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, December 13, 2015
The Lord Is at Hand - December 13, 2015 - Third Sunday in Advent - Text: Philippians 4:4-7
Last week we noted that in his letter to the Philippians Paul does not dwell so much on any particular sin of the Philippians, rather the intent of this letter is one of encouraging and building up of the people of Philippi. Yet, although Paul does not dwell on any particular sin, as we read his words of encouragement and put them up as a mirror to our own lives, we do indeed find ourselves lacking. We find ourselves lacking because of our refusal of the gifts of the Gospel and this is our sin, as we will see.
Before we get to our text for this morning, as we continue on through this advent season, as we continue getting ourselves ready to celebrate Christmas and the birth of God in flesh, let us take a moment to look at the other lessons for this morning. In our Old Testament reading we hear the words of the prophet Zephaniah as he predicts the coming of the Messiah.
In our Gospel reading for this morning we hear some of the fulfillment of the words of the Old Testament lesson and we hear the account of Jesus’ response to the question of John the Baptist who came to prepare the people for Jesus’ coming, in particular for Jesus to begin His earthly ministry. Yet, as great a man, as great a prophet as John was, he still had his doubts as we hear in his question of Jesus identity. Jesus’ response was not to argue for His identity as the Messiah, nor was it a call to look at anything as proof of who He was, except that He was fulfilling the words of the prophet’s concerning the Messiah.
In our text, Paul encourages us as people who have witnessed Jesus’ first coming and who look forward to His second coming. We are to patiently, yet eagerly wait for the day of the Lord when He will come to gather us and all the elect and to take us to be with Himself in heaven.
Now, getting to our text in particular. Our text begins at verse four, “4Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, Rejoice. 5Let your reasonableness be known to everyone. The Lord is at hand; 6do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. 7And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” (v. 4-7)
Paul begins by encouraging and exhorting us to rejoice and to rejoice always. As we look at our lives, do we rejoice always? I think we are people who, rather than rejoicing always, more often than not we tend to bemoan our own circumstances in life. We bemoan that things don’t always go our way. We bemoan that life is unfair, at least as we might consider life to be fair. And if we are not always this way, certainly we know people who tend to be this way. Yet, Paul encourages and exhorts us to rejoice always, no matter what our circumstances. As we listen to Paul’s words and as we understand his words as coming from an end times point of view that is as Paul knows what the end result for us is, eternal life in heaven, certain he can encourage us to rejoice always. And as we know, believe and have hope and confidence in our eternal salvation, with the Lord’s help, we can rejoice always.
Paul encourages us to be reasonable. To be reasonable means to be gentle, to show forbearance which might mean to put up with each other, to not give offense, and at the same time to not be so easily offended. As we continue looking in the mirror, how often do we get upset and then look for ways to get more upset and more offended, always dwelling on the negative. And so we again go back to Paul’s view of the coming of the end of the world and as we know, believe and have hope and confidence in our eternal salvation, with the Lord’s help, we can be reasonable.
Paul encourages us to not be anxious, that is to not worry. Here again, as we look in the mirror the question is not if we worry, but how often do we worry. We worry about our health. We worry about our property, our house, our car. We worry about our family and our church family. We worry because of our lack of trust in our Lord, it is only natural. Someone once quipped, “When we worry we undo our prayers.” And yet, we worry anyway and we worry that we worry. But, again, going back to Paul’s view of the coming of the end of the world and as we know, believe and have hope and confidence in our eternal salvation, with the Lord’s help, we can turn our worries over to Him.
Which leads to Paul’s encouragement to pray. Certainly we understand, as we were taught in confirmation class that prayer is a heart to heart talk with God, anytime and anywhere. Paul encourages us to give everything over to the Lord in prayer and supplication and with thanksgiving and to leave it with Him, not to take it back, not to worry and undo our giving it to Him. Yet, how often do we pray to our Lord and then we attempt to go on to help Him out in answering our prayer. How often do we believe that God has not answered our prayer when in reality His answer has been “no”? And how often do we remember to give thanks to the Lord even for answering “no” or for giving us something we may not like or even for giving us the struggles and challenges we face in life? Remembering that prayer is one part of our conversation with God, our speaking to Him. As Paul encourages us to pray, so we might well read this as his encouragement to make regular and diligent use of the means of grace, especially in the reading of the Word which is His speaking to us. Yet, again, going back to Paul’s view of the coming of the end of the world and as we know, believe and have hope and confidence in our eternal salvation, with the Lord’s help, we do take everything to the Lord by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving.
