Third Sunday in Advent December 10-11, 2022
“A Season For…” I Thessalonians 5:16-24
Rev. John R. Larson Ascension Lutheran Church Littleton, Colorado
There were two brothers who were surveying the toy box in their room the first few weeks of December. They looked around and they saw games with missing pieces, some of their toys were in bad shape – some broken, others with parts missing and instructions for the more complicated ones, long gone. They looked at each other and they said, “Boy, do we ever need Christmas.”
I think that is true for more than just a couple of boys. We need it for bigger reasons than the replenishment of bruised and broken toys. We need it because this is the time where God comes to bring joy, lasting joy.
Back in 2005 a man named Alfred Anderson died. He had lived a long life – 109 years and his death was significant because he was the last of the Scottish veterans of World War I. Alfred was the last of the veterans who participated in what has been called “The Christmas Truce”. In December of 1914 the war was only 5 months into its 52-month length. The opposing sides fought in trenches dug deep with only 30-70 yards between them.
On Christmas Eve in 1914 something quite amazing happened. Signs were raised calling for a truce. The Germans wrote, “You no fight, we no fight.” The British wrote, “Merry Christmas.” Songs were being sung – “Silent Night” and “O, Tannenbaum” were heard. The opposing sides, enemies to each other, shared rations that night. There was no fighting on the Western Front on Christmas Eve in 1914 – 108 years ago.
The truce continued on Christmas Day. Soldiers went into the land separating the opposing sides called “No Man’s Land” and retrieved bodies of those who were dead. Then folks from each side came out and exchanged gifts like food and cigarettes and liquor. They played games of soccer. The Germans beat the British 3-2 in one of those games.
But such a peace couldn’t last. A man called Captain J.C. Dunn said that at 8:30 on Christmas Evening he fired three shots in the air and saluted the German officer and the German officer returning the salute fired two shots in the air and the war was on again. Christmas and its peace was far too temporary.
This is the Third Sunday in Advent. We light the third candle – the candle of joy. I chose as our text the directive that Paul had for a believer in Jesus, “Be joyful always; pray continually; give thanks in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.” And he adds at the end of the reading, “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. The one who calls you is faithful and he will do it.” (I Thessalonians 5:16-18, 23-24) We need a joy that is not temporary. We want something that sticks. God has a joy that He comes to bring, a joy that lasts.
Is this a season of joy for you? For quite a few people this is the hardest time of the year. They look around and realize how happy this time should be but that is not part of their life. I remember talking to a widow whose husband had died a while back and she found herself all alone in life. What she hated more than anything was going into a restaurant – alone. She looked around at others – couples, families, friends with other friends, and she was seated alone.
I spoke to another gentleman who had lost his spouse and he had stopped coming to church. He didn’t like sitting alone. A season of joy? Some folks have little and can’t afford to buy presents for others. Some see life and wonder why they were left off of the “blessing list”.
For all of us who can struggle at this time of the year and wait for it simply to be over, or for those who have lost sight of the birth of Jesus because of all the distractions that have taken over this time of year, or for those who have had too many troubles and loses – I want to tell you that this is still a day of joy. This is still a season of joy. Our life can have the great gift from our God who is the God of joy.
This is a season of joy. But please understand what joy is and what it isn’t. Joy is not just happiness. Joy is not parading around with a plastic smile, you know the kind we wear for family pictures. That is not the joy that the Bible tells us we are to have when it says, “Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice.” (Philippians 4:4) Joy is knowing that God has our good in mind in every thought and action toward us. Joy is ours when we know that God will always be faithful to us in every situation, at every moment at our life. Joy is the presence of God’s Holy Spirit in our life, filling us with the security of God’s gifts especially when we feel empty. Lasting joy is ours because God said that this child, Jesus, is Immanuel – “God with us”.
Listen to these words that God has for us from the prophet Isaiah, “[He has sent me] to comfort all who mourn, and provide for those who grieve in Zion – to bestow on them a crown of beauty instead of ashes, the oil of gladness instead of mourning, and a garment of praise instead of a spirit of despair.” (Isaiah 61:2b-3) Jesus, when talking to His disciples shortly before He is ready to go to the cross, knowing the grief they would experience in His death, reminds them of something greater God would give them, “Now is the time of your grief, but I will see you again and you will rejoice, and no one will take away your joy.” (John 16:22) No one can take away your joy. That’s pretty neat!!
If you have ever read the account of the birth of Jesus in Luke 2 about the shepherds seeing “a multitude of the heavenly host” and then being told by the angels that they needed to go to Bethlehem and see the child that God had sent to this earth, they were startled and quite afraid. Remember the first words of the angels, “Fear Not!!” (Luke 2:10) Why not?? You just saw angel’s, I think I would have needed to change my underwear after such an encounter!! But after going and seeing Jesus they left with pure joy. God had kept His promise. He did a great thing. The Messiah had come. At the end of this section we read, “The shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all the things they had heard and seen, which were just as they had been told.” (Luke 2:20)
Have you ever been over to Littleton Hospital? There is a statue of Jesus just before you head into the main entrance. Jesus is sitting with open arms, embracing a number of children. In their faces, in their body language, there is joy and safety. Compassion and pure happiness are evident in that sculpture. The name given that piece of art? “Eden Restored”. How fitting it is there, where so many people enter the hospital with great difficulties. In the hospital pain and loss are common. So much death. So many tears. But as you enter you see the statue intended to tell everyone entering or leaving the hospital about a help that is certain for all. The compassion of Jesus and His lasting care in the hardest of moments give us a lasting joy.
This is the Sunday that Christians all over the world celebrate the work of God in our lives. God is a God of true and lasting joy. He provides that gift even when life is difficult, bitter or troubling. Our heart has joy because it has Jesus and His certain love. God really means it when He says, “Be joyful always; pray continually; giving thanks in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.” Amen!!