Third Sunday In Advent December 11-12, 2021
“It’s Time” Philippians 4:4-7
Rev. John R. Larson Ascension Lutheran Church Littleton, Colorado
I got an e-mail a while ago and the heading caught my attention. It read, “Struggling”. I knew that things had been hard for them. I knew of some of the problems that existed. But once I opened the e-mail, I found that there was much more that I didn’t know than what I knew. “Struggling” might have been an understatement for all they were going through.
I think that that e-mail was not just the words of one of our folks but it represented the reality for many people. Sometimes it is the pressure of these days before Christmas. There is too much to do. There is not enough time to do it. The lists get longer and the time gets shorter. For some folks they would just wish for Christmas to be over. Struggling.
For others the struggles are with depression, discouragement, loneliness, or anxiety. Some face health concerns that are substantial and on-going. Struggling may not be the word to use – more like they feel like they have been run over.
And then we get a word from God that says, “Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice.” (Philippians 4:4) Really? Rejoice? Having joy? You want me to smile? My face might break!!
I read the most awful article from The New York Times a few weeks ago. It was titled “To breed or not to breed?” The article was not about cats and dogs and cattle and pigs, but about humans. There is a recent strong movement for couples to not have children. There is a fear of what is happening in our world presently and what is coming to this world in the future should cause folks to reconsider bringing any more children to this planet. In the United States our birthrate has decreased for the sixth straight year. In 2020 the decline was at 4% – quite a significant number.
Jenna Ross, 36, living in New Brunswick, Canada, says that her decision to remain childless springs from her protective instinct. She says, “Harnessing the love I have for my unborn hypothetical kid comforts me in sparing them an inhospitable future. In this way, my choice feels like an act of love.” A man from California said, “Having a child is like rolling dice with a child’s life in an increasingly uncertain world.”
I believe that there is nothing more joyful than hearing that a child has been born. But for a growing number of folks throughout the world they don’t see it that way. The author of the article says, “No wonder some people who put off having children to pursue careers or other interests now wonder if the kindest thing for their unborn is to keep them that way.”
It’s time to see how God’s directive, “Rejoice in the Lord always” is transforming to our life. It is much more than the “Don’t worry, be happy” mantra from the 1980’s. There is a real reason for having joy in life. There is a real reason not to live life dreading what the future may be for ourselves or for the generations that come after us.
You, as a believer in the goodness of God and in the deep love of Jesus, already have joy. This is not something that you have to manufacture or create on your own. Look at this – You have joy because you are a forever child of God. You are saved. You have your sins forgiven and forgotten, and you are assured that you are going to be in heaven forever. God’s ever true word leaves no doubt about you and your eternity. It assures you, “If you confess with your mouth, ‘Jesus is Lord,’ and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For it is with your heart that you believe and are justified, and it is with your mouth that you confess and are saved.” (Romans 10:9-10) That is what it means to rejoice in the Lord. It is all centered upon Him. It is based on His eternal care of us.
It’s time for joy. I was asked this week about my childhood memories of Christmas. They were the best. They were filled with joy. Seeing the tracks of Santa’s sleigh in the front yard of our home in the Wisconsin snow was a delight. Baking, frosting and eating cookies with my mom was the best. Going to church with my family on a dark Christmas Eve still sticks in my mind. It brings me joy.
What gives you joy? When you think about who God is and what He does for you, a true joy is what surfaces. It is joy knowing that God knows your name. You are not unknown, or faceless, or nameless. His words for us, “Fear not, I have redeemed you; I have called you by name, you are mine” (Isaiah 43:1b) have deep meaning. We are under the protecting and defending hand of God. Jesus says, “I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; no one can snatch them out of my hand.” (John 10:28) I saw this great quote this week, it’s a keeper, “There is nothing too great for God’s power; and nothing too small for his fatherly care.”
Joy. Is it yours? Do you possess it? Does it possess you? Does He possess you? When we sing, “Joy to the world, the Lord has come…”, can you sing it with full confidence that your confession is true? With an utter confidence in who our God is and what He has done for us, we are told in this reading, “Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 4:6-7)
When you hear those words, “Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice” we may think those words are just some type of sentimental platitude, religious speak. They are much more than that. They tell us what a great God we have and they tell us all that He has done for us. It reminds us of how deeply we are blessed and how secure we are in Him. But joy is not just for receiving, it has to do with giving.
It’s time to give joy. Who needs it in your life? Who do you need to bless? I have people everyday that bring me the greatest joy. Right here, in this place, some of the youngest of this church bring me deep joy. Hazel Mae, fully 3 years old now, when she comes to this church with her grandma and grandpa, always has the prettiest dress and when she sees me, she twirls, making that dress even bigger. Hazel’s smile and her joy become evident. Teddy, who turns 5 in early January, every Sunday when he comes out of church has a joke for me – usually a groaner – that he has practiced for a long time – probably during my sermon. Teddy and his words bring me joy. Clara and Maria give me a hug. Caleb is the world’s greatest helper. You know what they offer me – they offer me joy. And now we get to do what they do – to the special people in our life or to the person that we hardly know – we can bless them with joy.
I know that a number of you could have written that e-mail that I got, the one titled “Struggling”. But I want to give you something greater than sympathy, I want to give you the truth of God’s care and love. I hope you see God’s actions and know that there is a reason to be a person of joy, both received and now given.
Joy to the world, the Lord has come. Amen!!