Monday, December 14, 2015
Sermon on Philippians 4:4-7, for the 3rd Sunday in Advent, "Calm, Cool, and Collected"
In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, Amen. On this 3rd Sunday in Advent, the theme of the day is “Joy”—marked by the lighting of the pink candle on the wreath, and heard in our Old Testament and Epistle lessons. Joy certainly fits the seasons of Advent and Christmas, as we wait and expect the coming of Jesus. However, many people wonder or fear whether joy can be real, or whether Christians can still have reason to rejoice, when there is so much evil on the loose in this world. The Roman Catholic Pope even made world headlines recently, for preaching after the Paris terror attacks, that this year’s celebration of Christmas would just be a “charade” because of the worldwide war, violence, and hatred that is consuming humanity. Can joy really be authentic and genuine this season, or in the midst of so many troubles, from our world news, down to our national, local, congregational, family, and even personal circumstances? Must the troubles and “bad news” of the world, crowd out the good news and the joy of Advent and Christmas?
Many of us can look back and remember particular years when clouds of fear and grief threatened to overshadow Christmas joy—whether it was something in our personal or family life, or tragedies in the forefront of our national life. The Paris and San Bernadino terror attacks this year, or the Sandy Hook school shooting around Christmas a few years before, or perhaps in the more distant past, the bombing of Pearl Harbor in December, 1941. Maybe a loved one died near the holidays. Maybe the holidays were exceptionally lonely because of family strife. A German Lutheran pastor, Herman Sasse, lived through the horrors of World War II, and was an outspoken opponent of the Nazis. He said about the place of Christian joy: “We need this joy now more than ever. The world needs it, and Christendom needs it. If ever this joyful news was necessary for the world, then [it is] in our century of great wars and mass death. But how should we, servants of the Gospel, announce this joy to the world if we ourselves do not have it?”
As Christians, who celebrate Advent and Christmas this year, we must believe in a joy that is greater than the sorrows, fears, and sadness of this world. And we do believe in a higher joy, a deeper joy, a more enduring joy than all the things that will continue to assault our Christian joy. We believe in the joy that Jesus gave to His disciples, as He was preparing to die. The joy He said would lift their sorrows when He returned to them. The joy of His resurrection, the joy of His presence and promised Spirit, and the joy of knowing He hears our prayers. This deep, secure, and foundational joy is a gift of Jesus, and goes hand-in-hand with His peace—Jesus told His disciples: “I have said these things to you that in me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world” (John 16:33).
There, Jesus said it! His peace, and the Christian’s confidence, is not in the world—which gives us tribulation or suffering—but Jesus’ peace is in Him and His victory over the world. Christian joy flows from the knowledge that however horrendous the headlines may become—however dark the days of tribulation to come may be—those clouds will never cause the Light of God’s SON to stop shining. We must never surrender to despair, or refuse to believe that the SON shines above those clouds, and that the rays of God’s Light will continue to pierce and shatter the darkness of this world. We must always remember that the joy of the Christian is in the Lord Jesus. “Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, Rejoice!” Don’t search for that joy in the world—find that joy in the Lord…always! At every time—in times of trouble and in times of quiet.
I mentioned that the joy and the peace of the Lord go hand in hand, as gifts of Jesus. They also make a profound difference in the lives of Christians, and our reading says others should be able to see this. You ever heard of someone described as “calm, cool, and collected?” Maybe someone who just doesn’t “get rattled” or “unnerved” by surprises, difficulties, or challenges. They seem to have it “together”; or are prepared for whatever comes their way. Well most Christians would probably never try to boast about having “it all together”—but is the Christian Paul describes in our reading, “cool, calm, and collected” somehow?
Verse 5 says, “Let your reasonableness be known to everyone.” What does it mean that Christians should be known for being “reasonable?” The couple of other places where this word shows up in the NT help us understand. When Paul is speaking about the qualifications of serving in ministry, the same word “reasonableness” gets translated as “gentle.” We should not be violent, but gentle, not quarrelsome (1 Tim. 3:3). In his general instructions for Christians, he says in Titus 3:2 that we should “speak evil of no one, to avoid quarreling, to be gentle, and to show perfect courtesy toward all people”. In James 3:17, the word shows up again, as James says the “wisdom from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, open to reason, full of mercy and good fruits.” The theme that emerges from these verses is that Christians are to be reasonable and gentle, in contrast to being quarrelsome, rude, or irrational. We should be thoughtful, respectful, and kind. You might say that we should be “calm.” This gentleness and reasonableness is a reflection of our self-control, our speech, and conduct.
How then, should Christian’s be “cool?” Certainly not by imitating the trends of the day—but Christians can be “cool” by not being anxious or worried about anything, as in Paul’s next word of instruction. “The Lord is at hand; do not be anxious about anything…” Anxiety or worry threatens our trust in God. It’s a nervous temptation to rely on ourselves or our own means to find some control of our circumstances. It’s an uncertainty that God can really handle what’s going on with all the trouble and trials in the world. As common as anxiousness is to us as Christians, so often does God have to tell us to let it go. “Humble yourselves therefore, under God’s mighty hand, so that at the proper time He may exalt you, casting all you anxieties on Him, because He cares for you” (1 Peter 5:7). So often we would like to hang on to our worries and dwell on them, but God calls us to constantly cast them onto Him and let Him care for us. The way for a Christian to be “cool” is to stop worrying about tomorrow, and let God take care of our troubles and concerns.
