Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Sermon: Wednesday of Advent 3 (Gaudete)

17 December 2008 at Salem Lutheran Church, Gretna, LA

Text: 1 Thess 5:16-24

In the name of + Jesus. Amen.

One week to go. One week! The pace picks up. The intensity has been turned up a notch. The activity increases. The list of things to do becomes more frantic.

Seven days to get it all done. The deadline will not slide. The calendar will not accommodate our schedule. The time is coming, ready or not.

We’re in the home stretch. There are the last decorations to put up, cards to send, lists to check. We need to drive here and drive there, wrap this and wrap that, place orders, buy food, cook this and bake that. We have to clean and make our homes ready for company. And all of this on top of the rest of our obligations. There isn’t even time to take a breath. We have to talk faster, walk quicker, and maybe even preach shorter. We wonder how it will all be done.

St. Paul’s exhortations to us in his letter to the Thessalonians has this same hurried context. Paul is getting to the end of the scroll, and perhaps running out of time. Through him, the Holy Spirit has much to say to us, and there is little time for embellishments and clever turns of phrase at this point.

St. Paul rattles off a list of things Christians are exhorted to do as part of their life as redeemed sinners, as God’s beloved people who have been saved by grace alone. Listen to both what the Apostle says, and how he says it:

Verse 16: “Rejoice always,” verse 17 “pray without ceasing,” verse 18 “in everything give thanks; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.” Verse 19 “Do not quench the Spirit.” Verse 20 “Do not despise prophecies.” Verse 21 “Test all things; hold fast what is good.” And verse 22 “Abstain from every form of evil.”

In a way that is unusual for St. Paul, he says a lot with a few rushed words. It is almost as if Paul has to catch a ride in two minutes, but has ten minutes worth of preaching to do.

In this letter, St. Paul has just addressed the day of the Lord, the end of time, the events that will herald in the last judgment and the resurrection. And just as our Lord’s first advent was sudden, and once the birth process was put into motion, there was no calling it off, no extensions and no delays, our Lord’s second advent will likewise come upon us suddenly. And when these events happen, there will be no turning back. The Lord will return, and all that has been promised will come to pass.

Dear brothers and sisters, this will be a time of rejoicing and glory for the Lord’s Church, a time of fulfillment for His people. His coming will be the answer to our prayer. We his weary and at times worn out people pray: “O Emmanuel, our King and our Lord, the Anointed for the nations and their Savior: Come and save us, O Lord our God.

For not only are we harried by the hustle and bustle of Christmas, we are also wearied by the changes and chances of this life. Even as we can’t wait for the seasonal commotion to end so that we can take our rest, we also cannot wait for the groaning of all creation under the burden of sin and the weight of mortality to be completed, so that we can take our eternal rest in the Kingdom of God.

For listen anew to St. Paul’s exhortation. Let us slow down for a moment and meditate, let us ponder, let us truly listen to the Spirit’s Word given to us as a free gift this evening.

“Rejoice always.” Dear brothers and sisters, there is the kind of rejoicing that is a passing thing: the celebration of the moment, the joy of giving a gift, the delight of a meal, even the victory of a sports team. But these things all pass and pass away. But the rejoicing that is done “always” is an eternal rejoicing. This isn’t a command, but simply a description of the Christian life. Think about what this means! We will rejoice for all time, without end. This is a result of what our dear Lord – born at Bethlehem, crucified at Calvary, whose body and blood are given to you here –
has done for you. You can rejoice for all time – even in the midst of the hustle and bustle.

“Pray without ceasing.” We Christians ought to offer prayers around the clock. We will certainly do this in its fullness after our Lord comes back again. But even in this valley of tears, we have access to our Creator, Redeemer, and Sanctifier at any time and in any place. He is always eager to hear our prayers.

“In everything give thanks; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.” And we can be thankful at all times and in all places, for look what awaits us, dear friends! No matter what we must endure in this brief life, we have an eternity of rapture and glory. And even in this life of sin and death, we have our dear Father’s love, a love begotten in the form of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has come to be our King and Rescuer.

“Do not quench the Spirit.” There is no reason, dear brothers and sisters, to allow the cares of this world to choke out the Seed of the Word of God that has been implanted into us. The Spirit is at work in us, brooding over us, calling us to repentance, giving us life, working by means of the Word and the sacraments to feed us. Nothing is too important to prevent us from coming here to be fed and nurtured, to hear the Good News of our rescue from sin and death, to be refreshed by the Spirit’s breath.

“Do not despise prophecies.” The Word of God is a treasure. Though it takes time and effort to study the Word of God, though it takes patience and commitment to pray the Word of God, the rewards are absolutely endless, and the strength one finds in the Word of God are like no other comfort or power on this side of the grave.

“Test all things; hold fast what is good.” Always test the Spirits, and always side with what is right. We have been given the Holy Spirit, dear brothers and sisters. We know right from wrong. We are in a great battle between good and evil. We need to encourage ourselves and our brothers and sisters in Christ to keep fighting, to hang in there, to support one another, and to seek righteousness. The Lord’s return is around the corner, and we can take heart like a tired runner who sees the finish line.

“Abstain from every form of evil.” The pleasure we may get in sinning is truly a passing thing. But there is a price. Sins cause damage. Evil is not something to toy with, but rather a thing to be shunned. Since we are so close to the finish line, now is not the time to be distracted, but rather to keep our eyes on the prize, put our head down, and run the race with joy.

St. Paul is not giving us a burdensome list of new commandments. These are not hoops we must jump through in order to have salvation. For our Blessed Lord jumped through every hoop on the cross, dotting every “I” and crossing every “T” when he said: “It is finished.” We are now living the life of the redeemed. And our Christian life is a life lived in the glory of that rescue. We have been freed from Satan’s tyranny, and given victory over the grave. The Lord will preserve you blameless. He is faithful and will do it.

For us Christians, though we await the coming of our Lord, our eternity has really already begun. It began when our Lord took flesh. It began for us when we were baptized and born again into the kingdom. And though the clock is ticking, we are approaching the age in which the clock will no longer tick and goad us from here to there, when the calendar pages will no longer flip and order us about, when time itself will have been completed, and we will never again be subject to hurrying and scurrying. We have a little glimpse into that eternal window, dear friends, right here, in our Lord’s presence. Rejoice! Now and unto eternity.

“Now may the God of peace Himself sanctify you completely; and may your whole spirit, soul, and body be preserved blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. He who calls you is faithful, who also will do it.” Amen.

In the name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

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