For the Second Sunday of Advent
3 I thank my God every time I remember you. 4 In all my prayers for all of you, I always pray with joy 5 because of your partnership in the gospel from the first day until now, 6 being confident of this, that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus.
7 It is right for me to feel this way about all of you, since I have you in my heart and, whether I am in chains or defending and confirming the gospel, all of you share in God’s grace with me. 8 God can testify how I long for all of you with the affection of Christ Jesus.
9 And this is my prayer: that your love may abound more and more in knowledge and depth of insight, 10 so that you may be able to discern what is best and may be pure and blameless for the day of Christ, 11 filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ—to the glory and praise of God. (NIV)
Live for the Day of Christ Jesus
Pastor Jon Zabell
Come, Lord Jesus! Amen.
Dear Advent Watchers:
Consider two different approaches to life. Some people say, “Live for today.” Their aim is to seize the moment, to make the most of today because our time in this world is short. Other people say, “Live for tomorrow.” Their philosophy is that since we can’t predict what’s coming, we should be careful and make plans so that we can be as ready as possible for the unexpected. Each approach has its merits and its drawbacks.
Whether you are more of a “seize the moment” kind of person, or the kind who tends to plan things carefully, in today’s sermon text, the Lord has a very specific approach for every single one of us to follow. The encouragement is that we live for the day of Christ Jesus. He’s talking about a life full of thanks and joy, a life characterized by gospel confidence, a life of wisdom and love.
1. Full of Thanks and Joy (3-5)
From his prison cell, where he was awaiting sentencing for his missionary activity, Paul wrote the Philippians and said: (3) “I thank my God every time I remember you.” (4) “In all my prayers for all of you, I always pray with joy...” From his prison cell, Paul is thankful and joyful. And it isn’t just because there were nice people there in Philippi like Lydia, the seller of purple, who welcomed the missionaries into her home. Paul is thinking about their faith.
It’s encouraging for us to hear Paul speak this way: thankful during difficult times. But his example may also serve to remind us of our sins. Knowing how godly his attitude is may remind us how ungodly our attitude may at times be. Paul’s thankfulness and joy in this letter comes from the good things that are happening to other people, not to him. When good things are happening to other people and our circumstances are difficult, we may find ourselves feeling bitter, not thankful. Paul’s thankfulness and joy is so clearly based on spiritual things, not earthly circumstances. We know we’re supposed to feel the same way. Whenever trouble comes, we’re supposed to stay calm. Whenever the road in front of us takes an unexpected turn, we’re supposed to trust God. But we are so quick to forget about spiritual blessings and complain about our situation, even when our situation is far better than Paul’s was.
Thankfully this bad attitude isn’t with us all the time, but let’s remember from where our bad attitude springs. It comes from a source that is with us all of the time, from our sinful nature. If we ever begin to think that we are basically pretty good people without any help from God, our complaining and our unhappiness is evidence of just how far we’ve actually fallen. Just think of how wicked and perverse we are by nature. God offers us the treasures of heaven, but in our sinful nature we’re always and only interested in the trinkets of today, even though we know that this kind of happiness will fade quickly.
How could Paul be so thankful and joyful? He was a sinner just as we are. He tells us that the reason he has joy and thankfulness about the Philippians is (5) because of [their] partnership in the gospel. Once Paul says “gospel” we know what joy he’s talking about. The gospel is the good news about Jesus. He’s talking about the jaw-dropping joy of the believers standing by Jesus’ empty tomb. He’s talking about the heart-warming joy we enjoy each Sunday when we hear God speak to us through his called servant, “I forgive you all your sins.” He’s talking about the wide-eyed joy of a believer entering glory, covered in Christ’s robe of righteousness.
If you’re drawing on paper with pencil, changing a frown to a smile is easy. All you need is an eraser. But it doesn’t work that way in real life. There is only one eraser than can get rid of the frown of sin. It is the blood of Jesus, which he shed once and for all on the cross. He has erased your sin, too, and along with it, all your sinful complaining and faithlessness, so that not even a hint of it remains. In its place he has drawn a smile on your heart and on your face. As natural as it is for the sinful nature to produce whining and complaining in us, that’s how natural it is for you and me in our Christian nature to produce thankfulness and joy.
