Sermon for the Third Sunday in Advent

Philippians 4:4-7 (Third Sunday in Advent—Series C)

Lutheran Church of Our Redeemer, Enfield CT

December 13, 2009

In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.

The text is the Epistle Lesson from Philippians 4.

Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, Rejoice. Let your reasonableness be known to everyone. The Lord is at hand; do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.

Originally—before shopping malls—Advent was a solemn fast in preparation for Christmas.  In the church, it is still a season of preparation, a season of penitence.  Our worship has been “toned down” with the omission of the Hymn of Praise, “Glory to God in the Highest.”  We also omit the Alleluia Verse before the reading of the Holy Gospel.  For many years, purple was the color of Advent.  The color purple suggests royalty.  Since as Christians we prepare for our coming King with reflection and repentance, purple also signified repentance and sorrow over sins.  More recently, Lutheran churches have preferred the color blue for Advent.  This color suggests hope, a primary theme of Advent.  Lent, however, has retained the color purple.  Long ago, the pope had the custom of giving someone a rose on the 4th Sunday in Lent.  This led the Roman Catholic clergy to wear rose-colored or pink vestments on that Sunday.  The effect was to give some relief from the solemnity of Lent.  The custom was extended to the 3rd Sunday in Advent also, to liven it up a bit so to speak.  That’s why we have a pink candle lit this morning on the Advent wreath, a mixture of purple and white.  So the third candle on the Advent wreath has been called the “Joy” candle.

Having a pink, “Joy” candle for the Third Sunday in Advent is very appropriate given the Epistle lesson for the day.  St. Paul says, “Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, Rejoice.”  But what did Paul have to rejoice in?  Paul was in prison in Rome.  That doesn’t sound like such a wonderful way to lead a life, does it?  Being under house arrest and waiting for the Roman Emperor to hear his appeal had to be wearisome for the Apostle.  Yet, for more than 2 years, even though constantly chained to a guard, Paul was able to receive friends and continue his ministry.  Paul is so convinced of the nearness of his Lord that he emphatically says, “Rejoice in the Lord always!”  Then, he says it again!  “Rejoice!”  Are you and I as convinced of the Lord’s nearness as was St. Paul?  If so, how then does the Lord’s nearness affect our lives?

Rejoice in the Lord always.  That is a tall order.  Even lives of Christians are not happy 100% of the time.  I’m sorry, but I don’t always feel like going around with a smile on my face and a spring in my step.  I get tired; I grow weary.  Situations weigh on my heart.  My attitude is affected by the world around me.  Sometimes, I’m just downright grumpy, upset, and moody.  I just don’t feel like rejoicing!  Do you ever feel that way?  Of course you do.  We all do.  When everything is okay in life, it’s easy to be happy and rejoice and give thanks to God.  When the opposite is true, it’s not so easy.  Rejoicing in the Lord is one thing maybe one thing when life is good, but rejoicing in the Lord always–well that’s something completely different, isn’t it?

What does our text suggest we do in order to rejoice in the Lord always?  Paul, by the power of the Holy Spirit, admonishes us to, “Let your reasonableness be known to everyone.”  We are encouraged to have a humble, patient steadfastness which is able to submit to injustice, disgrace, and maltreatment without hatred and malice, trusting in God and despite of it all.  Doesn’t sound like a whole lot of assistance in rejoicing always?  This just seems to make things worse.  I don’t want to be humble and patient and submit myself to injustice and missed treatment without reacting to it.  Hey, I want to get grumpy.  I want to get mad.  I want people to know exactly how I feel.  Sitting on my haunches and “just taking it” isn’t really going to make me rejoice.

But what does it really mean to let our reasonableness be known to everyone?  It means that we are going to have days, and then we are going to have DAYS!  It means that we are going to have troubles and hardships in this world.  We will have to take up our crosses, whether those crosses are hatred, illness, disgrace, or anything else in this world that hurts us and upsets us.  But letting our reasonableness be known to everyone also means demonstrating the trust of faith.  We do not return evil for evil.  We don’t sit around whining and complaining endlessly saying, “Oh, woe is me!”  We also don’t stand around suppressing our feelings and pretending to be eternally happy.  No, we show forth our faith and trust in the only One who can do something about what we are facing.  We commend ourselves to the Lord, trusting in His grace and mercy to act on our behalf.

Paul did not simply give up while imprisoned.  No, he continued his ministry.  He continued trusting in God.  He demonstrated that his faith was alive and active.  So he said with all confidence, “Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, Rejoice.”  But Paul didn’t just say it with his mouth.  He believed it in his heart because the Lord is at hand.  Even in his situation, Paul knew that the Lord was near to him to give him patience, wisdom, and help.  He had the promise of Jesus Christ Himself, “I am with you always to the very end of the age.”

Here is the source of our comfort and hope in our times of difficulty and trouble.  We do not face life alone.  God is not far from you.  The Lord is with us; the Lord is near to us to give us patience, wisdom, help, and peace.

You and I are able to rejoice in the Lord always because the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, guards our hearts and our minds in Christ Jesus.  This peace comes from the Crucified and Risen Jesus Christ.  It is because of Jesus’ death on a cross and His resurrection from the dead that our faith can rejoice and take comfort in His presence no matter what we face.  The peace which God gives in Christ is the peace of sins forgiven.  It is real peace, the absence of hostility between us and God.  We have this peace as people who have been reconciled with God and are now His beloved children.

In baptism, God has made us His own daughters and sons.  Through His Holy Spirit He guards and protects us from all sins, from death, and from the power of the devil.  God’s peace in Christ Jesus assures us that He is near to you and me.  It is a peace that reveals to us that God is our Father and we are his beloved children.  The peace of God in Christ Jesus guarantees that we do not need to be anxious about anything because we can pray.  We are able, with our hearts and minds, to offer our supplications, our thanksgivings, and our requests to God with the full assurance that He hears us and will always answer us according to His good and gracious will.

It is because of the peace of God which guards the hearts and minds of His children that St. Paul was able to make a profound statement of faith and trust “Rejoice in the Lord always.”  It is because we are at peace with God through the sacrifice of Jesus Christ on the cross that we can approach His throne of mercy with our prayers, with our troubles, with our concerns, and with our thanksgivings and joys.  The peace of God in Christ Jesus doesn’t mean that we have to be happy or joyful all the time, but it does mean that we can be trusting the Lord all the times, placing our fears, our anxieties, and our problems into His hands.  And what better hands could we possibly place ourselves and our life situations than in His hands love and grace.

So as we “liven up” this Third Day of Advent, let us rejoice in the Lord!  Rejoice that in the fullness of time God sent forth His Son, the Prince of Peace, to suffer, to die on a cross, and to rise again so that we would have peace with our heavenly Father through the forgiveness of our sins.  Be joyful in that you are able to present your prayers and supplications and thanksgivings to your Father in heaven.  Rejoice always that your Lord is near to you at all times to give you patience, wisdom, and help.  Rejoice always that your Lord guards your hearts and minds with His peace which surpasses all understanding.  Amen.