Paul’s encouragement is that as we do these things, God’s peace will be given to us. God’s peace is a peace which begins with the forgiveness of sins and a removal of guilt. Yes, we may experience some peace and quite, some peace and serenity in this world, at least for a little while, but nothing in this world can compare to that peace which is true peace, that peace which flows from sins forgiven and guilt removed. Unfortunately, again, as we continue looking in the mirror, how often it is that we hold on to our sin and guilt and we let our sin and guilt drag us down. Going back to Paul’s view of the coming of the end of the world and as we know, believe and have hope and confidence in our eternal salvation, with the Lord’s help, we can give Him our sin and guilt and we know that He does give us peace from forgiveness and life.
Paul reminds us that God’s peace is a peace which surpasses all understanding. We do have a difficult time understanding God’s peace. As we just said, His peace is a peace which has its beginning in the forgiveness of sins. And yet, even as our Lord forgives us we continue to sin. We daily sin much and are in need of forgiveness as we confess. We sin in thought, word and deed. We sin sins of omission and sins of commission. We are conceived and born in sin. We are spiritually blind, spiritually dead and enemies of God. How can God forgive us we might ask? How can a Creator God love His creation so much? And yet, this is where God’s peace, where His forgiveness so much surpasses all understanding, because He is a God who does forgive us and forgive us and forgive us.
Finally, Paul says that God will guard your hearts and minds. How does God guard our hearts and minds? He guards our hearts and minds in the same way as He gives the gifts He has to give, through means, namely through the means of grace. When we refuse the means of grace, by not being in Divine Service and Bible class, by not reading our Bibles, having personal and family devotions, by not remembering our baptism, then we remove ourselves from the means our Lord has of giving us the gifts He has to give and our hearts and minds are unguarded. But, as we remember our baptism, as we have personal and family devotions, read our Bible and attend Divine Service and Bible class, as we partake of His body and blood with the bread and wine, our Lord works through these means to guard our hearts and minds to keep us in faith, and to strengthen us in faith, until He comes again.
What Does This Mean? Christians are different, at least different from the rest of the world. We Christian are forgiven, are given faith, are given life and salvation. These are gifts our Lord gives through His means of grace. These are gifts that we, as Christians cherish above all other gifts.
We Christians focus on the world to come, on heaven. Yes, we live in this world. Yes, we are tempted to be in this world and even to be of this world, but we know that there is a better place, a greater world and that is the world to come and so we invest our time, not so much in this world, but in the world to come. We invest our time in this world getting ourselves ready for the real world, the world, not of a few short years, eighty or ninety, but in the real world of eternity.
At this time of year we Christians look forward to celebrating Christ’s birth, God in flesh. We do not celebrate just yet. Remember, “advent” means coming. We use this time to get ready. Just as one would not simply call up all his friends and say, come over in two minutes, I am having a grand party, but would instead plan by making a list of invitees, making a list of what will be served to eat and drink and so forth, so too, we do not simply jump into our Christmas celebration. No, we use this time during advent to prepare, to get ready, because on Christmas day, on December 25 we will begin celebrating and we will celebrate for twelve days, until Epiphany.
Not only do we look forward to Christmas, we Christians also look forward to Good Friday and Easter. We look forward to God in flesh dying and rising. The reason we celebrate the birth of the Christ Child is because He came for one reason, to give His life for ours. We look forward to Good Friday, not in any morbid way, but knowing, understanding and believing that Jesus’ death was for us, in our place so that we might have forgiveness and life. And especially we look forward to celebrating His resurrection on Easter Sunday, knowing that death and the grave have no power over Him.
Finally, we Christians look forward to Christ’s return. Just as God kept His first promise and sent Jesus to be born, to live for us, to take our sins, to suffer on the cross and to die for us, so He will keep His second promise to return to take us from this vale of tears to be with Himself in heaven for eternity.
By God’s grace, given through faith, given through means, we are confident in our forgiveness, life and salvation and thus we do rejoice in the Lord. Because of our salvation, because God has His way with us, we do rejoice in the Lord always, we are reasonable in our relationships, we are not anxious, but we do take everything to our Lord by prayer and supplication and we do give thanks in all circumstances. And we bask in our Lord’s peace which passes all understanding. May the Lord continue to pour out His peace on you during this season of preparation. To Him be the glory, for Jesus’ sake. Amen.