Zephaniah 3:14 -end Luke 3: 7-18 Philippians 4:4-7
We have this morning three readings packed with messages for us this Advent. In the Old Testament reading we heard the prophet Zephaniah telling the Jewish people to rejoice because God has turned away his judgement – He was going to deal with their enemies, gather them and bring them home. All good news then. Of course we have to read this in context and if you are at a loose end when you go home read the first 2 chapters, they are full of doom and judgement and vitally it is only those who turn to God who will enjoy the promises in today’s readings. Hold that thought!.
Have you noticed how preachers begin their sermons? I usually say May I speak in the name of God, etc, Steven says ‘May the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be acceptable to you, O Lord, my rock and my redeemer.
But John the Baptist had a more direct approach, ‘You brood of Vipers!’ Don’t rely on your family tree or Abraham to save you, if you are not bearing fruit,that is living God-fearing lives, something horrible is going to happen to you. No wonder then the crowd said “What should we do?” The reply is very surprising – if you have 2 coats give one away, Tax collectors were told to be fair and not extract money falsely. Soldiers were told to be fair and not to bully or falsely accuse people. Sounds OK doesn’t it? in other words do God’s will to God’s people, that is everyone though, not just the folks in church. This is a hugely challenging passage for those of us in this generation. Ask yourself ‘how many coats have I got in my wardrobe? How many blankets have I got in the box, in the loft , how many tins and packets have I got in my cupboard that will go out of date before I can use them?’ I was hugely challenged when first reading this and have had a blanket cull, but if I am honest it is not enough. Today is the black bag challenge. Let us all be brave enough to ask God to show us what we need to put in it for someone in need.
If God speaks to you this morning pick up a bag on your way back from communion as a token your commitment.
But I would venture to say that is the easy part, where we find ourselves,that is right here in Martham, this is our Mission field and I suggest that it fills most of us with a feeling of dread. It is much harder to tell the story of Advent in word than it is in deeds, we are not so good at telling the Christian story. Steven urged us two weeks ago to sing the Advent song to people we know as well to those we might never see again. So what is the answer?
We find it in our reading from Philippians. Paul urges us to Rejoice and not to worry about anything and we all know that is a tall order.
A man went to see a psychiatrist, and told him that he was lonely, despondent, and miserable. The psychiatrist suggested that he needed to laugh so he instructed the patient to go the circus and watch the clowns. The man looked him in the eye and said, “But Doctor, you don’t understand! You see I am a clown!” The man’s name was Joseph Grimaldi, one of the most celebrated English clowns of the late 18th and early 19th century.
We live in a society where many people are desperately looking for true happiness, peace and joy, but end up empty. People have tried to fill that huge empty hole with work, families, relationships, wealth, power, alcohol, sex, drugs etc., but still fail to find the peace and joy they long for.
We are constantly being told to take this; buy that; feel better, stronger, safer, sexier, more desirable, more secure, more powerful, and none of it works because we’re looking in the wrong place. . .
There are few people who can say that they have never been anxious. A family had put their Grandma on her first plane flight, but she hadn’t been very confident about the experience of leaving the ground on this contraption. When they met her at the airport on her return, one of the family teased her “Well, did the plane hold you up okay?” She grudgingly replied, “Well, yes,” and then quickly added, “But I never did put my full weight down on it!”
Many Christians are like that Grandma. The truth is, they’re being sustained completely by God, but they’re afraid to put their full weight down on Him. As a result, they’re plagued by anxiety and aren’t able to life.
Few of us are strangers to anxiety. It creeps in over big and little things, gnawing away at our insides. Someone graphically described anxiety as “a thin stream of fear trickling through the mind.
We often feel anxious about our finances, our health, especially as we grow older: What if I get cancer or Alzheimer’s? What if I’m disabled or have to go into a nursing home? We mayhave the same anxieties concerning our ageing parents, or our children: Will they avoid drugs? Will they be safe in this crime-ridden world?
The lists could go on and on. Maybe you’re getting anxious just listening to me give different reasons for anxiety.
To experience God’s peace instead of anxiety the antidote is Do not worry 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.There are three key words in these verses, worry; prayer; and, peace. Being worried is the problem we are told to put off; prayer is what we are told to practice; and peace is promised by God.
Ultimately there is only one person that can give us the true peace, joy and happiness that we all long for, and that is Jesus Christ. Only Jesus can satisfy that emptiness in your soul! That is the message of our reading today from Philippians.
It is worth remembering that Paul wrote the letter to the church at Philippi while he was imprisoned in Rome. Not an environment that you would imagine would lead to one feeling full of joy and hope. Therefore it makes this theme of joy even more significant. If Paul could know and write about true joy while imprisoned, then there’s hope for us that in whatever circumstances we are in.
The Christians Paul wrote to in Philippi were facing hostility, oppression and persecution, and yet Paul’s instruction to them is to “Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, Rejoice.”
It may seem an extraordinary thing to write, because when life is tough, when we are bombarded with Brexit, the last thing we feel like doing is rejoicing, or being full of joy.
The message of Philippians is that true joy doesn’t have to depend on our outward circumstances, but is grounded in our relationship with Jesus. So we can be joyful in every circumstance, even when things are going badly, Christ still reigns, and we still know him, so we can rejoice at all times.
Happiness depends on our circumstances, and this can change. But joy runs deeper and stronger. Joy is the confident assurance of God’s love for us, and that He will be with us no matter what happens.
Soon we will come to the point in the service where I will extend the peace of God to you, and invite you to share that peace with each other. This is not an exercise in handshaking but an opportunity to pass on God’s peace to another human being. The peace that God gives, is different to the peace the world gives. It is not found in positive thinking, in the absence of conflict, or in good feelings.
It is a huge privilege to share God’s peace with each other and it should not be undertaken lightly.
And so it is in this attitude of thankful, prayerful, generous hope, that this Advent we wait for the coming of our Lord both in our Christmas celebrations and the fulfilment of his promise to come again to redeem us. Amen