Fourth Sunday in Advent
December 12, 2004
Philippians 4:4-7 “Rejoice in the Lord Always!”
many people Christmas is not a joyful time of the year and all the talk
about the joy of this season only makes matters worse.
So much of the joy we see expressed during December is rather
shallow. It is based on
little more than a vague hope that somehow, somewhere, sometime there
will be peace on earth and goodwill toward men.
The true joy of Christmas is seldom found.
Urging people to be joyful won’t make them joyful.
True joy can’t be forced.
It must come freely from the heart.
is why St. Paul says it the way he says it.
“Rejoice in the Lord.” He
isn’t giving us an order. He
says, “Rejoice in the Lord.” “In
the Lord” makes all the difference.
You know what the angels told the shepherds about this Lord.
They said: “Fear not, for behold I bring you good tidings of
great joy which shall be to all people.
For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior which
is Christ the Lord.” Our
great joy comes from the good tidings of great joy.
It is the gospel of the Savior who is Christ, the Lord.
is our Lord because He is our Savior.
A lord rules over you. The
way he does so makes all the difference.
A lord who rules over you by forcing you to do things for him
that you don’t want to do will not bring you great joy.
But a lord who rules over you by rescuing you from your fiercest
enemies and setting you free from bitter slavery will bring you great
joy. And this is what Jesus
our Lord does.
the divine Lord is from everlasting to everlasting.
He is God of God. He
received His human nature from the Virgin Mary in time.
He was God from eternity. What
does this mean for you? Does
the fact that Jesus is God make you afraid of Jesus?
After all, if Jesus is God this means He gave the Law to Moses on
Mt. Sinai and that Law accuses you of sin.
If Jesus is God this means that He is the judge and He will most
certainly judge this world. If
Jesus is God this means that He knows everything you have ever thought
or said or done. He knows
what you want. He knows
what you plan. He knows
what you hide from everyone else. God
knows everything about you. Jesus
is God. So He knows.
you are living under the law the nearness of Jesus is a frightening
thought. But when you know
Jesus as your Savior from sin, His nearness is a very comforting truth.
Isaiah wrote of this comfort in the word of today’s Old
yes, comfort My people!” Says
your God. “Speak comfort
to Jerusalem, and cry out to her, that her warfare is ended, that her
iniquity is pardoned; for she has received from the Lord’s hand double
for all her sins.”
The reason we are not anxious
and filled with worries is because Jesus is near.
He is at hand. During
Advent we celebrate the coming of Christ.
He came on Christmas as a
little baby born of a pure and humble virgin girl.
He came in humility. He
comes today in His gospel and sacraments.
He comes to penitent sinners who cry out to God for mercy.
He comes with the mercy that we sinners need. He will come again in glory to judge the living and the dead.
Those who know Jesus in His first coming are not apprehensive,
worried, or anxious about meeting Jesus in His Second Coming.
Paul’s letter to the Philippians is God’s word for you.
In our text the apostle argues that we should rejoice because
Jesus is at hand. He is
near. He will return at any
moment. Rather than making
us anxious, this puts our souls at peace.
if Jesus had not come as He came we couldn’t find any peace at all. Imagine trying to get to know God apart from Christ.
Could you love God if He did not love you first?
Could you rejoice in God if you did not know the “good tidings
of great joy” the angels gave to the Shepherds?
No, you could not know God, love God, or rejoice in Him if you
did not know Him in the person of His Son, Jesus, the Child of Mary.
is God. This means that He
is almighty. He is holy.
He must judge and punish those who disobey his holy law.
But Jesus did not come into our world to judge us or to accuse us
or to punish us. In fact,
He didn’t come to demand anything from us.
Jesus came only to love us, and by that love to rescue us from
the punishment we have deserved.
in the Lord. That is,
rejoice in Jesus. When you
have Jesus you always have reason to rejoice.
If you do not know that you are forgiven of all your sins because
of what Christ has done for you; then you cannot rejoice in the Lord.
If you are trusting in how good you have been, how successful or
popular you are, how healthy, how wealthy, how wise, you cannot rejoice
in the Lord, and whatever joy you have is quite shallow indeed.
True joy comes only from true faith and true faith comes only
from the true gospel that reveals to you your true God.
That is why we come to church.
