Third Sunday in Advent - 16 December 2018
Rev. John Derme
It's the most wonderful time of the year, isn't it? With just over a week before Christmas, everybody is jolly and merry! Who could be sad and anxious right now? Actually, many people are. The holiday season is when more people attempt suicide than any other time of year. It's the time when counselors and therapists experience a surge of patients who need their help. Are you sad or anxious? If you are, you are not alone. Please know that your brothers and sisters here at church love and care about you. You can always talk to me or one of the other Christians here about your sadness or anxiety.
Maybe you get sad and anxious around the holidays. It could be due to the money troubles, or because you miss the family and friends from whom you are separated, or because of many other reasons. Or maybe you experience these feelings at other times. It could be when you hear the news about how many acres of the West have burned in wildfires or how many people died in the latest shooting, or because of many other reasons. Almost everybody feels sad or anxious at sometime.
These problems can make us sad, because they damage and destroy people's lives. These problems can make us anxious, because we realize that they could happen to us, just as well as anybody else. If you pay attention to the news and see what's happening in your friends' lives and see that your own life has as many problems as anybody else's, you might just end up sad and anxious about everything.
The Bible is more honest about the problems in our lives than anybody or anything else in the world. The Bible doesn't just talk to us about the money troubles or the bad things other people do to us. The Bible tells us about the source of all those troubles: human sin. We wouldn't ever be sad and anxious if we and all our fellow human beings did what God tells us to do. But because we don't, we have brought all of these troubles into the world and into our lives. And our sin causes an even worse problem: it makes you and me worthy of suffering punishment in hell forever.
To sinful people whose lives were filled with problems, the apostle Paul wrote the words of our Second Lesson, which we read from Philippians chapter 4. Do you remember what he said? It wasn't, "Wow, you've really got a lot to be sad about. You should be anxious about everything. " It was, "Rejoice in everything, and don't be anxious about anything!" Listen again: "Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice! Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near. Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus."
You've probably met one of those people who is always happy, because he or she doesn't really have any serious problems. When you are going through things that he or she couldn't even imagine, that person tells you, "Don't worry; be happy! You can handle it. It'll get better!" Yeah, right, that's really helpful, thanks. Actually, that can be pretty annoying. That is not what Paul is saying to you. He had plenty of his own problems, not the least of which was that he was in prison when he wrote those words. He hadn't committed any crime. He was falsely accused of things he did not do, he was arrested and spent years in jail, when his trial was moved to Rome he went through a terrible shipwreck. He'd been in jail other times before, too. People had even tried to execute him for speaking the gospel of Jesus, and he never lost the scars from those painful experiences. So when St. Paul tells us to rejoice always, he knows how to do that even while he is suffering through many troubles.
Rejoicing isn't exactly the same as being happy. I don't think it is possible for us to be happy at every moment of every day. Not even Jesus was happy all the time. When Paul encourages us to rejoice always, he is telling us that in spite of the problems that make us sad, we can still trust the Lord and know what he has done for us. Because Jesus came at the first Christmas to pay for our sins, he has also rescued us from the problems that those sins cause. And finally he will come again to take all our problems away forever. Nothing can change what Jesus has done for you now and what he has promised for your future. So no matter what happens, rejoice in the Lord!
We rejoice in the Lord, because the Lord is near. The Lord came near to us when he was born into this world as our human brother to help us. The Lord's return to this world is near, when he will rescue us from the troubles we face here. The Lord draws near to you now as you hear his Word, and he prepares you for heaven. And the kindness that Jesus has shown to you has an effect on your relationships with other people, as well. That's why Paul tells us to let our gentleness be known to all people. Guys, that doesn't mean you have to be a wimp. Jesus was gentle, but he was also the toughest man who ever lived. All of us can be kind, courteous, and gracious to help others, because we know how Jesus has helped us.
Jesus came to help us with all the problems that are caused by our sins. That includes the suffering, the punishment, the hell that our sins deserve. You never have to be anxious that God will be angry with you. Paul also tells us how we can deal with the anxiety that we have about the troubles that happen during this life. Pray about them. We often feel like our prayers don't make much of a difference for our problems. But actually, there is nothing better that we can do about them.
You and I have seen that even when we do what God wants us to do, so that we're not bringing troubles on ourselves, we still live in a sinful world surrounded by sinful people. Bad things that are beyond our control still happen. But since Jesus showed his gentleness to us by coming to take away the problem of our sins, then he will also help you as you experience your problems each day, until he finally takes them all away when he comes again. So ask the Lord for his help, but don't forget to give thanks for all the kindness he has shown to you. When we recognize his kindness, God gives peace in place of the anxiety. This peace transcends all understanding, because it doesn't make sense that people who have as many problems as we do would be at peace. How can we be at peace when we don't have enough money? How can we be at peace when we live in such a dangerous world? Though it doesn't make sense, that peace is real. You have experienced it or seen it in the lives of others. His peace will guard our hearts and minds from all of the sadness and anxiety that this world would bring to us.
It all sounds great, doesn't it! Let go of your sadness and anxiety. Rejoice, pray, be at peace with him and be gentle toward others. It is a great invitation to receive great blessings. Yet I know that I am still sinful. I don't rejoice always. I get sad. I can't keep myself from getting upset. I worry. I'm not gentle. I get angry. You fall back into these bahaviors, too. They all show a lack of trust in the Lord. That is why it is so important for us also to listen to the words of John the Baptist this morning and repent. That is why it is so important for us that we have been baptized, so that our sins are washed away. That is also why it is so important for us to pray. Ask the Lord to help you as you grow in your faith and live in love toward him and others.
I wish that there were somthing magical about this time of year, that we could just snap our fingers and always be happy. But unfortunately, this time of year can be a time of sadness and anxiety. You can't just be happy, because people tell you that you should be happy at this most wonderful time of the year. But no matter what happens, you can rejoice in what Jesus has done and promises to do for you. Jesus loves to help you. Rejoice! The Lord is near!