The Epistle lesson serves as our sermon text for this morning.
Dear brothers and sisters in Christ, let us pray:
O God of all that is good, you sent John the Baptist to announce the Good News of Christ’s coming. Send us to live lives illumined by the Gospel, that we too may be a source of joy in Your promise, through the same Christ our Lord. Amen.
Grace, mercy, and peace be yours from God the Father through our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen.
On this Third Sunday in Advent, the Church encourages us to rejoice in the coming of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.
The theme for this Sunday is Gaudete (Latin for “Rejoice”)
But when we look around ourselves and in ourselves, we often find little for which to rejoice.
Yes, we look forward to celebrating the coming of the Son of God at Christmas.
But when we look inside ourselves, this joy can be dry, even snuffed out.
We have not been the consistently faithful servants God calls us to be.
We have faltered in our prayers.
We have neglected to give thanks as we ought.
Our sin can cause us to fail to know the joy of God’s salvation.
Nevertheless, in the Epistle for today, Paul would bid you once again to Rejoice!
For God Is Faithful to Make and Keep You Holy in Christ!
Daily, we are unfaithful in living out the Christian lives God wills for us.
Even in good times, we’re sporadic at best in rejoicing, praying, and giving thanks.
We don’t rejoice, pray, or give thanks continually as God wills (verses 16–18).
God says we are to do this always, without ceasing, in all circumstances.
Sometimes we rejoice when the unexpected happens.
Getting a bonus in addition to our regular paycheck.
Or when we were kids: getting a day off from school because of the snow!
Mostly we only pray when things are going very wrong.
My car broke down…again!
My relatives are sick and near death.
People I once thought were my friends don’t talk to me anymore.
And we often forget to give thanks to God for all his benefits.
Forgiveness of sins
We often despise God’s Word that tells us what to do and what not to do (verse 19).
Excuse: I don’t have the time.
Excuse: The Word of God is too hard to read and understand.
Excuse: I’ll just go to church and Pastor will tell me what it means.
We plug our ears to God’s commands and prohibitions.
God does not want me to have any fun!
Those laws do not apply to me! They were written for the people back then, not now.
Who is God anyway that He tell me what to do and what not to do?
“God is not the boss of me”, we say!
We want to do what we want to do when we want to do it.
We don’t hold fast the good or test everything but instead embrace evil (verses 21–22).
“Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things” (Philippians 4:8).
We readily listen uncritically to voices that sound appealing:
Theology that sacrifices Scripture for the spirit of our times.
Trying out the latest self-help fad that makes me, rather than my Lord, my true helper.
We buy into all kinds of evil that our world advertises:
“If You’ve Got The Time, We’ve Got The Beer” (Miller Beer).
“Because you’re worth it” (L’oreal Cosmetics).
“Breakfast of champions” (Wheaties cereal).
Rarer still is our joy, prayer, and thanksgiving in times of troubles or evil.
Note this very well:
Joy is different from happiness.
Just as happiness is different from contentment.
We don’t need to be happy in order to survive.
But it certainly helps!
The basic necessities of life:
But we should still be joyful in Christ in spite of our circumstances.
But we too easily give in to despair and give up hope.
Don’t know what to pray for.
Don’t know how to pray.
Praying is something only to be “done” in church.
We can’t imagine giving thanks during such evil times.
It just does not seem right.
And we want to feel a bit sorry for ourselves and wallow in our despair.
And when we willfully sin, we risk quenching the work of the Spirit in our lives.
The Spirit continually works in our lives to move us to do just what Paul says here.
When we intentionally refuse to do these things, we thwart the Spirit’s work in us.
But God is ever faithful to make you holy in Christ Jesus (verse 23a).
First, Christ comes into the world as the Prince of Peace, and in his spirit, soul, and body, he works holiness for you.
He lived the holy life in the body, fulfilling all that God here commands you.
“sanctified and instituted all waters to be a blessed flood and a lavish washing away of sin” (LSB, p 269).
After giving thanks on the night when he was betrayed, knowing what was coming, he gave to us the very sustenance of that sacrifice.
For the joy set before him and holding fast to the good result, Christ shed his holy, precious blood on the cross to make peace between God and all people.
Then, Christ sends the Holy Spirit to make you holy by his Gospel.
“The Holy Spirit has called me by the Gospel, enlightened me with His gifts, sanctified and kept me in the true faith. In the same way He calls, gathers, enlightens, and sanctifies the whole Christian church on earth, and keeps it with Jesus Christ in the one true faith. In this Christian church He daily and richly forgives all my sins and the sins of all believers.”
He makes you holy through Holy Baptism into Christ’s death and resurrection.
In Holy Absolution, he forgives you (as Christ prayed even from his cross).
“Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do” (Luke 23:34)
He prophesies to you the holiness that is yours in Christ through the preaching of the Gospel.
He will surely keep you “blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ” (v 23).
The Holy Spirit will remain faithful to the end to perfect you in holiness.
As Luther states in the very last portion of his explanation of the Third Article:
“On the Last Day He will raise me and all the dead, and give eternal life to me and all believers in Christ. This is most certainly true.”
And even now, you have a foretaste of the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ.
The blameless and faithful Lamb of God comes and gives you his holy body and blood in the Sacrament of the Altar.
Given and shed for you for the forgiveness of your sins!
In this way, Christ gives into your body his very own holiness to assure you of your holiness in him.
I have given them your word, and the world has hated them because they are not of the world, just as I am not of the world. I do not ask that you take them out of the world, but that you keep them from the evil one. They are not of the world, just as I am not of the world. Sanctify them in the truth; your word is truth. As you sent me into the world, so I have sent them into the world. (John 17:14-18)
In our Epistle for today, St. Paul enjoins us to “rejoice always, pray without ceasing, and give thanks in all circumstances” (1 Thessalonians 5:16–18).
But what is that like, exactly?
We may think of it in terms of a “round.”
You know, the songs or hymns that begin as usual, but then at the proper musical point, a second group starts the song again, singing the melody and words from the top while the first group continues.
Sometimes, there may even be three groups or four.
One such round uses the words of Phil 4:4—used in other years as the antiphon of the Introit for this Third Sunday in Advent:
“Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice.”
Once it gets started and the second, third, and fourth groups are added, it seems like there’s no real stopping point to the song.
There’s always a new place to start up.
Our rejoicing, praying, and thanksgiving should be like that.
Once we finish with one moment of rejoicing over God’s goodness to us, there is always another right on its heels.
There’s always another prayer needed.
Always something new or something more for which to give thanks to God.
Because of God’s steadfast love toward us, we have good reason to rejoice, pray, and give thanks—always!
Though you are not continuously faithful in this life, due to the weakness of your body, you may indeed rejoice that he who came in the flesh is not only blameless but also perfectly faithful to sanctify and keep you blameless in spirit and soul and body at his glorious and final advent. Amen.
Let us pray:
O God, who see how Your people faithfully await the arrival of Your Son, our Savior Jesus Christ, enable us, we pray, to attain the joys of so great a salvation and to celebrate them always with solemn worship and glad rejoicing. All of this is possible through our Lord Jesus Christ, Your Son, who lives and reigns with You in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever . Amen.
The peace of God, which transcends all understanding, guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.