Tag Archives: Anxiety

The Candles of Advent….Joy

 

Text:  I Thessalonians 5:16-24

            Each of the Candles we light during this Advent season signify something.  The first candle was the candle of Hope, the second, the candle of Peace, the third is the candle of Joy, and the fourth is the candle of Love.

            This Sunday’s candle is the candle of Joy and that is what this message is all about!

JOY….   Something that is often missing in our congregations and in our individual daily lives.  I’m not talking about a belly-full of “Ho!Ho!Ho’s” here—-I’m not just talking about a lot of good-will toward everyone.   I’m not talking about just feeling good—I’m talking about an experience that goes down deep into the very foundation of our lives—the rejoicing and the Joy that we feel when we truly understand the Good News of the Gospel and how it applies to our lives.   This is the rejoicing and joy that Paul talks about in our text for the day and recommends to the Thessalonian Christians.

            This is the Joy that we can have when we shed all our super-sophistication, our skepticism, our “coolness” and we return to look at this Advent season through the eyes of a child and see its wonder and its mystery.    For some of us it has been awhile since we were children—but try and remember the awe that you felt as you listened to the Christmas Story—the birth of Jesus—Immanuel—God coming to us in human form so that God’s Self could be revealed more fully to us

            We need to listen to this story of the birth of the Christ child during the Advent Season each year and see and hear it again with the eyes and ears of children.   Try to remember what it was like to hear the story as a child as I read it again to you….

Luke 2:8-20    “In that region there were shepherds living in the fields, keeping watch over their flocks by night.   Then an angel of the Lord stood before them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified.   But the angel said to them,  ‘Do not be afraid:   for see—I am bringing you good news of great joy for all the people.   To you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is the Messiah, the Lord.   This will be a sign for you; you will find a child wrapped in bands of cloth and lying in a manger.   And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host, praising God and saying, “Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace among those whom he favors.”

            When the angels had left them and gone into heaven, the shepherds said to one another:   ‘Let us go now to Bethlehem and see this thing that has taken place’….So they went with haste and found Mary and Joseph, and the child lying in the manger.   When they saw this, they made known what had been told them about this child; and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds told them….The shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen, as it had been told to them!.

This is a story of awe—it is a story of rejoicing, and “Great Joy—-it is a story of thanksgiving—-and of praise to God for his gift to the world.   And Advent should be such a time of Joy and rejoicing for all Christians, now even as it was for the shepherds.        

Joy is what our text for today is about—Paul is writing to the church in Thessalonica and before he “signs off” he gives them some advice:   He says:  “Rejoice  always!” and he gives them the recipe for having that Joy—-he says “Pray without ceasing”  and “give thanks in all circumstances.” 

            This same advice is given to the Philippian church by Paul when he writes to them:   Rejoice in the Lord always; again I say rejoice!   Let your genteleness be known to everyone.   The Lord is near.   Do not worry 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.”  (Philippians 4:4-7)

Plainly spoken, Paul says:  be anxious about nothing; be prayerful in everything; be thankful for anything—-and God’s peace will settle over your hearts and minds!

            You see—if we are anxious, it means that we, in reality, do not trust God!   If we live a life of prayer it means that we are listening to what God speaks to us as well as telling God what he already knows (which we too often restrict ourselves to doing).    If we are thankful for everything, then we recognize the blessings we already have and are not constantly striving for more.   All of these things reduce our stress and give us a peace and Joy that fills our lives.   Because we can’t be stressed out by this season and rejoice.    It just doesn’t work that way, does it?  Remember the angel announcement was not:  “Stress to the World, the Lord has come.”  It was not:  “Fear not, for I bring you tidings of great stress—which shall be to all people.   Instead the angel’s message was    “I am bringing you good news of great joy for all the people:  to you is born this day in the city of David, a Savior, who is the Messiah, the Lord…” 

It is only a couple of weeks until Christmas!   How does that strike you?   Does it give you a feeling of peace  and goodwill and Joy—-or are your feelings ones of anxiety, desperation,  depression and even panic?   Especially this Christmas when there are so many problems that seem to threaten, are you feeling any of that “Peace”  and “Joy” that Paul was talking about?   Are you experiencing the Joy that the angels sang about?

