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.