1 Thessalonians 3:9-13
First Sunday in Advent - 2 December 2018
Rev. John Derme
Advent is a season of great prayers. Near the beginning of the service we prayed the Prayer of the Day. This is the prayer that focuses us on the main teaching that we will see in the Bible readings on any particular Sunday. Advent has the most memorable prayers of the day, as three out of the four ancient Latin prayers begin with the words, "Stir up." "Stir up your power, O Lord, and come." The end of Advent has a series of seven prayers called the O Antiphons. Each of these ancient prayers focuses on a different name of Jesus. The O Antiphons are the basis of the hymn "Oh, Come, Oh, Come, Emmanuel." Many Christians dedicate themselves to prayer throughout the week during Advent with the use of an Advent wreath or Advent calendar.
Advent is also a season of great hope. It's not a season of optimistic wishes, as the world talks about the weeks leading up to Christmas. It is a time of hope as the Bible defines it: complete certainty. Our Advent prayers express our hope that God will hear and answer us and that he will give us what he has promised.
Our Second Lesson for this first Sunday in Advent contains a prayer that the Apostle Paul prayed for the Thessalonian Christians. His prayer expresses the hope that he had for them. Since it is the season of great prayers and great hope, today I also pray a prayer for you Christians here.
Before I tell you what my prayer is all about, think for a moment about St. Paul's prayer: "How can we thank God enough for you in return for all the joy we have in the presence of our God because of you? Night and day we pray most earnestly that we may see you again and supply what is lacking in your faith. Now may our God and Father himself and our Lord Jesus clear the way for us to come to you. May the Lord make your love increase and overflow for each other and for everyone else, just as ours does for you. May he strengthen your hearts so that you will be blameless and holy in the presence of our God and Father when our Lord Jesus comes with all his holy ones."
Paul was praying for the Thessalonians, because he had been their pastor. He was the missionary who started their congregation. When he first arrived in the city called Thessalonica, the Lord blessed Paul with three very successful weeks, during which many Gentiles heard the gospel message and believed. But the Jews became angry and drove him out of the city. So he moved on to another city, and they came and drove him out of that one, too. But even though he was working in new places, he couldn't stop thinking about the Thessalonians. He wondered whether they had been overcome by the persecution and forced to give up the gospel. He knew that he would not be allowed to enter the city. So he sent his trusted companion Timothy to see what was happening there.
After Timothy visited the Thessalonians, he returned to Paul with the wonderful news that they were holding on to the gospel in spite of the persecution. So Paul wrote 1 Thessalonians when he received that report and was praising God for them. He told them that he longed to see them again and teach them more. But even more importantly, he wanted to see them at the second coming of Jesus.
This is also my Advent prayer for you. I haven't been driven away from you. Not yet, anyway. I get to see you guys every Sunday. Many of you I get to see more often than that. I am so grateful that you are in my life. Although I am the one who is supposed to preach God's Word to you, you have proclaimed his gospel to me and built up my faith. I treasure our partnership in the gospel more than I can tell you. But as much as I like to be with you now, it is even more important to me that we will be together when Jesus comes again.
The reason that I pray about this is because the devil will try his best to keep us from being ready for Jesus' second coming. He doesn't want you to be in heaven with Jesus and your fellow Christians. He wants you to suffer with him in hell. So he tempts you to sin, because sin separates people from the holy God. And he tempts you not to love your fellow Christians, because we will be weaker if we separate ourselves from each other. And he tempts us to stop listening to God's Word, because he knows that it is what makes us strong, and that if we stop growing in faith we will die spiritually.
The devil tempts all of us to do these things. And he is powerful. We all have sinned against God and our fellow Christians. We don't deserve to go to heaven. With the devil against us, is there any hope for us that we will be together with Jesus when he comes again? If there were no hope, then there would be no reason for me to pray. But we do have hope for Jesus' second coming, because of everything that Jesus did at his first coming.
When Jesus came to earth, the devil tempted him in every way he tempts us. Yet unlike you and me, Jesus never sinned. He always did what was right. He always showed perfect love to other people. He always maintained a perfect relationship with God his Father. Yet though he never sinned, he died for our sins, for every time we haven't loved God or other people. Jesus lived and died for us so that we can live forever with him when he comes again. Jesus has defeated the devil for us. Jesus has given us hope.
Today I pray that you will believe the truth of what Jesus has done for you with all of your hearts. I pray that you will grow stronger in faith through the gospel message, so that you never lose the gifts Jesus has given to you. I pray that you will grow in love for your Christian brothers and sisters, so that you can encourage each other with these promises. And as you hear and think about Jesus' promises to you, he comes to you. He will make you prepared for his second coming, when he will take you to be with him and with all who share this hope.
Advent is a season of great prayers. Not wishy-washy prayers, but certain and hope-filled prayers. Not prayers for things that might be kind of nice, but prayers for the most important things of all. That is what I am praying about today, and I am confident that the Lord will grant my prayer. Dear Jesus, thank you for these dear brothers and sisters of mine. I praise you for all the joy that you have brought into my life through them. Come to them in your gospel. Increase their love for each other so that it abounds and overflows. Strengthen their faith in you so that it is never shaken. Forgive their sins so that they stand holy and blameless before you now and on the day you return to this world. Bring them and me to be together with each other and with you forever. Amen.