Sermon for the Second Sunday in Advent, Dec. 9, 2012
St. Paul Lutheran Church, Wallis, Texas
Sermon Text: Philippians 1:2-11
Sermon Theme: “What Support and Encouragement Can Do”
(Sources: Emphasis online Commentary on Philippians 1:2-11; Emphasis online Illustrations for Philippians 1:2-11; original ideas; Brokhoff, Series C, Workbook)
Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father and from the Lord Jesus Christ.
As a boy, Sir Walter Scott was left weak and lame by an attack of fever. Some misjudged him and thought he would never amount to much. When he became a teenager, he visited in a home where famous literary guests were being entertained, including the poet Robert Burns.
In one room was a picture under which was written a bit of beautiful verse. Burns asked who wrote it and reluctantly Scott admitted his authorship by quoting the rest of the poem. Putting his hand on the young man’s head, Burns exclaimed, “Ah, my boy, I’m sure you’ll be a great man in Scotland someday!” From that moment on, Walter Scott was a changed person. That brief comment set him on the road to greatness.
We never know what encouragement can do. However, we should extend it to others as we draw our own uplift from the Savior, who by His death and Resurrection, ever gives us reason for joy.
At the time our sermon text was written, the apostle Paul was nearing the end of his ministry as he faced impending execution. Yet, even in prison, Paul could write to his good friends in Philippi, thanking them for their faithfulness to Christ. All of us need to take time to thank others for their kindness and support for us in times of trial and temptation.
Paul is awaiting trial in a Roman prison on undisclosed charges. In Roman culture, prison was not a punishment unto itself. A person was held in prison before the trial, and then after the trial, he was released, executed, or given some other form of quick punishment, such as flogging. Essentially his life is put on hold or waiting.
The theme of waiting, in Paul’s case, waiting for trial, is what ties this text to the season of Advent. Advent is a time of waiting.
Paul is closer to this Philippian congregation than to any other congregation he writes letters to. There were, however, some dissenters in the congregation who did not agree with some of the decisions made by Paul and weren’t very supportive of his mission. In spite of that fact, Paul’s letter is filled with kindness and words of thanks, supportive words that would lift up the members.
He says he thanks God in all of his remembrances of them. They are in every prayer of his because of their partnership in the Gospel with him. Then he says, “It is right for me to feel this way about you all, because I hold you in my heart, for you are all partakers with me of grace, both in my imprisonment, and in the defense and confirmation of the gospel.” He says he yearns for them in Christian love.
Paul understands that he is going to be put on trial simply because he preaches the gospel of Jesus Christ. Should he be executed for his ministry, then that could easily discourage the folks at Phillipi from moving forward with the agreed-upon mission they were involved in, especially considering there were dissenters in the congregation who didn’t want to support those missions in the first place. I’m sure he hopes that his prayers will help, especially those dissenters, should the Philippians be persecuted by the Romans.
The text is also an Advent text in that it includes a reference to the Second Coming of Christ. Paul says, “And it is my prayer that your love may abound more and more, with knowledge and all discernment, so that you may approve what is excellent, and so be pure and blameless for the day of Christ (in other words, the Second Coming), filled with the fruit of righteousness, that comes through Jesus Christ, to the glory and praise of God.”
Most folks think of Advent as celebrating only the one Coming of Christ, — as a tiny baby in Bethlehem, and of course that is the one we emphasize. However, Advent also celebrates the Second Coming of Christ at the End of Times, and the Ever-Present Coming of Christ into our daily lives now.
In Early Christianity, the Second Coming of Christ was emphasized during the season of Advent, and that’s why the paraments for the season were originally purple, — to emphasize the need for repentance to prepare for the Lord’s Second Coming. The use of blue paraments is a fairly recent innovation, more as a symbol of Christ coming to Bethlehem. I like to continue using purple because the call to repentance is the most important theme of Advent.
We celebrate the ever-present coming of Christ all year long, so that theme is rarely used during Advent, though it’s certainly a good one.
To be sure, we find two themes of Advent in our text, — the theme of waiting. Paul waits for his trial and its outcome, while the Philippians also wait the outcome and possible persecution for their mission work. He lifts them up with words of encouragement and admiration; they lift him up with their love and devotion.
And the theme of being prepared for the Second Coming. The text shows us how God makes us ready for the Second Coming, — by our ever increasing love for one another, by our moral excellence and by our good works. Our God who is absolute holiness cannot tolerate sin and is pleased with good people. However, none of us can ever be good enough to receive Christ. We cannot make our selves morally acceptable to God, only God can make us good, and He began that process at our Baptism and continues to offer us forgiveness and absolution.
As Paul did for the Philippians, and they did for him, we must be about lifting one another up, — by our words of care and concern, by our actions of love toward others, by our words of support and our actual help, and by just being available when others need us. Otherwise, we might just as well be living on the moon without oxygen and without water. Giving support and encouragement should be a way of life for every Christian. Amen.
The peace of God which passes all understanding, keep your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus.