Let us pray: Dear Savior, today as we begin our walk to Your manger, focus our hearts upon the love and joy that it brings into our dark and cold world. And then move us to share that love and joy with all who need it, just as You have shared it with us. Amen
GRACE MERCY AND PEACE ARE YOURS FROM CHRIST, THE COMING CHRISTMAS KING!
TEXT: I Thessalonians 3: 9-13
Dearly Beloved By the Baby Jesus:
Last Advent and Christmas Debra Ann and I did something we’ve never done in all our married life. We didn’t send out a Christmas letter or cards. So, we’ll see if anyone has taken us off their list…..The reason we failed this annual task was the difficult time both pre-Christmas and during. We had my mother’s stroke and the emotional upset of it all. We had my own ongoing heart medication yo-yo-ing. We had the unexpected death of Brian, our big boy Scottie. And all that combined to subtract the small talk from a Christmas epistle. However, this year will be different as I’m on tap to compose that missive this week.
As I read and studied our lesson it reminded me a bit of a family-type Christmas letter. After all, Paul wrote it to his Christian family in Thessalonika, a church he started and planted during his 2nd missionary journey. In fact, this epistle may well be the very first one he ever composed to any congregation! It is dated that early. In any event, reading it put me in the mood for writing Christmasy greetings once again. And so, let’s study it and hopefully it will do the same for you. Yes,
RECEIVE AN ADVENT BOOSTER SHOT TO YOUR FAITH!
Do you use the season of Advent for the purpose it was designed? Advent is about making preparations for Christmas. But, if all you’re using it for is: setting up a tree, decorating the house, baking ahead, sending Christmas cards and letters, buying and wrapping gifts and travel—you’re really not using Advent properly. Because you see, Advent is primarily about getting your heart ready to meet the King of All Creation: Jesus Christ. It is about sweeping your heart clean of sin, focusing upon your need for Godly uplifting, and feeding, growing, and strengthening your Christian faith. So, don’t let the outward preparations trump the inner ones. Don’t let the fluff of the holidays overpower the substance.
Paul’s booster shot to these beloved Christian friends begins with a great, exclamatory prayer: “How can we thank God enough for you in return for all the joy we have in the presence of 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.”
Unlike most of our earthly Christmas letters, in this one Paul doesn’t focus upon himself, but upon his readers. They have brought him joy because they have embraced the Baby Jesus in faith. They have replaced life’s heartaches for Paul by showing and spreading the grace, the love, the forgiveness that Jesus has showered upon them. They heard Paul’s message and then they went out and were “doer’s of the Word,” too. But, Paul also knows that none of us, this side of heaven, are perfect. That is, we lack patience in an instant gratification world; we lack insight into Godly truths in a society that celebrates the superficial; and we lack the ability to let life come to us instead of trying to control and impose our will upon it and become frustrated. Whatever is lacking in your faith, Paul wants to supply it. And supply it he does by re-focusing our lives upon all the blessings that come through Jesus Christ—from a re-ordering of priorities, to everlasting comfort for a guilty conscience, to the Christmas gift of pure grace handed out each Sunday. Whatever is lacking Paul wants to give because all real blessings come from God alone.
The Advent booster shot for your faith continues: “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.”
Never, ever, take prayer lightly. Never, ever, discount its power because when you invoke the Holy Spirit and ask God for something out of faith in Jesus, the same power that created the universe is set into motion! So, examine the content of this mini-prayer. 1. Paul invokes God the Father and Christ, specifically, to make sure these Thessalonians and Paul would get up-close and personal once again. In an age of foot travel, hard times, and sporadic persecution that takes on new meaning vs. jet aircraft, cars, and Skype. Meanwhile, Paul also asks for a living, breathing, Christmas experience for a group of people who as of yet didn’t even celebrate Christmas! He asks God to make their Christian love for each other overflow, that their love extend to all others—note to self: Christians are unselfish hence “’tis better to give than to receive”!, and that his heart’s joy for them may fill them to the bursting point! Hummm…another note to self: I need to let these same joyous emotions predominate as I write my Christmas epistle to family and friends. After all, the joy of Advent and Christmas is infectious, isn’t it?
Now comes Paul’s final petition to God for his Christian friends and family. “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.”
What causes people more sadness and upset in life than the condition of the human heart? And no, I don’t mean our physical heart with its ventricles and atrium—I mean our inner self and soul and how we stand and measure up before God. Here Paul is actually referring to Jesus’ second coming on judgment day with saints and angels in attendance. Can you truly stand before Him on that day guilt-free and blameless? YES YOU CAN! Why? Because the Baby Jesus came in a manger, exchanged lives with you, died in your place and rose from your grave. So, just as the Baby Jesus isn’t scary, neither is the grown-up version. That’s all because His Advent/Christmas love never fails.
Do you feel a little more capable for facing Advent and Christmas now? How could you not after receiving a booster shot to your faith? So, I’ll see you next week for another……Amen