Let us pray: Dear Savior, amid a world filled with problems we want relief! We want to be happy not sad. We want joy to fill our hearts and not worry. Lord, today as we continue our walk toward Your manger, give us joy! Refocus our minds and souls on true joy that can never be taken away—the forgiveness and love that You bring. Amen
GRACE MERCY AND PEACE ARE YOURS FROM CHRIST, GOD’S GIFT OF JOY TO YOU!
TEXT: I Thessalonians 5: 16-24
Fellow Redeemed Seekers of Joy:
All it took was the right prescription! And because of that prescription my little dog, Zoe, is alive today at age 12 ½. I know Brian writes a column for the church newsletter, so you know a bit more about him. But Zoe is older and she has a lot to tell, too. For about the first year of her life she was a puppy filled with a zest for life. Then for the next 2 1/2 years of her life she was miserable. You see she has a genetic digestive problem, actually a couple of problems, and it made her chronically sick. We tried everything. My vet tried almost everything. For a while she’d get better, and then her upset was back again. She would look at me with her eyes and seemingly ask: “Why me? Do something!” I tried.
Finally, we gave in to prednison. That prescription was the last resort. And glory be! It worked! Her inflamed digestive tract was a lot better. Later we found we had to add another medicine, Rolaids!!!, and a special food. Today she has reached age 12 ½. It’s a minor miracle. I never thought she’d live beyond 8. Yes, the right prescription applied in just the right way worked! And if you were to see her joy over stealing errant socks, you’d agree.
Zoe is a metaphor for you and me. We have the chronic, genetic sickness of sin afflicting us. It touches every aspect of our lives. It brings physical pain, mental anguish, emotional upset. It brings uncertainty over the future, and in the process we are robbed of true, lasting joy in life. But, the right prescription, applied in just the right way, can calm our souls and renew our joy over God’s gift of life.
Today is the 3rd Sunday of Advent. Historically, it is called by its Latin name: Gaudete Sunday. Or, the Sunday of joy and gladness. You’ll even note that in our Advent wreath, we have a special pink candle burning to mark this Sunday. In keeping with that theme of joy, today our epistle lesson outlines for each of us:
GOD’S PRESCRIPTION FOR A JOYOUS CHRISTMAS AND A JOYOUS LIFE
The writer of this epistle, St. Paul, was imprisoned in Rome. He was alone and under indictment for crimes against the Roman empire. Specially, for saying that Almighty God was more important than the Roman emperor! Ultimately he knew that this “crime” would cost him his life. And it did. So, it’s rather amazing that amid this depressing circumstance he could and did write this amazing, uplifting prescription. Indeed, if anyone wonders whether or not these are just human words and not the true word of God, the fact that Paul could write in this manner proves they had to come from the Divine.
In the opening few lines, Paul gives us eight short, pithy statements about both how to possess a joyous Christmas and a joyous life. First, he says: “Be joyful always.” Wow! How is that possible? We’re sinners. We’re human. Evil and heartache are a part of daily life. So, is joy merely a human emotion? If that were true, Paul was either delusional or a superhuman! After all, his circumstances were not conducive to creating emotional joyousness, were they? And yet, he writes those glorious words. Next, he adds: “give thanks in all circumstances.” Another Wow! Give thanks while imprisoned? Give thanks while surrounded by human sorrow? Those words: “all circumstances” are totally inclusive. They leave no “wiggle room” do they? So, how is this possible? Ah, now comes the clincher: “for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.”
God’s way out of human sorrow and heartache is acceptance of Him and His will for us. It is acceptance that He is in control of our lives, not us. It is acceptance that He will never test us beyond what we can bear. It is acceptance that real joy doesn’t find its true reality in this life, but in the one to come. It is acceptance that God loves us more than anything else there is, and proved it by sending us a Savior, Jesus Christ, to suffer and die in our place in order to win, earn, and then freely give us: eternal joy.
All of you are facing, have faced, and will face soul-tempting struggles. We’ve catalogued a lot of them over the past few Sundays. And all such struggles can rob you of Christmas joy and joy over life itself, if you let them. That brings us to the 2nd half of God’s Prescription for Joy—actively putting the power of Christ’s love to work in your life so as to prevent such theft!
“Do not put out the Spirit’s fire.” That’s not just Godly advice, it’s a command of God! Don’t pour cold water on the Spirit within you. Don’t get so engrossed by worry and stress over pain and sadness that you let it overcome the truth that: “We are more than conquerors (of life itself) through Him, Jesus, Who loves us!” Next comes: “Do not treat prophesies with contempt.” Ah, your presence here this morning shows that you’re already following that wise counsel! Prophesies means: God’s Word of truth. It means that the Holy Spirit comes through that Word of truth to uplift and comfort you, to “fire you up.” So, take them all seriously. Listen to them carefully. And let the comfort they are designed to bring you flow through your veins.
“Test everything.” Test it against what? God’s Word. Hold the people you listen to and the issues you face up to the prism of God’s Word. Do they agree, or disagree? Which side should you follow? You know the answer.—“God’s Word is a light unto your feet and a lamp unto your pathway through life.” “Hold on to the good.” What is truly “good” in life? What is totally pure, holy, and will never disappoint? Isn’t it God’s love for you in Christ and all the goodness it brings with it? And finally comes: “Avoid every kind of evil.” Once you know something doesn’t square with God’s truth and doesn’t elevate you heavenward, avoid it! Run away from it. And in place of the heartache it would have brought you will come: joy and relief!
Can any of us really, truly, honesty, and perfectly adhere to this prescription for joy? We can only if we keep focused on the Source: Jesus Christ! We can only if we plead His mercy daily and pray for it daily. Notice that St. Paul does just that in his concluding words, and that’s why true, eternal joy never ceases for the Christian—for God’s Prescription works! “May God himself, the God of peace, sanctify you through and through. May your whole spirit, soul and body be kept blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ.” What a prayer! And then comes the final shout of triumph joy over knowing all this will occur: “The one who calls you is faithful and he will do it.” Amen