In the middle of our stressful lives God wants us to experience joy.  He wants us to know that he favors us, that he treasures us, and that he will not fail us.  He sent Jesus to remind us that he with us always, in the very center of the pains and problems of human life.   God offers us this gift of Joy.  —-That’s the Good News!   That’s the News that brings Joy and awe and wonder to our hearts anew every time we hear it!    What is this Good News? It is that God has entered the world in human form of Jesus of Nazareth and has shown the world who God is—-has shown God’s love through the love of Jesus—-has shown that God cares for each and every one of us. Has shown that God’s reign has begun in the world and that we are a part of that Kingdom of God that will have no end.   That is our cause for Joy!

It is the joy that comes from opening our hearts to the continuing  presence of Christ in our lives. 

It is the joy that comes from the awareness of God blessing us each and every day?

It is the joy that comes from entrusting ourselves to God’s care each and every day

This Christmas, let us celebrate that Joy—as we approach the gift of God in the form of  the Christ Child may we see this gift with the eyes and ears and imagination of children—- the children of God that Jesus taught us we are when he said—“let the little children come to me and forbid them not, for of such is the Kingdom of God”.   When we do so our heart will be filled  with Joy.

 

 

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The Candles of Advent—Peace

 

Text:    Philippians 4;4-7

Theme:  Only when we are “anxious in nothing, prayerful in everything, thankful in much” does the “peace of God” settle over our hearts and minds.

            A lot of people like to wander through antique and collectible stores.  My wife loved to do that and therefore I spent a lot of time in antique stores.  There was a certain feeling of nostalgia, I’ll admit,  as I saw things that I remembered when I was young and recognized  them as familiar.    It sort of made me long for the “good old days” when life seemed simpler and better.   One of the things I often saw was an old kerosene lantern.  It made me think of the days when my Dad and I would light the lantern early in the morning and follow its glow to the barn, hang it on a post in the barn, and get to work on milking the cows.    It made me long for those days!   I treasured those times with my Dad.  Many people look back on their lives with longing, feeling that something precious has been lost or taken from them.   They want a missing treasure restored!  

            But what I lost cannot be restored by a visit to an antique store or by the purchase of an old lantern, can it?     As we struggle through our daily lives, we often stumble and fall, hurt ourselves and others, crash into obstacles and leave a trail of debris behind us.   We long many times for a lantern that will light our path, a beacon to guide us and lead us home.    And so we light a candle—an advent candle.   This is done on the first Sunday of the Advent season, and again on the second, third and fourth Sunday.  

            Each Sunday we light another candle and say,  “Restore us, O God”.   Restore our hope.   Restore our peace.   Restore our joy.   Restore your love.

            Last week we focused on the restoration of hope that we find in a relationship with God.   Today we will focus on the restoration of Peace. 

            When I say “Peace” I am not talking about peace as the absence of conflict.   During Jesus time on earth the word “peace” was often linked to Rome.   The time is referred to by historians as the Pax Romana—the Roman Peace.   This was a peace that was kept by the power of the sword of the Roman Army.   While there was an absence of conflict it was because of the overwhelming force of the Roman armies scattered throughout the world to keep the peace by the sword.

            The “Peace” I am referring to is the “Pax Christos”—the peace of Christ.   It is the Peace that comes not by the power of the sword but by the power of Love. 

