3rd Sunday in Advent – C LSB #’s 803, 357:1-4, 357:5-7
Text – Philippians 4:4
Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice!
Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel shall come to thee, O Israel. Those are beautiful words, from a much loved hymn that has been sung in churches since the 12th century. Literally millions of Christians have sung those words at Christmas century after century. Their beauty & their message has bound together people of faith across time & space.
But the Christian faith is not simply sentimental memories or feelings. Millions of Christians have also endured a brutal death in this life because of their faith in Emmanuel. So I have to ask, “Do the words have any kind of personal meaning for you? Is there joy harbored deep inside your heart & mind no matter what the external factors of your life may be?”
Do you rejoice at Christmas, & why? Is there something specific that you are rejoicing about this morning – not just happy or glad or content, but rejoicing? It’s a sad state of affairs if something, anything does not immediately come to mind. You know what the obvious answer is! Until the day we die each of us should be rejoicing that God’s Son has paid for our sins.
Sinful human beings should never ever get used to that fact. If you think about the gravity of what Jesus did we should rejoice with every breath we take. But we don’t, & that makes the forgiveness of our sins, the very forgiveness of our ingratitude, even more incredible. Right now, take a moment to just think about that kind of joy. PAUSE
If you were able to do that you experienced exactly what the apostle Paul is writing about in the words of Philippians 4. Alleluia! If you were not able to get there, because I didn’t pause long enough, or there is too heavy a burden weighing on your heart, that does not make you a bad Christian. It does not mean you are a failure as a child of God. All of us fail at rejoicing every day. Our failure is why Jesus was born. It’s why the Malach Yahweh Himself took on human flesh & for the joy set before Him endured the cross. Jesus knows what true joy is & He embodies it. How we long to be like that – to clear our heart & mind & soul of sadness – that we might be joy!
The answer to our dilemma is right here in these words – “Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel shall come to thee, O Israel.” You, as the children of God, are the new Israel & Emmanuel shall come to thee. That’s what we look forward to during this season of Advent, not just the coming of Jesus as the babe in a manger, but the coming of Jesus as Lord & King.
We can rejoice because Jesus is a good King. He is, in fact, the best King ever & He will rule the circumstances of our lives so that everything will be perfect forever & ever! “He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, & death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.” (Revelation 21:4 ESV)
That is what’s coming. It’s why we rejoice already in this life, because what we have here, or what we endure here, is not everything. In fact, it’s barely anything at all. We rejoice because our King has already defeated all the brokenness that you or I experience here. The joy that we have is not of this world & it cannot be understood by this world.
We have a difficult enough time understanding it ourselves, because our sinful nature is constantly corrupting the joy that God’s Spirit creates in us. Mankind is not able to manufacture the joy that Jesus has won for us. It is a joy that stands in sharp contrast to the anxiety which our sinful flesh, Satan & the world flaunt before us & within us.
Working through God’s holy & perfect Law, the Holy Spirit shows us our sins, “Do not be anxious about anything...” (Philippians 4:6 ESV) Anxiety reveals our lack of trust in God & His promises. It’s a violation of the 1st commandment. Working through the good news of God, the Holy Spirit creates in us a clean & repentant heart, “Be glad & rejoice with all your heart, Daughter Jerusalem! The Lord has taken away your punishment…” (Zephaniah 3:14b-15 ESV)
That is the rhythm of spiritual life – sorrow in repentance – joy in forgiveness & in the life that it brings! People have suffered from anxiety over the corona virus for two years now. Even with all their blustering, doctors & politicians have not been able to protect us. Yet, in the forgiveness of our sins, God’s children still find joy & life in spite of Covid 19.
More recently people are anxious over the raging inflation spreading through our economy. In spite of our government downplaying its significance, it is having a real impact on the lives of the people the government is supposed to be serving. Nevertheless, in spite of the ineptitude of government, God’s children still find joy & life in the forgiveness of our sins.
The tornadoes that tore through our nation’s midsection on Friday evening have utterly destroyed the possessions of many thousands of people & ended the lives of possibly hundreds of them. As a result, anxiety will be an ongoing issue for many people. Children of God do not find joy in that destruction, nor in the loss of life, but we recognize that those are temporary.
Tornadoes, along with the destruction & death that they can bring, are another result of the sin & corruption that man brought into this world. They are a sign that should move us to repentance, another opportunity to accept the forgiveness of our sins. Jesus’ own life was destroyed in order to rescue us from the eternal destruction & death that awaits all unbelievers.
Sin has brought anxiety into our world. Jesus came to bring peace – one that surpasses all human understanding. Unbelievers can never comprehend that peace, & believers can’t explain it, except to say that it comes entirely from the heavenly Father. The peace of heart & mind that all human beings seek comes only as a gift from God.
As we reject that gift, to whatever degree, anxiety is a certain result. Just look at our
culture today. Is it not filled with anxiety? We blame it on Covid or inflation, crime & politics, even the weather. The truth is our anxiety comes from being uncertain about our future in the here & now, & about our future in the eternal hereafter. As we focus on those anxieties, we are turning away from trusting God’s promises, & joy can never be the result of that process.
Already on this side of eternity, apart from Christ we are dead even while we are living. That’s why the Son of God also became a son of man, that He might reunite human flesh to our Father in heaven. Sin had separated us, & anxiety over our future was one of the chief results. There is no joy where anxiety reigns. It’s not possible to be rejoicing if you are worried!
To worry is to reject God’s peace that comes to us along with the faith His Spirit creates in us. In Philippians, Paul is writing to a persecuted church. They had plenty of reasons to be worried or anxious, yet, what is Paul’s key note? – Rejoice! Only a person with faith in Jesus as Savior from their sins is able to comprehend this & do it.
Paul is calling us to continual & habitual action. We are always to have joy in Christ, & mourning in ourselves due to our sinfulness. This joy invades us, we do not choose it. This joy does not leave us during times of illness, poverty, oppression or persecution. This joy does not separate happy days from sad ones, nor successful moments from moments of failure.
Because of the new creation to come, Christian joy always has an “end of the world” dimension to it. The perfect bliss of heaven breaks into our lives through the faith that we have in Jesus as Savior. Insecurity causes us to be uptight, selfish & cruel, to be contentious & self-seeking. Confidence in God enables us to be meek & gentle as Jesus demonstrated here on earth.
Paul is not referring to imaginary troubles or phantom anxieties. He is not making light of the troubles the Philippians face, but he knows that God is greater than all troubles & is wise enough to work through them. There’s no way that you or I can explain what God is doing through events like the tornado that just ripped through our nation. All that our faith in God allows us to say is that He is good & so is His will. Yahweh calls us to submit to Him because He has given us life & purpose & meaning even when we don’t understand it.
That Jesus has saved us from eternal death by paying the price for our sin, is alone reason to rejoice forever. We pray that God’s Spirit would guide & direct us how then to live. Amen.
O come, O come, Emmanuel, & ransom captive Israel that mourns in lonely exile here until the Son of God appear. Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel shall come to thee, O Israel. O come, Thou Key of David, come, & open wide our heavenly home; make safe the way that leads on high, & close the path to misery. Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel shall come to thee, O Israel! Amen. LSB 357:1 & 5.
Pastor Dean R. Poellet