Philippians 4:10-13 (Thanksgiving Eve)
Lutheran Church of Our Redeemer, Enfield CT
November 27, 2013
In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
Our text is the Epistle reading from Philippians 4:
I rejoiced in the Lord greatly that now at length you have revived your concern for me. You were indeed concerned for me, but you had no opportunity. 11 Not that I am speaking of being in need, for I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content. 12 I know how to be brought low, and I know how to abound. In any and every circumstance, I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need. 13 I can do all things through him who strengthens me.
In the fifth century, a man named Arenius determined to live a holy life. So he abandoned the conforms of Egyptian society to follow an austere lifestyle in the desert. Yet whenever he visited the great city of Alexandria, he spent time wandering through its bazaars. Asked why, he explained that his heart rejoiced at the sight of all the things he didn’t need. Those of us who live in a society flooded with goods and gadgets might want to ponder the example of that desert dweller. A typical supermarket in the United States in 1976 stocked 9,000 articles; today it carries 30,000. How many of them are absolutely essential? How many are unnecessary?
At Thanksgiving we especially set aside time to be truly thankful to the Lord for what He has given to us. And I would maintain that hand-in-hand with thankfulness goes contentment. We are thankful for what God has given to us because we are content with what He supplies. We are content, aren’t we? We do have enough, don’t we? We can say with Paul that we have learned in whatever situation we are in to be content, right? No? Not really?
Being content doesn’t always seem to be a part of our nature, does it? More often than not we are unsatisfied with what we have because we could always have more, or better, or newer. Advertising thrives on this fact. Sit down and scrutinize holiday commercials and you will get a feel for what you could have more of or better or newer. As the Peanuts character Lucy quips, “It’s the gift getting season.” It’s about getting what you want more of, what you want that’s better and newer than what you have now. It’s about taking the word of God in 1 Timothy 6:8, “But if we have food and clothing, with these we will be content,” and walking away, laughing, as we say, “Get real!” We are not content with simply food and clothes and the basics in life. Our society and its standards has impressed upon us that more is better, new is better, up-to-date is better. Look at what perfectly good things will be thrown away after this holiday season only because something new and better was received.
Now, if we are generally not content with what we have, how does that affect our thankfulness? It diminishes it. It cheapens it. “Gee, Lord, thanks for the food and clothes and stuff, but you could always do better and see that I have . . . .” “All these things are really nice Lord and I’m glad to have them, but so-and-so has things that are better and bigger than I do. What gives?” That’s not contentment, nor is it thanksgiving.
As Christians, we believe and confess that God has made us. He has given us our body and soul, eyes, ears, and all our members, our reason and all our senses, and still takes care of them. He also give us clothing and shoes, food and drink, house and home, spouse and children, land, animals, and all we have. He richly and daily provides us with all that we need to support this body and life. God gives us our daily bread, even without our prayers, yet we pray in the Lord’s Prayer that God would lead us to realize this and to receive our daily bread with thanksgiving. (Small Catechism, First Article & Fourth Petition) So why don’t we always receive things from the Lord with thanksgiving? Why aren’t we always content with what we have?
The answer is, because we have to trust. We have to trust in the God whom we cannot see or touch. We have to trust in God “whose thoughts are not our thoughts and whose ways are not our ways.” (Isaiah 55:8) And that’s impossible for people to do on their own. We trust in ourselves and maybe we can find another person or two whom we are willing to trust. But trust is not in our nature any more than contentment and thanksgiving are in our nature. “Trust in the LORD with all your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding,” says Proverbs 3:5. But I know my own understanding. I understand my understanding. I trust my own understanding. But that’s just it, my own understanding, your own understanding, is fatally flawed. It’s never content, never satisfied. It’s always looking for more and better and newer things to satisfy its cravings. And its cravings are the things of sin and Satan: sexual immorality, impurity, sensuality, idolatry, sorcery, hatred, strife, jealousy, first of anger, rivalries, dissensions, divisions, greed, drunkenness, orgies, and things like these. (Galatians 5:19-21)
If we are to trust the Lord and so be content and thankful for what we have received from the Lord, it will not come from within ourselves. Trust in God, contentment, and thanksgiving will come only from Him who strengthens us—Jesus Christ.
And what did He have? He had it all. God of God, Light of Light, Very God of Very God! He created the whole universe. He’s the King and Lord of all. Yet it was the living God in the Second Person of the Holy Trinity who assumed human flesh and dwelt among us sinful, discontent people. Jesus, God the Son, “made Himself nothing, taking the form of a servant.” (Philippians 2:7) Jesus was conceived in the womb of Mary by the power of the Holy Spirit and born from her womb. His first bed was a manger of hay. Jesus had no permanent home to call His own. “Foxes have holes and birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay His head.” (Matthew 8:20) He had no possessions to speak of except His clothes, which were divided up amongst the soldiers at the cross, the tunic being gambled for by casting lots.
Jesus, God the Son, gave up everything—all the glory, all the honor—in order to be our Savior from sin. Christ died on the cross and won the forgiveness of our sins, for our lack of contentment and thankfulness. At the cross we witness proof of God’s love for fallen humanity, proof that God keeps His promises, and proof that we can trust in Him as our heavenly Father because the Son of God gave up His life into death, making peace with God for us.
And God the Holy Spirit has been poured out into our hearts by the Gospel in Holy Baptism, creating faith in our hearts so that we can indeed trust in Jesus as our Savior. That saving faith receives the forgiveness of sins won for us by Jesus on the cross. That faith is daily strengthened by the Spirit through the Gospel in the Word and the Lord’s Supper. Because Christ has saved us from our sins and strengthened us through the Holy Spirit, we can do all things through Him, including being content and thankful.
Paul had learned through his life’s experiences how to be content and thankful in every situation he faced, whether full or hungry, rich or in need. He was content because of the strength of Christ that He received in the Gospel of the cross and resurrection of His Savior through the outpouring of God the Holy Spirit. He was content and thankful because, through the gift of faith, he was able to trust in God’s promise, “I will never leave you nor forsake you.”
Through life’s school of experience, you and I also learn to be content and thankful in the situations in which we find ourselves. This doesn’t come from within ourselves, it’s the gift of God the Holy Spirit to us through the Gospel. The writer to the Hebrews says to us in chapter 13:5, “Be content with what you have, for he has said, ‘I will never leave you nor forsake you.’” (Heb. 13:5) We, like Paul, can also trust that promise of God. The proof is in Jesus, who endured the death of the cross to save us from our sins so that we might be strengthened in faith and in life to be content, knowing that the Lord will always provide for us. After all, if God our Father loved us so much that He sent His Son to suffer and die on a cross to win our forgiveness and eternal life, will He not continue to love and to care for us in both soul and body, with whatever we need? Of course He will and does.
Connected to the Lord through the Holy Spirit in Word and Sacrament, we learn to be content and to be thankful. We see time and again how God keeps His promises to us, even in the roughest times of life when we are in our greatest physical, emotional or spiritual need. You and I always have the strength of Christ. His grace is sufficient for us. His love and mercy and power is enough. It’s just what we need, when we need it. Be content. Be thankful. You can do all things through Christ who strengthens you. Amen.