We come here to receive the true God: the God who become flesh in
the Virgin's womb; the God who was wrapped in swaddling clothes and put
in a manger; the God whose flesh was nailed to the cross to remove our
sins. In this God we can
is the God who comes to sinners, so you must be a sinner if He is to
come to you. We receive
this God in repentance, that is, in sorrow over our sin and faith in the
gospel. The heart that hardens itself against God’s word finds no
joy at all in God, but only His anger directed against sin and unbelief.
must repent if we are to receive the true God with the true faith and
experience true joy. But
God doesn’t come to us because we repent.
Our repentance is not what brings Him down from heaven.
We don’t cause Him to come to us and to forgive us and to fill
us with joy. He comes to us because He wants to.
before we offer him our praise, we give him our broken heart.
We lay before his throne of grace all of our sin, whatever we
have done against Hs holy law, whatever accuses our conscience, whatever
robs us of joy, whatever sins of commission or omission, yes, the whole
rotten mess of lust, greed and all evil desire.
Lay it all before Him. Don’t
search your conscience to debate which things you have done that are
sins and which are not. Instead,
throw yourself on God’s mercy in Christ and admit that you haven’t
loved God as He demands and that you haven’t loved your neighbor as
God demands. Yes, we are
altogether sinful and God is altogether gracious.
in the Lord always! We
never stop rejoicing because He never stops being gracious to us.
He never forgets the blood Jesus shed to make satisfaction for
our sins. Rejoice because
God’s anger is stilled. Rejoice
because the curse of the law is lifted.
Rejoice because your sins are forgiven.
Rejoice because the door to heaven is open.
Rejoice because where your sin abounded, God's grace abounded
is what makes us gentle and patient with one another.
We aren’t at war with God.
He has ended the war. So
we’re not at war with each other.
“Let your gentleness be made known to all men.
The Lord is at hand.” Why
look for arguments? Why
challenge every slight and resent every insult?
What difference can any of these things really make to one who
has met God in Christ and has received the inheritance of eternal joy?
If we need to fight, fight for the truth of God’s word!
The pure gospel is what has brought us true faith, true life, and
true joy. For that we will
gladly do battle against every enemy of the truth.
But there really is no point in fighting for our pride, our ego,
or our rightness. Haven’t
we already admitted, with the Apostle Paul, that all of our own goodness
is worthless? We don’t
have anything at stake anymore except for the truth that has revealed
Christ to our sinful hearts and has blotted out that sin forever.
we don’t have anything for which to be anxious.
Why worry? Why take
our problems so very seriously? Is
it possible that the God who has descended from heaven to earth to be
born as a baby – for us, to live in obedience to the law – for us,
to suffer the guilt of sin – for us, could not know or not care about
what we need? Of course
invites us to pray. Not if
we can summon the strength to do it right or to follow the correct
formula for getting positive results, as if we have to manipulate God
properly for our prayers to work. No,
God invites us to pray because He is our Father and He is ready, able
and willing to give us far more than what we pray for.
Will He pay the price we could not pay, bear the burden we could
not bear, wipe out by the blood of His Son the guilt which so burdens us
and then completely change His attitude when we begin to pray?
No, He will remain the same God with the same gracious will, so
“in everything, by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, let
your requests be made known to God.”
Prayer is talking to God as if what He promises us is true –
because it is. And we
don’t trust that He will answer our prayers only when we see the
evidence that He has done so in the past.
We know God answers our prayers for the simple reason that He
tells us he does. We simply
take him at his word. Don’
be shy about praying to God. Don’t
think you can ask for too much.
And He will give you peace – a peace beyond all human understanding, a peace that cannot be comprehended any more than we can understand a love so deep that it would penetrate our deepest loss and give us eternal gain. In fact, He gives us this peace when He tells us the gospel, when He pronounces us forgiven, when He clothes us in the righteousness of Jesus. It is there, even when you don’t feel it, even when your worries and cares seem to blot it out. It is a peace that will keep your heart and your mind from every kind of false peace this world, the devil or your own lying flesh might want to promise you. It is the peace of sins forgiven. It is the peace that no man and no man’s work can achieve. It is yours, brothers and sisters. It is yours in Christ. So rejoice in the Lord always. I’ll say it again, rejoice.
Rev. Rolf D. Preus