Pastor Joel Leyrer - The Second Sunday in Advent - Sunday, December 5, 2021

Text: Philippians 1:3-11

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Dear Friends in Christ, Today clearly belongs to John the Baptist. Two of our three readings reference him (Old Testament and Gospel). Next week’s Gospel reading will also revolve around his work. The announcement of his birth was the subject of our first midweek Advent service this past Wednesday. And he’s mentioned a number of times in our hymns for today.

All for good reason. He is the premier and preeminent Advent figure; the one chosen by God to prepare the hearts of the people to meet their coming Lord. To go throughout the Advent season without thinking about him or singing “On Jordan’s Bank the Baptist’s Cry” would be the same as going through our Christmas services without thinking about Jesus or singing Joy to the World.

John’s message was and continues to be both simple and singular. He reminds us that, by design, Advent is a season set aside for personal reflection, personal repentance, and personal preparation. His words and actions call attention to those themes.

However, today we’re going to give John a break and let him hand the ball off to the Apostle Paul. He will share with us two very important

ADVENT REMINDERS

The letter to the Philippians was one of four letters Paul wrote while he was in prison.

Given the circumstances, we might expect it to be tinged with at least a little sense of foreboding. But it’s not. Just the opposite. The tone is positive and upbeat and confident that because we have Christ in our lives everything will eventually turn out just fine.

That comes through loud and clear from the very outset. Paul begins this letter by praising God for the faith he has created in the hearts of these Philippian Christians, and then thanks them for their commitment to the cause of Christ: I thank my God every time I remember you. In all my prayers for all of you, I always pray with joy because of your partnership in the gospel from the first day until now, being confident of this, that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus.

There is a lot we could talk about here but let me introduce one thing in particular that Paul reminds us of with an illustration from geography. In southern Kentucky and northern Tennessee is a large national recreational area known as “the land between the lakes.” Maybe you’ve heard of it. It’s not an island, but just what it says it is – an unusually long, narrow strip of land situated between two lakes.

Let’s pretend each of those lakes represents one of the two Advents of Christ: the first being his birth on Christmas day, which has already happened; the second being his return on Judgment Day, which has not yet happened, but will.

Christians (and all people, whether they know it or not) live in the middle of these two Advents. There is one on each side of us. The one side (Advent 1) we can see. The other (Advent 2) we can’t, but we know it’s there. We also know the water level is gradually rising and, at some point, this lake Advent 2 will flood the land.

Let’s press the illustration. We’re not worried about this, because we have been given boats that will keep us afloat. The boats represent the Gospel message of Jesus Christ. Not only are we secure, but when the flood comes, we will be safely deposited, in the words of the hymnist, “on that bright shore where we weep no more.”

But what’s true for us is not true for everybody. So, what impact or influence does this knowledge have on us? We need more boat builders and sailing instructors and construction materials. In other words, we need to do what we can to provide others with the safety and security we have in Jesus Christ.

So, what can we do? As individuals we can pray and contribute to the degree that we can. As a congregation, we must continue to sift everything we do through the sieve of the Great Commission and support the ministry God has laid before us. As a Synod, let us ask that God will use us mightily to do things together that we can’t do separately.

Paul’s first Advent reminder: We, who have been saved by grace, all form a partnership in spreading the Gospel before the second Advent arrives.

If working together as partners is the first Advent reminder, the second is, with God’s help, working on ourselves as individuals. In the middle paragraph of our text Paul expresses his affection for the Philippian congregation, after which he offers up a prayer that is worthy of our contemplation. What he prays will be increasingly developed within the 1st Century Philippians and is what we as 21st Century Christians can also pray to be increasingly developed within ourselves.

Here it is: 9And this is my prayer: that your love may abound more and more in knowledge and depth of insight, 10so that you may be able to discern what is best and may be pure and blameless until the day of Christ, 11filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ—to the glory and praise of God.

If the question is personalized, what should we be praying for this Advent? This is Paul’s answer, in three petitions:

#1: That our love may abound more and more in knowledge and depth of insight.

