Let us pray: Dear Savior, today we begin a new year church. Today we begin a new path of aligning our souls closer to You and Your care. To make that happen, give us a humble heart, a thankful soul, and an appreciation of each other so that we can truly serve You by serving each other in love. Amen
GRACE MERCY AND PEACE ARE YOURS FROM CHRIST, THE COMING CHRISTMAS KING!
TEXT: I Thessalonians 3: 9-13
Fellow Redeemed Sinners:
Now that you’ve all eaten your fill of turkey and been maxed out by Friday shopping and a repetition of Uncle Fred’s stories after your Thanksgiving meal, it’s time to begin preparations for doing it all over again come Christmas. Let’s see, there are the Christmas cards and letters to write, the gift shopping to be done, the parties to attend, the decorating to accomplish, and the menus to be planned—not to mention the travel that many of you will undertake. Preparations abound at this time of the year!
Viewed from today’s perspective, with all of that awaiting you, it doesn’t sound like much fun, does it? Indeed, modern America has taken the joyous time of celebration over Christ’s birth and turned it into pure work. A time in which we’re all so busy “doing” that we fail to enjoy the anticipation.
One of the things I learned early in life was that the anticipation of Christmas was far more exciting than the actual day. Advertising agencies have learned that, too. That’s why they’re able to sell you some imaginary dream of the “perfect” day, the “perfect” meal, or the “perfect” gift. However, image and reality collide for many and explode into hassle and frustration unless we step back and take time to let God prepare our hearts in just the right way to meet Him come Christmas Day. So, with that in mind, let’s take some time today to recall that:
ADVENT BEGINS WITH PREPARATION
St. Paul started the Thessalonian church. He was the founding pastor. And as such he had a deep-seated emotional connection with those faithful folks. Although the miles separate them, nonetheless, he writes of his emotional commitment to them. “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.”
Paul’s joyous job, indeed every preacher’s job is to prepare God’s people for glory. It is to prepare sinful hearts to focus on Christ’s forgiveness, which is the entrance pass into heavenly splendor. Here he states that whatever they might be lacking in this area, he wishes to come and give them. Moreover, even if he cannot come, he still faithfully prays for them so that others—especially the Holy Spirit—may accomplish it.
We live in a very selfish age. A time in which books on happiness abound. And in almost every case those books will tell you that to attain true happiness you must take care of yourself and make yourself happy. Contrast that with Paul’s approach. He shows us that true happiness comes via serving others, or “supplying what is lacking in them.” Christ says the same thing when He states: “Whatever you do to the least of these my brothers, you do unto Me.”
God created us to be social people. He created us to do unto others as we would have them do unto us. Giving yourself, your time, your energy to another human being; caring for them, sharing with them, spending time on them—that’s how fulfillment is achieved. That’s how empty lives are made full. And you and I have the best gift to give to anyone—the forgiveness and joy of knowing that they’re right with God through faith in Christ. Advent is prime time to do just that. It’s the time for us to step back from running in place by merely engaging in the externals of Christmas and to invest our energies in its timeless joy—how God’s Son came into the world to save our souls.
I began this sermon by reminding you how anticlimactic the actual day of Christmas is for most people. By focusing on the food, the gifts, the parties and the travel, we arrive at December 25th all tired out. And then we often crash and burn emotionally. If you were to take a poll of shoppers in the mall today, or next week, or the week before Christmas and ask: “Are you having fun?” I dare say most would answer with a resounding: “No!”
The joy of any event is both the preparation and the actual occurance. Paul is anticipating the day when he can once more come to the people of Thessolonika. No doubt, that day would be a joyous one for all. But, even in his absence as he anticipates it, joy exudes from his letter. “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.”
The coming of Christ at Christmas is a foreshadowing for us of His second coming in glory. Likewise, the preparations we undertake to meet Him on Dec. 25th should be a microcosm of the preparations we employ for that ultimate meeting in heaven. And if we focus on what’s really important during both periods of time, if we focus on shunning sin, reaching out to others in love, and practicing genuine, heart-felt thankfulness over His rescuing our souls from death and despair and emptiness; well, then Advent joy will truly be ours!
There’s an old adage about “taking time to stop and smell the roses.” We could rephrase that to say: “Stop and smell the turkey and pumpkin pie.” But better yet, let’s take time over the next 24 days to stop and bask in the warm glow of Christ’s love which isn’t afraid to give its all to you! Amen