it is my calling to preach the Gospel, administer the Sacraments, forgive and retain sins and visit the sick and the shut-in, understanding that I cannot give you faith, nor coerce you in any spiritual matter, I rejoice as the Holy Spirit works through the Word you hear so that you are given faith and strengthened in that faith. I rejoice when your faith is seen in action, in loving one another.
Paul’s desire, however, was to return to continue to work with them. Paul knew that they were not completely mature in their faith and so he hoped to return to them to continue to share the good news of salvation to them. Again, as your pastor, my desire is that you may increase in your faith, that you may abound in love for one another, which is manifest in you by the power of the Holy Spirit working through the Word of God.
Paul’s excitement breaks out into prayer. Paul’s prayer is to God the Father, through our intercessor, God the Son. Paul’s prayer is for an increase of faith, shown through an increase in their love for one another. In other words, Paul prays for an increase in faith for the Thessalonians and in order to see that increase in faith he prays for an increase in their show of love. Paul’s prayer is for an increase in their show of love because love is a fruit of the spirit that shows that faith is in the heart. Here again, my prayer is the same for you. My prayer is that the Lord will work an increase in faith in each one of you. My prayer is that this increase in faith will be shown by you so that others, especially our guests and the people in our neighboring community can see that we have faith because of the love that we have for each other and for them.
Paul’s prayer is for their preparation for Jesus’ second coming. Certainly, my prayer is for your preparation for Jesus’ second coming as well, but especially during this season of Advent I pray for your preparation for the celebration of Jesus’ first coming, His birth in Bethlehem. Here, as I mentioned last Sunday, indeed at the end of one church year and the beginning of another our text do sound somewhat similar as we are hearing God’s Word concerning Jesus’ coming. At the end of the church year it is words of Jesus second coming on the day of judgement and the importance of being ready to be judged. And here at the beginning of the church year we hear texts concerning Jesus first coming, being born as a baby in Bethlehem and our being prepared for that celebration.
Paul knows that Jesus is coming again, because Jesus had already come and promised to come again. Likewise, we know that Jesus is coming again. We have God’s Word which tells us of God promise of Jesus first coming, and the fulfillment of that promise at His birth in Bethlehem. So, we know that Jesus is coming again because that is what He said, what He promised before His ascension into heaven. We know that as He kept His first promise He will indeed keep His second promise. Again, yes, we look forward to Jesus’ second coming, but at this time we prepare ourselves to celebrate His first coming.
This week we begin our getting ready for the birth of the King. In the Gospel lesson Jesus reminds us that there will be signs. He is speaking mostly of signs of the end times, but today, in our world today, we can see signs of getting ready for Christmas. Of course, our getting ready is a little different from the signs we see of how others in our society get ready. For example, did you notice that the signs of Christmas were already up in the stores in October? Yes, stores were beginning to get ready by putting up Christmas merchandise in October this year. Another sign of Christmas is that our society declares Christmas a success or failure according to how well they sell. Fortunately we do not use the same measure, however, we do still need to prepare ourselves for our Christmas celebration.
We do not plan to fail, but we do fail to plan. I said it earlier, if you want to have a great celebration you must have great planning. Christmas, getting ready for Christmas takes planning. Advent is that time for planning. So how do we plan, how do we prepare ourselves? We prepare ourselves by reviewing the Old Testament promises of the coming of the Messiah, by reading such Old Testament passages as we read this morning. We prepare ourselves by remembering the reason for the Old Testament promises, that is, that God promised a Messiah because of sin in the world. We prepare ourselves by thinking about our contribution to Jesus’ suffering and death, that is that it is because of me and my sin that Jesus had to suffer and die. We prepare ourselves by remembering that the baby, whose birth we celebrate, was born to die, for you and for me.
We prepare ourselves or better said, we come to be prepared by our Lord through our use of His means of grace. Every year during the Advent season we rejoice in the many extra opportunities we have to get prepared, to make use of the means of grace, indeed to be given the gifts of God. If you have not yet looked at the brochure for the opportunities to be given the gifts of God, please do so. Every Wednesday evening during Advent we have an opportunity to prepare. Christmas Eve and Christmas Day we have an opportunity to celebrate. Let me encourage you again, do not be negligent and refuse the gifts of God by letting these opportunities slip past but make the most of these opportunities so that God might work through His Word and Sacraments to get you ready even to strengthen you in your faith so that we might rejoice and so that what Paul said of the Thessaloinians might be said of us, how great is their faith which is seen in their love for one another.
Last week we were encourage to make sure we are ready to meet the Lord. We were reminded once again that our time in this world is fast and fleeting and that we will meet our Lord, either at our own passing or at His return on Judgement Day and we were reminded that day will be sooner than we know and sooner than we might imagine. This week we might ask the question, “Are you ready to celebrate the birth of God in human flesh?” In getting ready to meet the Lord we were reminded of the importance of making time for our relationship with the Lord. In getting ready for our celebration of the birth of God in human flesh, again, it is important that we make time for our relationship with the Lord which is a part of good planning.
As we begin a new Church year, as we focus our attention on getting ready to celebrate Jesus’ birth we are encouraged. While the world continues to suffering in the pains of getting ready for Jesus’ return, as we hear of wars and rumors of war, famine, earthquakes and the like, we have God’s Word and ample opportunities to hear His Word, that Word through which the Holy Spirit works to give us the gifts of God. God is the prime mover. God gives and we are given to. God does for us and we are done to. Indeed, as God, through His Word has His way with us, our desire is to be where the gifts of God are given out and to rejoice in His good gifts and blessings. Thanks be to God.
Let me conclude this morning by saying that Paul’s prayer for the Thessalonians is my prayer for you and it is a fitting prayer as we begin a new Church Year and as we begin preparing ourselves for the celebration of the birth of Christ, the new born king. “May the Lord make you increase and abound in love for one another and for all, as we do for you, so that he may establish your hearts blameless in holiness before our God and Father, at the coming of our Lord Jesus with all his saints.” To God be the glory, for Jesus’ sake. Amen.