ADVENT 2, C – December 9, 2018

SCRIPTURES - Zephaniah 3:14-20; Phil. 4:4-7; Luke 7:18-28

Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, Rejoice! Phil. 4

 

Today our Lord says to us through His apostle Paul, “Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, Rejoice! Let your reasonableness” – your gentleness and graciousness – “be known to everyone.” That’s quite a high demand and expectation. Rejoice in the Lord always: in good and prosperous and happy times, certainly; but also in difficult and failing and sorrowful times. Rejoice in the Lord always; trust in Him and praise the goodness of His will in every time and place and situation!

Oh, how I fail in this; and you do, also. We especially fail in times of trial; of weakness; of loneliness and sorrow. How often do we at such times, instead of rejoicing in our good God and His merciful work among us and for us, spend time looking back, thinking about and talking about how good things used to be. I hear this often.

Ø  How crowded church used to be on Christmas Eve, especially at the late Service!

Ø  And, how much enthusiasm and dedication there used to be among those who helped out. How hard they worked!

I can imagine John the Baptist and his disciples looking back like this and recalling how things used to be. For, John had been arrested by King Herod, and now sat and wasted away in his dungeon. Oh, how joyful and successful things used to be!

Martin Luther felt great despair at times. After all, most of his fellow Germans were “harsh, crude folk who far preferred fairs and hard drinking to church services.” (Kittelson, Luther the Reformer, p. 216) He once remarked that the workers he knew kept time not with a clock or by the sun but by the number of empty beer steins lying about them. (ibid, p. 216) “I have often thought that I should quit preaching,” he once said, “for daily the people become more stubborn, mocking, and spiteful. They put a bad construction on my words and think that I am trying to force and coerce them into something. They go their way in proud defiance.” (LW 23:362) In a letter he wrote to fellow clergy 13 years after the Reformation began, he said: “I would rather hear no other news than that I had been deposed from the preaching office. I am so very tired of it, as a result of the great ingratitude of the people.” (LW 34:50)

But then, there’s God, saying “Rejoice in the Lord always!” Are you really entrusting your life to Him if you rejoice in Him only some of the time; only in good and prosperous times? Actually, what you are doing is rejoicing in yourself; making your joy, and not God’s will and plan for your life, the most important thing to you. This is idolatry! Your God is to be trusted, to be praised – and you are not doing so!

If you want a reason for not rejoicing but being sad and depressed, there is a good one! Your disappointment, your longing for the past instead of living in the present with trust and looking to the future with confidence is the sin of putting yourself and your desires before your God. This is reason to be truly sad. In your disappointments and regrets, in your looking back at the past with joy but at the present with sorrow, you are not letting God be God. You are not letting Him be the One who directs your life. Ultimately, you are disappointed with God! Should He not be disappointed with you and with me?

Thanks be to God that He is not like us! He says, “Rejoice in the Lord always!” because He Himself rejoices; and the most amazing thing is that He rejoices over you and over me. He says to us through Zephaniah, “Fear not, O Zion; let not your hands grow weak. The Lord your God is in your midst, a mighty one who will save; he will rejoice over you with gladness; he will quiet you by his love; he will exult over you with loud singing.” God rejoices over His people; over you and me! He rejoices to be with us; to love us; to forgive us and help us – even though you and I are sinful, and even when we show it. You can rejoice even then because Jesus is there, with you and for you, especially then.

Jesus is the One God was speaking of in Zephaniah 3. He is “the Lord your God in your midst, a mighty one who will save.” And He has saved, as John’s disciples saw. He healed many people of diseases and plagues and evil spirits; He gave sight to the blind and hearing to the deaf. He preached the good news of the forgiveness of sins in His name to the poor. And finally, we know what John didn’t know: that He went to the cross to bear our sins and give His life to rescue us from their punishment. He did this “for the joy that was set before Him,” Scripture tells us (Heb. 12:2). He gladly gave His life for you and me, that we might be forgiven; raised up as new people; and have God’s joy in our hearts.

And, even when we are weighed down, when we don’t feel God’s joy and are looking back to the way things used to be, He looks upon us with the joy of His forgiveness and love. Look at how Jesus deals with John the Baptist, who seems to have lost his confidence in Jesus and now wonders, “Are you the one who is to come, or shall we look for another?” He tells John’s disciples to tell him what they see Jesus doing, and then to say to him, “blessed is the one who is not offended by me.” John is to stop his doubting. But, He then goes on to praise John, calling him “My messenger.” Jesus does not disassociate Himself from John because of his sin. He then says, “among those born of women none is greater than John.” High praise, indeed! But “the one who is least in the kingdom of God is greater than he.” Even at our weakest and lowliest, believing in Jesus and so being in God’s kingdom makes us greater than John in His sight! May God help us see this and rejoice in this, also.

When you see this you will be able to look, not back at how things use to be, but at the great blessing of simply being one of and among Christ’s people. How different will things then appear! Martin Luther was so changed by this that he came to say:

“May a merciful God preserve me from a Christian Church in which everyone is a saint! I want to be and remain in the church and little flock of the fainthearted, the feeble, and the ailing, who feel and recognize the wretchedness of their sins, who sigh and cry to God incessantly for comfort and help, who believe in the forgiveness of sin, and who suffer persecution for the sake of the Word, which they confess and teach purely and without adulteration… Our righteousness and holiness is in Christ. In Him, not ourselves, we have perfection (Col. 2:10). And I find comfort in, and cling to, the words of St. Paul spoken in 1 Cor. 1:30: “God made Christ our Wisdom, our Righteousness and Sanctification and Redemption.”

There is no sin or lack in Christ, neither of good works nor of rejoicing in the Lord. Hold to Him as your Savior and there will be no lack of them in you, either! Your Savior will bring them forth; and in His way. He will help you to rejoice in the Lord always! To the eternal praise of your God and Savior.

In the name of Jesus, our Savior, our joy in the Lord. Amen.