Rejoice always! And again I say Rejoice! (Philippians 4:4). This is the Sunday of joy, the 3rd Sunday of Advent. And last week, on the 2nd, I asked, ‘how are you preparing for the coming of Jesus the Christ, God incarnate’. And here we have our description of the Christian’s life awaiting the Lord. Joy, prayer, and gratitude, this is God’s will for you in Jesus Christ. Don’t stifle the Spirit, or reject prophecy; but test them all. Hold tight to the good, reject all evil and keep away from it. This is the life of the Christian as we prepare for God and His coming.
But why should we be joyful? How can we be when life is so stressful and tough? When we are hurt or injured, when we struggle with financials or ourselves, when our families are so far from us; there is so much to worry us and to trap us in despair. We all know people who have been broken, we all hear others’ complaints and whining, and we have all felt at times that we’re just trudging through life; up an eternal hill, dragged through gravel, or simply putting one foot in front of the other. You know what it is to have no joy. And yet, Paul tells the Thessalonians, now at the end of the letter, to rejoice!
Paul had told them of who God was, of what He had done, and what He had promised. And you! You have heard from the Psalms, Isaiah, Paul and John, God telling you the same, and we have confessed together with Christ’s whole church a summary of this in the words of the Apostles Creed. Why should we be joyful? In prayerful communion with God? Giving thanks in all circumstances? For the same reason the ancient Hebrews could rejoice after God brought them out of slavery into the desert; relief and gratitude that God provided for them still, not even their sandals wore out in all those 40 long hard years (Deuteronomy 29:5). The same reason the lame man was jumping and leaping and praising God after Peter freed his legs (Acts 3:8). The same reason that Jairus’ family could rejoice when Jesus healed his broken daughter, “talitha koum” and she rose from the dead (Mark 5:41). Freeing the oppressed, releasing those trapped/imprisoned, and restoring the broken (Isaiah 61:1). And God the Father, through Jesus, by the Holy Spirit has brought you too from death to everlasting life.
We know what it is to be broken, and we know everyone suffers sin. All humanity has been separated from God who is the source of life, when we reject His Word and listening to other things going after them we cut ourselves off from Jesus, from holiness and life, joining ourselves to sin and death (Romans 6:16-18). But you have been forgiven! The Holy Spirit has brought you back to repentance, turning toward Jesus! He has even given you the words and the strength to confess your sins, your failures, your separation from Jesus. And He has promised you, ‘I forgive all your sins’.
Now forgiveness isn’t just, oh it’s all okay now, it is so much more. You are divorced from your sin and betrothed to Christ in righteousness (Ephesians 5:25-27; 2 Corinthians 11:2; Revelation 19:1-7). You are united to Jesus who is the resurrection, life over death (John 11:25). Why can we be joyful, prayerful and thankful in this life? Because of Jesus, God and humanity reconciled in Himself. But do not hear this as a command, a job you must do to reach Jesus, as if He only speaks to the happy and content.
How can we be joyful? God Himself comes down to you, the Son came down and became human, the God-man Jesus Christ, the Incarnation. You cannot force yourself into heaven by good works, virtue or anything else, nor can you force God down. But He comes to us in love, and sanctifies us completely and in every part. He is the one who makes holy, who unites us broken people to Himself in Jesus, restoring us, recreating us together, healing us to everlasting life with Him the source of all life. This is not just a future reality, something that will happen one day perhaps long after I am dead and my bones are dust (Genesis 3:19), this happened 2000yrs ago, He is restoring you now, a foretaste of what is to come, and certainly, as Paul prays, ‘may you wholly be kept blameless at Christ’s coming’ when the heavens and the earth will be destroyed, the new creation and the final and eternal reconciliation (2 Peter 3:12-13). And so in advent we await the coming incarnation, the reconciliation of God and man, Jesus’ birth and the final revelation. Yet today He comes to you, through His Word and Sacrament. Comes to separate you from your sin and failures, to set you anew on His path that is peace, joy and love; The Holy Spirit comes to make you Holy. This is who God is, the one who makes us Holy, so speak to Him with joy!
And the peace of God which surpasses all understanding guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus, now to life everlasting. Amen.
Pastor Joseph Graham.