            It is the “Peace” is reflected in the Hebrew word for “Peace” which is “Shalom”.    English translations often translate “shalom” as “peace”, but in reality the meaning of the word is much more complex.   As Sharon Watkins says in her book  Whole: A Call to unity in a Fractured World ,  Shalom “comes from a root word that means “whole”, as in “complete” or “safe”, either personally or within society.   Shalom does not indicate a passive harmony or mere absence of conflict, as the word “peace” sometimes does.   Shalom evokes a situation that is actively good, where the circumstances offer opportunities for inidividuals and communities to flourish….A good translation for “shalom” is “wholeness”.   (p. 48)            

            Many people in our world long for this kind of shalom peace and wholeness in their lives.   They feel an emptiness that remains deep within them.    Only God can fill this emptiness.   Long ago Augustine of Hippo, one of the great leaders of the early church, expressed it this way in his writing called “The Confessions”:   “You have made us for yourself, O Lord, and our hearts are restless until they find rest in you!”  

            And so God’s peace will escape us until our restless hearts begin to rest in God.   This peace will come as a gift from God,  who  is the source of shalom or wholeness that we seek!    Paul writes of this shalom Peace in his letter to the church he founded at Philippi.    And he gives a way that we can to seek that peace.  Listen to what he writes:

Rejoice in the Lord always, again I will say, Rejoice.   Let your gentleness be known to everyone.   The Lord is near.   Do not worry about anything but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your request be made known to God.   And the peace of God which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.   (Philippians 4:4-7)

A more literal translation of this that gets right to the point is:  “Be anxious in nothing, prayerful in everything, thankful in anything…then the peace of God that passes all understanding will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.”   

            Let’s look more closely at this way of attaining God’s peace in our lives.  

First,  Be Anxious in Nothing:

            Frances Willard, the great temperance movement leader, once remarked that “anxiety is atheistic”!    What she was saying is that to be constantly anxious suggests that somehow we don’t trust God. 

            Some of us may remember our teenagers coming in just seconds before they were due home and finding us up and waiting for them.   They’d ask:  “What’s wrong, don’t you trust me?”

            What we don’t trust, what makes us anxious, whether it be our teenager’s curfew, our spouse’s health, or our own career—is when we feel we no longer have complete control over the situations we are facing.   No matter how many precautions we might take, or how well we think we have fortified ourselves against sneak attacks, down deep in our hearts we know that the much of the influences on our lives are out of our control.   Kids grow upillnesses attack without warningcompanies down-scale and lay off workers, an economy goes sourLife happens and we can’t control it!

            But if we let our anxieties over these uncontrollable factors in our lives rule us, we will never experience the “peace” of God.   If we can’t trust God to be in control of our lives regardless of what happens, then we will always be anxious.   That’s why we need to trust God and be anxious in nothing because God is God:  today, tomorrow, and always.  God will be there for us, no matter what happens.   We must trust in that to have “Shalom Peace”

 

Secondly, “Be Prayerful in Everything”  Paul advises.   

            The reason we can “be anxious in nothing”  and rejoice in God, is that God is powerfully present for us in prayer, always.    Paul recognizes that a good percentage of our prayers are more correctly “supplications” and “requests”.   Sometimes when we are spiritually strong our souls turn toward God and seek nothing but God’s presence—-but most of the time we approach God on our knees  (if not literally, figuratively) and come to God as supplicants who are admitting our own inadequacies and recognizing God as the source of our wholeness and strength.   Often our specific requests must seem childish and simple to God—-like the cartoon of two little boys who in early September donned all their mittens, coats and hats, perched themselves on their sled on the top of a hill and requested of God, “We’re ready….let ‘er rip!”    But other times our supplications and requests are deeply serious as we cry out…  “Help me!”   “Heal her!”   “Hear me!”   “Please, God, help me get through this!”

            Jesus told us that God wants our prayers and supplications and requests.  God wants to be vitally present in our lives and prayer is the way God can do that!    No wonder Paul advised his churches to “Pray without ceasing!”

 

Third, Be Thankful in All Things!

            Being thankful for all things does not mean putting on an “act” of being cheery come what may!   But being thankful in anything does mean believing that the guiding hand of God is constantly present in our lives.   It means our awareness that we are never “abandoned children” and that the love of God through Christ remains steadfastly by our side no matter what we face.  

