Paul writes to the Church at Phillippi and to us: ‘I am sure that God, who began the good work within you, will continue his work until it is finally finished on that day when Christ Jesus comes back again.’
Let’s join in a word of prayer:
O God our Loving Father, as Christians we are together to worship You and to celebrate the unfinished business of our lives. Guide our time together, at this, the second Sunday of Advent, that we may hear your message for us and continue to be moulded, by your Holy Spirit, into the people You want us to be. Gracious heavenly Father, bless us with your peace, and hear our prayer for the sake of our risen Lord, Christ Jesus, Amen.
An old fable tells how different tools tried to master a piece of iron. The blows of the axe fell heavily, but the only result was that its edge became more and more blunt. The saw’s relentless teeth worked until they were worn down and broken, without effect. The hammer’s head flew off at the first stroke, but didn’t even leave a dent.
Despite all their efforts, the iron remained hardened and stubborn. Finally a warm flame curled gently around the iron, embraced it, and never left it until the iron melted under its irresistible influence. (SOURCE: Rodney Fry, “Paul’s Prayer For His Loved Ones,”)
As followers of Christ Jesus, we can try to chop through the discord in the world with severe discipline. We can try to hammer out agreements between angry neighbours with harsh logic. We can try to cut away hatred and misunderstanding within families, and even the church, with piercing words and looks. But only persistent warmth of love can melt hearts and bring peace. Peace that keeps the spirit of Christ alive among His children, born out of the word and sacrament. As Paul writes, “I pray that your love for each other will overflow more and more, and that you will keep on growing in your knowledge and understanding.”
The decision to love happens when we are exposed to a higher standard of living at peace with one another. … That’s what Jesus does for us.
As we read from Paul to Philippians earlier: ‘I am sure that God, who began the good work within you, will continue his work until it is finally finished on that day when Christ Jesus comes back again.’
As the world waits for the return of Christ Jesus, many people see only dimly what’s wrong with their lives, and they live under a cloud of self condemnation. Saying things like: “I don’t know if I can live it.” “I am struggling all the time,” “What if God doesn’t hear my prayer?” or “What if I just can’t do what God wants?”, “I’m upset all the time.”, “I don’t have any peace. I’m churned up about everything. Worrying myself to death.” In reality, the words we think and say to ourselves speak more clearly to our hearts than any words we hear from others. Even from the Scripture.
But, when we determine to listen, the Scripture can make a big difference in the words we receive even from ourselves. If we speak Gospel to ourselves and speak encouragement to others, those words will surely give us confidence that God has begun the work in our lives. That He will carry it out and complete it. No matter how we feel at that moment. As I paraphrase Martin Luther “We shouldn’t always trust in our feelings, but we should trust always in the Word of God.”
These words give us evidence that the Holy Spirit is at work in our lives to bring us his peace.
Paul goes on to write, ‘I pray that your love for each other will overflow more and more, and that you will keep on growing in your knowledge and understanding. For I want you to understand what really matters.’
As we receive God’s word, and determine to express our love for one another, I am sure that we will continue to discover what really matters. Christ Jesus, influencing our lives through the faith we have in him. Christ Jesus giving us peace of mind in every circumstance of life. Christ Jesus smiling at the love that we share for one another.
What strength it is that we have someone who so clearly sees us for who we are and understands us. We are children of the Most High, co-heirs with Jesus, our King of all creation, sharing in the love that God lavishes on all of us through the Holy Spirit. As we wait for the full inheritance, we can live each day trusting in God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, no matter what our current circumstances, whether celebration or challenge.
The Gospel today reminds us of the last Old Testament prophet, John the Baptiser. He remained in the wilderness trying to discern his mission for God. And God is faithful.
‘A message from God came to John son of Zechariah, who was living out in the wilderness. … Then John went from place to place on both sides of the Jordan River, preaching that people should be baptized to show that they had turned from their sins and turned to God to be forgiven.’
During this season of Advent, we confront our time of waiting for the coming of the Lord Jesus Christ. We learn to live each day in the shadow of our justification before God through the sacrifice of Jesus Christ. We prepare to meet our Savour, as though it is our last day on earth.
Each new day, we can live without any fear of tomorrow. Whatever tomorrow brings, we can hold onto our faith in God with peace in our hearts and our hope of life eternal with Christ Jesus. All this stored in our hearts by the Holy Spirit through the Gospel and the Sacraments of Christ Jesus.
We don’t need to be a ‘John the Baptiser’, although some will be called to be evangelists, pastors, and teachers. We only need to listen for the encouragement of the Holy Spirit, allowing our hearts to sing together the joy of our salvation.
Carl Michalson, a brilliant young theologian who died in a plane crash some years ago, once told about playing with his young son one afternoon. They tussled playfully on their front lawn when Michalson accidentally hit the young boy in the face with his elbow.
It was a sharp blow full to his son’s face. The little boy was stunned by the impact of the elbow. It hurt, and he was just about to burst into tears. But then he looked into his father’s eyes. Instead of anger and hostility, he saw there his father’s sympathy and concern; he saw there his father’s love and compassion.
Instead of exploding into tears, the little boy suddenly rubbed his face and burst into laughter. What he saw in his father’s eyes made all the difference! (Source: James W. Moore, Some Things Are too Good Not to Be True, Nashville:Dimensions, p. 43. Adapted.)
The sharp blow of God’s message to us is to live repentant lives. Just as John the Baptist shared with us in the Gospel reading today. ‘Prepare a pathway for the Lord’s coming! Make a straight road for him!’ But, with our inside eyes, we can look into our Saviour’s eyes. We can see what he offers us in forgiveness that makes all the difference.
As Paul writes to us: ‘May you always be filled with the fruit of your salvation—those good things that are produced in your life by Jesus Christ—for this will bring much glory and praise to God.’
We have the confirmation of our salvation by the witness of God’s Holy Spirit working in our lives. All the times we can say with enthusiasm, “Jesus is Lord”.
But the world only sees the fruit of the tree, and not the sap running through it to give it life. During our preparation for Christmas, and for the return of our Saviour, let us put on display the fruit of the Spirit to show the world that we are part of the glorious family of Christ Jesus. AMEN.
Rev. David Thompson