Advent 3

Preached: December 14, 2014

God's Christmas List: He Wants You to Have Joy in Christ Jesus
1 Thessalonians 5:16-18

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Grace and peace to you from God our Father and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen. The word from God through which the Holy Spirit brings us joy in Jesus is 1 Thessalonians 5.

Always rejoice; continually pray; in everything give thanks. For this is God's will for you in Christ Jesus. (1 Thessalonians 5:16-18)

Dear friends in Christ, fellow saints washed clean in the blood of our risen Savior:

People make Christmas lists of gifts they want. The Hancock Record printed some of the children's Christmas lists. Maybe as we get older what we really want can no longer be bought in stores or paid for with money. But what about God? What would be on his Christmas list? He has everything. The world and all that's in it belong to him. All that is good comes from him in the first place. He certainly doesn't need anything. He is the Lord who is. He's totally self-sufficient. What could God want?

He doesn't leave us guessing. The Bible reveals what his will is. It states what he wants. And the verses before us today show us a little bit of that Christmas list. God wants: for you to have joy. “This is God's will for you in Christ Jesus” (1 Thessalonians 5:18 NIV11), the Apostle writes. That's what God wants for you.

But take note that all this is in Christ Jesus. The joy that God wants you to have is not simply the passing happiness or the fading delight that the people of this world experience. It’s the joy that comes only in Christ Jesus, not if we’re outside of him. It's the joy that comes because of what Jesus has done for us. He has done the work of the Christ, the work of saving sinners. It's the joy we have as faith clings to Jesus, holding on to his promises. It's the real Christmas joy.

God's Christmas list: He wants you to have joy in Christ Jesus. That's the theme today. He wants you to have this joy as you pray continually and as you give thanks in all circumstances. Those are the two parts.

A. As you pray continually

Rejoice, dear Christian, because you can pray. You can call out to the holy, almighty God. What a wonder that is! For you see, we are dirty sinners. How dare we approach his pureness! Even our best is like dried up leaves, and he is a consuming fire. Why would we dare to pray?

It's those three words mentioned earlier: “in Christ Jesus.” His blood has washed away your dirt and sin. For he gave up his life for you, sacrificing himself in your place. That’s why he came as a baby to wash you clean. Baptism made that promise to you. Your faith clings to that promise. As your risen Savior, he presents you to his Father not as dried up leaves ready to be burnt but as oaks of righteousness, as Isaiah foretold. He present you as his bride beautiful dressed in his spotless righteousness. In fact as the bride of the Son, we come before the Father as his own dear children. “In Christ Jesus” changes everything.

Rejoice that you can pray continually. Rejoice that you can bring anything and everything to your heavenly Father, for in Christ Jesus you are God's own dear child and he is your true Father. Rejoice that this is what God wants. That's why he tells us to pray. In facts, he commands it -- not so that we look at pray as a required burden that we have to live up to, but so that we can be absolutely sure and certain that he truly does want our prayers, even my pitiful cry. He truly desires for us to pray. This is his will. This is his Christmas list. He wants you to have joy as you pray.

Now as we pray, we pray with an attitude of surrender and an attitude of trust. This attitude of surrender bows before our God, humbly confessing our own unworthiness and helplessness. This attitude of trust leans our full weight on him, relying on his mercy to help us in our need. For we are beggars, who have nothing of our own.

Surrender your guilt to him and trust that Jesus has removed that burden as far as the east is from the west. What joy! Surrender your fears to him and trust that his mighty power protects you. What joy! Surrender your ambitions to him and trust that he will work his blessings even when disappointment strikes hard. What joy! Surrender your worries to him and trust that his fatherly kindness will take care of you. What joy! Surrender your wants to him and trust that his goodness bountifully provides all you need. What joy! Surrender your doubts to him and trust that his promises are unbreakable. What joy!

And as this attitude of surrender and trust fills our lives, then prayer is not just those times when we bow our heads and fold our hands. It becomes the rhythm in our life. It becomes like our breathing that's always there continually, even if we’re not directly focused on it. Sometimes it’s more intense and fervent under the stresses of life, sometimes more quiet and contemplative, but always there continually. What a joy!

Yes, dear Christian, God wants you to have joy in Christ Jesus. That's his Christmas list. He wants you to have this joy as you pray and as you give thanks in all circumstances.

B. As you give thanks in all circumstances.

Giving thanks when things are going well isn't too hard. Oh, we might forget to do it. We get caught up in the good times and take them for granted. But if we remember, it's not hard to have thankful feelings in happy times.

But notice, Paul writes, “give thanks in all circumstances” (1 Thessalonians 5:18 NIV11), good or bad. How can we give thanks even when things are bad for us? Remember what Paul wrote in another passages, Romans 8:28. “We know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose” (Romans 8:28 NIV84). In all things -- even the bad things, even the bad things that we brought on ourselves because of something stupid or sinful that we did -- God works in all things for good to those who love him because he first loved us, those whom he has called into his family through Jesus Christ, his Son. God works all things for your good, dear Christian. So even when things go badly for us, we can give thanks because God is actually working good. We can give thanks and rejoice.

We know that God is working good, but we usually don't know how. We may not even be able to imagine what good could come. It appears to us that God has messed up. But God knows what he is doing, and he knows exactly how he will accomplish the good he wants. All we need to know is that he will do it. And we can know that because look at what he has already done for us. A few verses later in Romans 8, Paul writes, “He who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all--how will he not also, along with him, graciously give us all things” (Romans 8:32 NIV11). Rejoice and give thanks. Give thanks in all circumstances. God is working good for you.

Think of the circumstances of Joseph. What good could come from his fiancee being pregnant and he certainly was not the father? But the angel revealed to him that Mary had not been unfaithful. She was truly still a virgin, even though she was pregnant. This was God's miracle. This was how he was sending his Son into the world to save us from our sins. This fulfilled prophecy: “‘The virgin will be with child and will give birth to a son, and they will call him Immanuel’--which means, ‘God with us’” (Matthew 1:23 NIV84). Give thanks. God was working good.

What did Joseph think when Caesar Augustus issued a decree that forced him to travel from Nazareth with his nine-month pregnant wife and go to Bethlehem? The timing couldn't be worse, at least that's what I would have thought. But this was all part of God's plan. The Savior would be born in Bethlehem, just as the prophet had foretold. Give thanks. God was working good.

And when they arrived, there was no room in the inn. It seems like it’s all gone from bad to worse. But God was working good. How great our Savior's love that he lowered himself to come into this world not only as a helpless baby but born under conditions fit only for an animal! Yet throughout the ages Christians have pondered God’s amazing love that brought God's Son from his heavenly throne to a lowly manger--not even a crib or a pillow, but a feeding trough. How much good hasn't God worked strengthening the faith of his people as they’ve struggled, in that there was no room in the inn so even our Lord was laid in a manger? Give thanks and rejoice.

Yes, dear Christian, rejoice. Rejoice not only in the celebration of this holiday season. At all times remember that you are in Christ Jesus. Therefore, always rejoice. Continually pray. In everything give thanks. That's God's Christmas list. Amen.

The peace of God that surpasses all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.

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Pastor Gregg Bitter

St. John's Evangelical Lutheran Church
859 5th Street
Hancock, MN 56244
(320) 392-5313