Now if I can put a twist on the word “collected”—you’ll see how we can be “cool, calm, and collected.” Paul goes on in verse six, to say, “do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God.” What does the regular Christian habit of prayer have to do with being “calm, cool, and collected”? In our Sunday bulletin insert, there is always a “collect” or prayer of the day. In prayer, we “collect” our thanksgivings, requests, needs, and praises, and lift them up before God. The “collected” Christian can pull together all the worries, concerns, requests—with thanksgiving, and bring them up to God, who has promised to hear and to care about us.
Our prayers should always rise “with thanksgiving” because, just like the command to “rejoice always”—thanksgiving and joyful praise turn our eyes back, again and again, to God’s blessings. Thanksgiving reminds us of all that we have received from God’s generous hands. It teaches us to count our blessings, especially in times of difficulty or grief or fear, when we may think that our blessings are too few. Praise and thanksgiving remind us to celebrate all that God has done, and to go beyond just the mere physical blessings we have experienced, but also to thank Him for His spiritual gifts and salvation. A “collected” Christian doesn’t necessarily “have it all together”— but they bring all those thanksgivings, prayers, worries and requests before God. And the Holy Spirit lifts up and completes our prayers as we are unable to do, with groanings too deep for words to express (Romans 8:26-27).
Calm, cool, and collected. Does that describe you? Are you known for your reasonableness? For your freedom from worry, or devoted life of prayer? Or does the thought make you shrink in your seat? Perhaps the Holy Spirit has His work cut out for Him? Thanks be to God, that He doesn’t give up on “hard cases” like us! When Paul confessed his own wretched condition before God, and he asked, “who can deliver me from this body of death?”, his answer came back with all the boldness of a true Christian joy and peace: “Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord!” (Romans 7:24-25). A wretched man, or wretched woman is not a lost cause in God’s eyes—they are the very object of Jesus’ rescue and victory! We must turn over our attitude, our worry, and our weakness in prayer to Him.
God is at work in you, through the victory of Jesus Christ. He is creating Christian character in you, not through your own efforts, but through the gift of Jesus’ peace and joy. A joy and a good news that is better and bigger than this bad news world—whether on a global or a personal level. How can that be? Jesus has given us the peace that the world cannot give, when He died on the cross to forgive us our sins. Jesus has taken away our shame before God, so that we may no longer be “wretched”, but can with confidence praise and give thanks for His victory. Jesus has given us His joy, so that we might take heart and know that He has overcome the world. It is the peace and joy of Jesus that shapes and feeds your Christian life, as He transforms you into the reasonable and gentle Christian who others can see turning your worries over to God, and lifting them with thanksgivings up to Him in prayer.
Is it a mystery? Is it something you or even the angels in heaven could explain? Paul ends our reading with these familiar words, that often end our sermons: “the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” It’s God’s peace, that goes beyond what we can understand or explain—God’s peace that is greater than all this world’s troubles and evils—it is God’s peace that is the guardian of your hearts and minds, in Christ Jesus. So know that God’s peace is doing just that—guarding your hearts and minds. Don’t be anxious about how you can become the Christian who has it “all-together”. Turn it over to God, who has promised to bring to completion the good work He has begun in you. Don’t be anxious about how God’s joy and peace can triumph over the evil of this world—take it on Christ’s own Word that He has already done so, and will bring His victory to completion when He returns on the Last Day. Having let go of all else, receive anew the gift of Jesus’ joy and His peace—He will guard and keep your hearts and minds. He will work His work of transformation in you. “Rejoice in the Lord always; again, I will say, Rejoice!” Amen.
Sermon Talking Points
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1. On the 3rd Sunday of Advent, marked by the pink candle on the wreath, we reflect on “Joy.” Philippians 4:4-7 opens with the words, “Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, Rejoice!” Where or in whom, does this tell us, true Joy is found? When can we find and experience joy?
2. How is joy deeper and more profound than mere “happiness”? How can we experience joy, even in the midst of trials and crosses? John 16:19-24. What is the relationship between joy and peace? John 16:33.
3. In Philippians 4:5, Paul says that a quality that Christians should be known by is their “reasonableness.” This same word is sometimes translated “gentleness” and appears in 1 Timothy 3:3; Titus 3:2, James 3:17. Describe what this quality means, and how it contrasts to negative qualities we should not have.
4. Philippians 4:6 shows that we should not worry or be anxious, because the Lord is near. How do we commit our worries to God, so they do not burden or discourage us? 1 Peter 5:6-7; Matthew 6:25-34; 11:28-30.
5. How does “collecting” our thanksgivings and praises to God in prayer help to create Christian joyfulness? How does it refocus our attention from our troubles? Why would neglect of thanksgiving and praise potentially lead us to lose our joyfulness?
6. When Philippians 4:7 says that the peace of God surpasses all understanding, does that include the understanding of angels as well as mankind? What does 1 Peter 1:10-12 tell us about the curiosity of angels and prophets? What is the joy of confessing the mystery and greatness of God’s salvation in Christ Jesus?
7. Summarize how joy and peace surround and create the Christian life, and how they come as gifts from God in Christ Jesus.