Sermon for December 13, 2015

 Sermon for the Third Sunday in Advent

December 13, 2015, St. Paul Lutheran Church, Wallis, Texas

Sermon Text:  Philippians 4:4-7

Sermon Theme:  “Rejoice!  Have No Anxiety about Anything!”

 (Sources:  Emphasis Online Illustrations; Anderson’s Cycle C Preaching Workbook; Concordia Pulpit Resources, Vol. 26, Part 1, Series C; original ideas; Online Peanuts Comic Strips)

Grace, mercy and peace to you from God our Father and from the Lord Jesus Christ.

Happiness is an elusive thing.  Abraham Lincoln once said, “Most folks are about as happy as they make up their minds to be,” and several great thinkers have said something equivalent to, “Unless you carry happiness within you, you will never find it.”

Everybody has his or her own idea about what happiness is.  Snoopy says happiness is an ice cream cone.  Sally Brown says happiness is having your own library card.  But, in today’s sermon text from Philippians, Paul is talking about “joy” rather than “happiness,” and for many, joy is even more elusive than happiness.

I love the Peanuts cartoon strip which begins with Charlie Brown, head down, standing with his “hung dog” stance.  Charlie says to his girl friend, Peggy Jean, who is standing there looking at him, “This is my depressed stance.  When you are depressed, it makes a lot of difference how you stand.  The worst thing you can do is straighten up and hold your head high, because then you’ll start to feel better.  If you’re going to get any joy out of being depressed, you’ve got to stand like this.”    Peggy Jean says nothing, just looks at him bewildered.

Today is known as “Gaudete,” Latin for “Rejoice,” Sunday, because of the first word of the Epistle, the Introit and the Gradual.  The call to rejoice comes almost two weeks before Christmas, following on the heels of last Sunday’s cry for repentance.

You know, a baby shower or a bridal shower is a celebration before THE celebration (which would be the wedding or the birth).  Likewise, Gaudete Sunday, is a celebration before THE celebration, Christmas.

As Christians, we are called to celebrate not only what God is doing in our lives right now, but also what we know with the certainty of faith, He promises yet to accomplish at the end.

Even if great tragedies occur and death results, the Christian may still rejoice, the Christian may keep on celebrating regardless.  Why?  Because, like those attending a baby or wedding shower, we come believing that something good is still ahead.  We do this even at a funeral full of the emptiness of loss.  Those who die in Christ have gone to be with Him in heaven, which is far better than what we have here on earth.

More than that, we have the promised joy that we will see our loved one again some day.

This time of year, the countdown to Christmas, provides us with multiple opportunities to become worried and, like Charlie Brown, depressed.  Rather than rejoicing in the days which lie ahead as we anticipate the God who comes to us as the Christ Child, we become depressed over the “Christ-MESS” our culture has made of these holy days.  Rather than lifting up everything before God, with prayers of supplication and thanksgiving, we let down our spiritual guard and give in to worrying about which gift is best and how many do we need to buy.

Worry is a choice we make, and peace of mind and heart are gifts we reject when our lives are empty of prayer.

Have no anxiety about anything?  Good grief, you waited in line at the store for two hours and the last doll your granddaughter wanted for Christmas was sold to the person ahead of you!  Your plans for the Christmas Program at the church are falling apart, and the first rehearsal went badly.  You invited your whole family, aunts, uncles and cousins for Christmas, confident they wouldn’t all accept, and you just learned they are ALL coming!  Have no anxiety about anything!  Are you kidding!!!!

On top of all that, terrorist are causing mayhem throughout the whole world, and the world is shot through with strife because many, many people totally lack a sense of personal peace.  The world offers a host of cures, — courses on self-esteem or meditation or how to better organize your time, and how to stay calm in stressful times.  You read all the self-help books on those subjects, and you’re still wringing your hands with anxiety.

You also fail to remember last Sunday’s message to repent and be forgiven by a loving God.  The reason the peace of God escapes so many people, is that they are wallowing in the guilt of their personal sins.  Unrequited guilt from unrepented, and therefore unforgiven, sins, churn around in your head like its being agitated in a high speed washing machine!  God yearns to give you absolution.  Jesus died for you so that your sins could be forgiven; His death is not in vain.

That’s why the Apostle Paul’s text comes to us at such a significant time.  Paul gives us the only prescription that really works.  In the text, he says, ONE, rejoice in the Lord always because the Lord is near; TWO, put aside worry in favor of going to God in prayer; and THREE, let thanksgiving permeate everything you do.

It’s no accident that Paul puts these three things together, — rejoice, don’t worry (in other words, be at peace), and pray about everything.

No doubt some of you know that Neurobiologists have identified a direct connection between spiritual exercises, such as faith, prayer, meditation, and worship, and joy or the alleviation of anxiety.  It seems that when we practice faith, or pray, the front part of our brain (the prefrontal cortex) becomes activated.  Because this is the most developed part of our brain, our bodies reward its use.

Consequently, when the prefrontal cortex is activated, it not only enhances our sociability and makes us more loving, it makes us feel joy, taking away worry and bringing peace.

So, keep that in mind the next time you start your anxiety-ridden worrying, — put your focus on our gracious God, and His Holy Spirit will stimulate the wonderful, in-His-own-image, bodies our Lord has created for us.

The mockingbird is known for its joyous song.  Mockingbirds sing long and strong, almost twenty hours a day, for most of the year.  It’s got a pretty song of its own, but that’s not enough for the mockingbird.  It will sing the songs of as many as 35 other birds, eight to ten different tunes a minute.

People who study birds report one mockingbird that changed its tune 137 times in ten minutes, but there were only 43 different ones.  This give new meaning to the term “bird brain.”

We know that birds sing for mating and territorial reasons.  But we like to think that birds sing because they are happy.  People say, “I’m so happy, I could sing like a bird!”  Or we sometimes say, “I’m as happy as a lark.”

When you get right down to it, happiness such as we attribute to the mockingbird, is only natural; and happiness that is natural is joy.

It’s the way God intended for us to be – singing a new song all the time, smiling and laughing and overwhelmed with the joy of life!  And He gave our body those natural responses to joy.  Smile, and your body releases chemicals that make you feel good.  This tells us God did not intend for us to live in a negative frame of mind as so many do.

Proverbs 17:23 tells us, “A cheerful heart is a good medicine, but a downcast spirit dries up the bones.”  Scientific studies have shown us that cheerful people resist diseases better than negative, grousing around people.  Since we are talking about birds, it is a fact that the early bird gets the worm, but it is also true that the surly bird gets the germ!

As the countdown to Christmas continues, and tensions increase, keep Paul’s exhortation in your heart, “Rejoice in the Lord!  Have no anxiety about anything!  I will say it again, — rejoice!”  Amen.

The peace of God which passes all understanding, keep your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus.