Advent 4, 2016

 

The Epistle. Philippians 4:4-7

The Gospel.  St. John 1:19-28

 

In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Ghost, Amen.

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This is the 4th and final Sunday in Advent.  Over the course of the last weeks in anticipation of the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, the message of Advent has been multifaceted.

 

Yet the multifaceted nature of the message still singularly points to one ultimate event….the coming again of the Lord Christ in glory to judge the world and to receive us unto Himself.

 

We asked in the first week that God would give us grace so that we might cast away from us the works of darkness and put upon us the armor of light.

Advent directs us at every turn to live an expectant life.  That we actually act as if we are anticipating His coming again.

 

We are to be ready and waiting.

We are to be carrying out the works He has set out and ordained for us to do…to walk in.

 

The reality of Christ’s return should in fact stir up in us a great bit of anticipation and readiness.

 

It should stir up in us a focus on being found faithful upon His arrival.

 

The Second Sunday in Advent pointed us to the Scriptures as the Word of God and the guide to Holy Living.

 

Inspired by God and given to us through the Apostles and Prophets, the Scriptures are the final authority on all things for a Christian.  They contain all things necessary to our salvation.

So in searching them and reading them and hearing them preached and exposited and praying them and singing them, we might all the more be molded by them.

 

In the third week, last week, we were shown how the Scriptures and Christ’s institution, the ministers of the Gospel are to remain faithful and steadfast in their proclamation of repentance and right living in light of Christ’s Second Coming.

 

Yet all Christians are a royal priesthood and therefore all, though not all ordained ministers, are still called to know the message of Advent and to proclaim it through both right living and sharing and defending the fact that Christ not only came, but will come again and He is seeking those who He will find faithful upon His return.

 

 

 

Now on this 4th Sunday, we can hardly say we are exhausted from this season of repentance and reflection…though our Collect speaks of being sore let and hindered in running the race.

 

It is not designed to be exhaustive however, but to be a guide for us so that we might reflect on the fact of what Christmas means…

why it even had to be in the first place…

and what it points us to in the future.

 

The Collect today gets at the true life of the Christian who is living an Advent life…and what we are to be experiencing not only in Advent, but our entire life.

 

Yet we might first take a look at what the Epistle from St. Paul tells us today.

 

Paul in this short section from his letter to the Philippians says, “Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice. Let your reasonableness be known to everyone.

The Lord is at hand; do not be anxious 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 ESV)

 

“…in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God.”

 

This is truly the key to living in the Advent time awaiting Christ’s return.  It is by prayer and supplication that we make known to God that we need His grace to live a life worthy of a Christian.

 

One writer paraphrases this section from Paul this way, “Let your gentle and forbearing spirit be recognized by all men. The judgment is drawing near.

Entertain no anxious cares, but throw them all upon God. By your prayer and your supplication make your every want known to him.

 

If you do this, then the peace of God, far more effective than any forethought or contrivance of man, will keep watch over your hearts and your thoughts in Christ Jesus.”[1]

 

A very good and accurate description of the life of the Christian living in “Advent anticipation.”

 

Paul, as we can see there has packed a lot into this short exhortation.

 

We are to now live like this: We are to live knowing the Lord is coming and that all that surrounds us and torments us and makes us lonely and afraid and scared….and all that persecutes us is temporary.

 

And since this is so, we are to live with a forbearing spirit.  Meaning we are to be longsuffering in this life through all of its difficulties and pains because first, it will be recognized by all men…recognized by others.

 

Our Christian witness.  Our Christian life is to be one that others see and notice….notice something different.  How we handle ourselves in the face of adversity is a witness to what we believe….. and how much we are convinced of it.

 

We may look in the mirror on this one and think we are not doing a very good job.

 

But others see the life of a true and genuine Christian and they can see in some way …or they should see in some way… that we strive to be like our Master Jesus Christ.

 

We have to be careful at this point because we are not the Gospel.

Our life style is not the Gospel.

There has been a sudden resurgence of a saying attributed to Church Father, Francis of Assisi.

 

Many know who he is.  Many have a statue of him in their garden.  He is purported to have said, “Preach the Gospel at all times. Use words if necessary.”  This is a very neat little saying.

 

It seems to mean that we are to live in such a way, so as to let people know the Gospel.  We are to live in such a way that people will know what Christ has done by our actions.

 

“Proclaiming the Gospel by example is more virtuous supposedly, than actually proclaiming with it with our voice.”[2]

 

First, our lives (again) never quite reflect the perfect life of Christ.  So if you or I are the standard for Christian life, we need to be a little concerned. 

But secondly, “…Francis never said such a thing. None of his disciples, (or his) early or later biographers have these words coming from his mouth. It doesn't show up in any of his writings…. The closest comes from his Rule of 1221, Chapter XII on how the Franciscans should practice their preaching:

 

‘No brother should preach contrary to the form and regulations of the holy Church nor unless he has been permitted by his minister … All the Friars … should preach by their deeds.’

 

So, back to what Paul says, “Let your gentle and forbearing spirit be recognized by all men” means that we are to live lives that display a spirit of consideration of others, and true humility.

 

Yes, let our deeds match our words….but we are to point to Christ and his work, not us or ours.

Paul then says, “The Lord is at hand. 

Our paraphrase is “The judgment is drawing near.”

 

Peter: “The end of all things is at hand; therefore be self-controlled and sober-minded for the sake of your prayers.” (1 Peter 4:7 ESV)

 

All very intense and perhaps scary sayings to some.

 

We know, however, as we have repeatedly heard that Paul in Romans 8 tells us that there is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.

 

So our judgment means not sitting and awaiting a declaration with no hint of which way the judge will rule. 

 

But rather, it is an exhortation to look forward…to lift our drooping hands…to stand up straight and life our heads….and anticipate the coming of our Lord. 

Not in fear, but in hope and anticipation.

 

In the mean time, Paul says, as we await…we are not to be anxious about things.  This too is not easy.

 

But we must be told this nonetheless. 
Though things are hard or seem impossible, we must be told and reminded over and over….for that is our medicine…our comfort….our security…our remedy. 

 

Don't be anxious about anything.

And if you are….and you will be….whenever anxiety about anything arises, throw it upon God.

 

Can He handle it?  Yes.

Can He absorb it?  Yes.

Is there anything He would not be able to take from us? No.

Is He able to turn or use what ails us for our good? Yes.

He works all things for the good of those who love Him…and look for His return.

 

Cast your cares upon God.

Throw them upon God.

 

If Christ is returning and at the same time, anxieties are rising and are dampening any spirit of excitement of His coming, they must be thrown on God so that we can move back to that place where we are focused on His return once again. 

 

And our lives are centered once again on His finished work for us and His redeeming grace fills us with thoughts and actions suitable to joyfully awaiting people.

 

How is this done?  How are cares cast upon God and taken from us?

 

 

 

Paul tells us, “…by prayer and supplication…  By prayer and supplication, which are basically synonymous, we are to make every want and need known to God.

 

Telling them to Him. 

Giving them to Him. 

Wrestling with God over them is all part-and-parcel of casting our cares upon God.

 

This is not “Let God and Let God.” 

That is a bumper sticker slogan, not Christian theology.

 

This is casting our cares upon God.  He knows what anxieties we have.  Talking to Him about them…asking Him to take them away…being patient when He does not take them away quickly….or ever…is all of the interaction and the sort of relationship God wants to have with us.

 

 

Then Paul’s paraphraser says, “If you do this, then the peace of God, far more effective than any forethought or contrivance of man, will keep watch over your hearts and your thoughts in Christ Jesus.”[3]

 

Paul promises ….God promises that His peace will rest upon you. 

Calvin says about this line, “The peace of God will guard you, so as to prevent you from turning back from God in wicked thoughts or desires.”[4]

 

He goes on, “…for nothing is more foreign to the human mind, than in the depth of despair to exercise, nevertheless, a feeling of hope, in the depth of poverty to see opulence, and in the depth of weakness to keep from giving way, and, in fine, to promise ourselves that nothing will be wanting to us when we are left destitute of all things;

and all this in the grace of God alone, which is not itself known otherwise than through the word, and the inward earnest of the Spirit.”[5]

 

Our Prayer today was, “O LORD, raise up, we pray thee, thy power, and come among us, and with great might succour us; that whereas, through our sins and wickedness, we are sore let and hindered in running the race that is set before us, thy bountiful grace and mercy may speedily help and deliver us; through the satisfaction of thy Son our Lord…”

 

This is our only comfort in this life. 

The assurance of God’s love for us. 

The assurance of Christ’s return for us.

And the assurance that in the meantime, we must cast all of our cares upon Him as we await…and let these promises direct and rule our lives.

 

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In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost. Amen.



[1] Lightfoot, J. B. (1994). Philippians (p. 173). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books.

[2] The Gospel Coalition, Misquoting Francis of Assissi.

[3] Lightfoot, J. B. (1994). Philippians (p. 173). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books.

[4] Calvin, J., & Pringle, J. (2010). Commentaries on the Epistles of Paul the Apostle to the Philippians, Colossians, and Thessalonians (p. 120). Bellingham, WA: Logos Bible Software.

[5] Calvin, J., & Pringle, J. (2010). Commentaries on the Epistles of Paul the Apostle to the Philippians, Colossians, and Thessalonians (p. 120). Bellingham, WA: Logos Bible Software.