            That is the reason we can be thankful in anything.   Our thankfulness is not a matter of “surface smiles” but is based in the confidence that whatever comes our way, God is there for us and will give us strength and wisdom to cope with our lives. 

If we truly practice the above three admonitions, then the “peace of God which passes understanding” that Paul writes of is ours.   God will guard our hearts and our minds and will give us Joy in Living.   And we’ll talk about that “Joy” next week as “Joy” is the Third Candle of Advent.

Let me close with a story that touched my heart when I read it and revealed how we find peace with God:

This story dates back to 1994—that was the year my wife and I visited our daughter Lisa and son-in-law Brian in Novisibursk, Siberia, in Russia.   They were there at the invitation of the Russian Department of Education to teach teachers how to teach morals and ethics to their students.   Another team in a different place for the same purpose told this story about a visit to a Russian orphanage: 

At the orphanage the team told the traditional story of Christmas to the children who had been abandoned, abused, and left in care of the government-run program at the orphanage.  It was the first time the children, and many of the staff had heard the Christmas story and they sat in amazement at hearing it told.

            The writers wrote:  “We told them about Mary and Joseph arriving in Bethlehem, and finding no room in the inn they went to a stable where the baby Jesus was born and placed in a manger.   Completing the story, we gave the children three small pieces of cardboard to make a crude manger.   Each child was given a small paper square, cut from yellow napkins I had brought with me.   No colored papers was available in the city.   Following instructions, the children tore the paper and carefully laid strips in the manger for straw.   Small squares of flannel, cut from a worn-out nightgown an American lady was throwing away as she left Russia, were used for the baby’s blanket.   A doll-like baby was cut from tan felt we had brought from the United States. 

            The orphans were busily assembling their mangers as I walked among them to see if they needed any help.   All went well until I got to one table where little Misha sat—he looked to be about 6 years old and had finished his project.   As I looked at the little boy’s manger, I was startled to see not one, but two babies in the manger!

            Quickly I called for the translator to ask Misha why there were two babies in the manger.   Crossing his arms in front of him and looking at his completed manger scene, the child began to repeat the Christmas story very seriously.   For such a young boy, who had heard the Christmas story only once, he related the happenings very accurately until he came to the part where Mary put the baby Jesus in the manger.Then Misha started to ad lib.   He made up his own ending to the story as he said:  “And when Mary laid the baby in the manger, Jesus looked at me and asked me if I had a place to stay.  I told him I have no mamma and I have no papa, so I don’t have any place to stay.   Then Jesus told me I could stay with him.   But I told him I couldn’t because I didn’t have a gift to give him like everybody else did.   But I wanted to stay with Jesus so much that I thought and thought and decided that maybe if I kept him warm, that would be a good gift.   So I asked Jesus,  “If I keep you warm, will that be a good enough gift?”  And Jesus told me, “If you keep me warm, that will be the best gift anybody ever gave me.”   So I got into the manger, and then Jesus looked at me and he told me I could stay with him—for always!”

            As little Misha finished his story, his eyes brimmed full of tears.   The little orphan had found someone who would never abandon nor abuse him, someone who would stay with him—for always. 

We call Jesus by the name “IMMANUEL”, which means “GOD WITH US”.   In this Advent season we need to discover, like the orphan Misha, that the God who came in Jesus Christ will never abandon or abuse us, but will stay with us—for always

God will be with us:

When the cancer biopsy comes back positive, instead of negative.

 When the final exam is marked with an “F” rather than an “A”.

When the spouse of 15 years stomps out the door and doesn’t return.

When the dream of success in business is once again downsized and diminished.

When the late-night long-distance call communicates a death, not a birth.

When the longing for family harmony is shattered by a shouting match.

When the desire for companionship is drained by another lonely holiday season.

 

And we will have the “Shalom” Peace that we seek.  It is ours, a free gift from a loving God as we:

Are anxious in nothing!

Are prayerful in everything!

Are thankful for all things!

 

Amen!!!