#2: That we may be able to discern what is best so that we remain pure and blameless until the day of Christ.

#3: That we may be filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ.

And that all of this may be done to the glory and praise of God.

Let’s take a closer look at each of these petitions. There is a sermon in each one of them, so we’re only going to hit some highlights.

Petition #1: Let us pray that our love may abound more and more in knowledge and depth of insight.

Who or what is to be the object of our love? In the Gospels Jesus tells us we are to love God and, as a logical outgrowth of that, to love our neighbor. When asked the question who our neighbor is, Jesus told the parable of the Good Samaritan. In broad strokes our neighbor is our fellow man.

As far as loving God, this is what John tells us in his first letter: “This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins.”

In Jesus Christ and the message that our sins are forgiven through his life and death as our substitute and sacrifice we find not only redemption but the ultimate act of unvarnished and unrelenting love. He died so we might live for all eternity. He lives so we will never be alone on this earth. It’s not hard to love a God like that.

As far as loving our fellow man, there is much we could say. At the base is the fact that we love others because God loved us first and asks us to reflect his love. But perhaps what may be most helpful is to remember the vast difference between the world’s and God’s definition of love.

The world defines love as purely an emotion or feeling. In contrast –and as has often been said – Christian love is not first and foremost something we feel, rather it is something we do. First Corinthians 13 tells us love is patient…kind… not rude… not easily angered, etc. Those are things we do and extend toward one another.

On Maundy Thursday Jesus told his disciples that people would know they were his followers by the way in which they loved each other. Paul’s prayer for the Philippians is the same: that they may abound more and more in an active love formed by a growing understanding and knowledge of what Christ did for them. That’s our prayer as well.

Petition #2: Let us pray that we may be able to discern what is best so that we may remain pure and blameless until the day of Christ

Paul’s counsel to us is to develop what we might call “a Christian mind.” This we do through contact and familiarity with God’s Word. That’s why Bible Class is important. That’s why personal Bible reading is important. Slowly, surely, gradually is the way of spiritual growth. There are no crash courses for Christian discipleship. There are no shortcuts. It is a life-long pursuit.

Faith – and we could add our spiritual knowledge – is like a muscle. Muscles don’t grow by telling them to grow. You can talk to your biceps and tell them to get bigger until you’re blue in the face, but nothing will happen. Muscles grow and get stronger through nourishment and exercise, maybe even with the help of a personal trainer.

So it is spiritually. Think of the Bible as being our health club or gym and the Holy Spirit as our personal trainer. As we spend time in the Word, we get spiritually stronger and more developed. The end result is that a more and more sharply defined Christian mind emerges – and we are increasingly able to “discern what is best.”

Paul’s prayer for the Philippians is that they remain spiritually strong up until Jesus comes to take them home. That is our prayer as well.

Final petition: Let us pray that we may filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ.

Here Paul is praying for the Philippians life of sanctification: that is, the grateful and evident life of discipleship that comes as a result of thanksgiving to God for what he has done for us in Jesus.

Paul isn’t praying that the Philippians will be showy or ostentatious in their Christian life, as if discipleship is a performance; rather he prays that they will remain devoted to their Lord. When they do, the world will know that they are his.

How? By the way they talk. By the way they deal with adversity. By the way they treat each other. By their quiet acts of kindness and thoughtfulness. By the way they conduct themselves and go about their business, even when no one is watching.

Paul’s prayer is that the Philippians increasingly be who they are as Children of God and disciples of Christ. That is our prayer as well. And all to the glory and praise of God.

So, in coming full circle, what are Paul’s two Advent reminders for us today? First, he wants us to remember the partnership we have in maintaining and spreading the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Then he wants us to reflect upon the privilege we have of representing Jesus well and encourages us to strengthen our relationship with him.

And upon further reflection, these reminders provide us with goals and guidance not just for Advent, but for every day of our lives. God grant it. Amen.