In fact, just the mere hint of the gospel can bring all of God’s happy good news to mind. In the early 1900's, a Russian scientist named Ivan Pavlov conducted an experiment in behavioral psychology. He knew that dogs salivated when they saw food, but he noticed that they also salivated when they saw white lab coats, since that’s what the scientists were wearing when they brought the dogs their food. Pavlov started conditioning the dog’s response himself by ringing a bell every time food was served. After enough training, just the sound of a bell was enough to make the dogs salivate, because they knew it was connected to food.
Remember again, Paul merely heard mention of the Philippians and he was filled with joy and thanksgiving. This was something much more than an automatic, conditioned response. This was faith in Jesus, the Savior. But it is a response coming from an outside stimulus. When he heard their name, he couldn’t help but remember what the gospel meant for them and for him and for the whole world.
So it is with us. Let yourself remember your fellow Christians. Think about those seated around you in worship. Listen to the children of our school proclaiming the Christmas message. Read a letter from one of our missionaries. The faith of our fellow Christians is on display all around us. Once you know the joy and thankfulness that comes from the gospel, just the hint of it leads us to “salivate” over the good things that gospel means for us and all people.
2. Certain in Hope (6)
Paul was living for the day of Jesus Christ. You can hear it in his thankful, joyful prayers. You can also read it in his confident attitude. In verse six, Paul makes it clear that he is confident to face the day of Jesus Christ, and that we can be confident, too.
One way to be confident in life is to strike a confident position. If you’ve ever had to perform in front of audience, you know how nerve-wracking it can be: sweaty palms, butterflies in your stomach, nerves on high alert. Think of kids who wait their turn to play at a music recital. It’s not easy. The longer they have to wait until it’s time to perform, the more nervous they can get. Or maybe your waiting to play in the big game. Or going in for an important job interview. So what can you do? Step behind the scenes for a moment. Make sure no one’s watching and… throw your hands up in victory! Throw your head back and laugh! This is a position of confidence. They say this can affect your confidence level when it’s time to do something that makes you nervous. You can try it for yourself some time and see if it works.
Waiting for the Last Day can do more than just rattle our nerves. God’s Son will judge us all. Everything we’ve thought and done will be weighed in the balance. There’s no special posture to make us confident about that day. Our confidence can only come from the Lord. Listen to what Paul says: (6b) “being confident of this, that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion.” The Lord will finish what he has started. We know something about that. Once you crack an egg open, you’re committing yourself to do something else with it. Beat it, scramble it, fry it, refrigerate it. Something. It begs to be finished. But God is infinitely greater at finishing what he starts. He took Creation all the way through day six. He took salvation all the way through Jesus’ ascension into heaven. He will preserve his world all the way until the Last Day. At your Baptism, God started his good and saving work in you. He will finish what he’s started there, too. And he’ll do it through the same gospel message he used to bring you to faith.
3. Fervent in Love (7-11)
So Paul is full of thankful joy and he is the picture of confidence. Now look how all of this translates into his relationship with the people of Philippi. He loves them.
He says to them, (7) “I have you in my heart,” and (8) “God can testify how I long for all of you with the affection of Christ Jesus.” If it sounds like Paul is writing a love letter, it’s because he is. But note: Paul’s love has nothing to do with romance. His love for the Philippians is the kind of love we call grace. It’s the highest kind of love. It’s love even for an enemy, for someone who has sinned against you. It’s the kind of love God had shown Paul. Paul had once been a murderer of Christians, and God had forgiven him for Jesus’ sake. Now Paul loved the Philippians in this same way and Paul prays that the Philippians be filled with the same kind of love for others. He says, (9) “This is my prayer: that your love may abound more and more,” and he remembers where this love comes from. It’s the (11) “fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ.”
The deeper God plunges us into his profound love for us in Christ, the more of this kind of love we have for others, even those who have sinned against us. So, do you know any sinners? In Christ, you can show more than politeness to them. Your love can abound. You have a God-given insight into who Jesus is and what he means for you. You can overcome the wounds you may still have from them. You can move past whatever distrust about them that may be holding you back. You can love them, as God loves you.
As we live our lives, it’s easy to get too attached to the things of this world, to think life is all about the fleeting todays and the uncertain tomorrows. You have something much greater than that fueling your life. Live for the day of Christ Jesus. Through faith in Him, you’re covered fully and completely in his forgiveness. He’s the one who lived and died and rose again for you. In him you have true thankfulness and joy today and certain confidence for the future. In him you can love others truly, from the heart. All this comes not from you, but from God. And he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus. Amen.
Sermon Copyright 2021 St. Paul Lutheran Church (WELS), Green Bay, Wisconsin