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2nd Weekend of Advent Dec. 5 & 6 Advent II, 2015 "Constantly Praying with Joy"

Second Weekend of Advent (C/RCL)

Philippians 1:3-11

December 5-6, 2015

Holy Trinity Lutheran Church, Manasquan, NJ

            I’m feeling like we should be lighting the pink candle on the Advent wreath this weekend, because the readings for the 3rd weekend in Advent always feature joy!  I am a little off-kilter because this is only the 2nd weekend of Advent, but our epistle, the letter from Philippians, is already mentioning joy

            Clarification: St. Paul did not write this letter to people who live in the Philippines (like it sometimes sounds) but to people who live in a Greek city called Philippi, named after Alexander the Great’s father, Philip of Macedon.  Philippi was the first city in Europe visited by St. Paul, who crossed the Aegean Sea after he dreamed that folks in Greece were calling to him, “Come here!”  He took that to mean, “Visit us and preach the Gospel!”  Paul believed the Holy Spirit was speaking to him through that dream, commanding him to travel further than he’d ever imagined he would, to spread the Good News of what God has done in the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. 

            Maybe you remember the story of Lydia, a wealthy woman who sold purple cloth, worshiping with her friends on the riverbank in Philippi, when Paul came.  Lydia believed what Paul had to say about Jesus being the Messiah, and became an important member of the fledgling Christian community Paul nurtured there.  Pastors, like parents, aren’t supposed to have “favorites,” but it sure looks like the believers in Philippi were Paul’s favorites!  St. Paul wasn’t a real gushy guy, but you’d never know it from what he wrote to the Philippians that we heard today:

3I thank my God every time I remember you, 4constantly praying with joy in every one of my prayers for all of you, 5because of your sharing in the Gospel from the first day until now.  (Philippians 1:3-5)

            Why did Paul write this letter?

·         To stay in touch!  St. Paul was a missionary-on-the-move.  He never stayed in one place too long.  He wasn’t anywhere more than two years.  Paul was like Johnny Appleseed: he planted the seeds of a church, nurtured them, waited to see them sprout, then moved along to plant more seeds.  He kept in touch with the congregations under his wing by writing letters to them.  He sent his helpers, like a young fellow named Timothy, to deliver the letters and to carry word back to him.  Paul’s letters aren’t all sweetness and light.  He called his congregations onto the carpet when he heard they were doing things that were wrong, were welcoming false teachers, or were watering down the Gospel.  St. Paul is gentler, more affirming, much more affectionate in his letter to the Philippians than to other communities.

 

Paul wrote this letter from prison.  He talks about wanting to visit the Philippians again, but he also mentions not knowing whether he’ll live much longer or not.  (The Romans did end up executing Paul.)  Yet, despite that stress he was under, imprisoned, not knowing if he was going to live or die, Paul exudes so much happiness in this letter its nickname is the Epistle of Joy!  (It’s neat we hear it today, because last week was the beginning of a new church year in which we’ll hear from St. Luke, who wrote a Gospel in which joy is mentioned often!)

Joy is one of the qualities we can expect to see in a faith-filled Christian.  Someone has even said, “Joy is the most infallible sign of the presence of God.”  Joy is happiness that goes all the way through us.  Joy is deep rejoicing, spiritual electrical current that isn’t subject to brown-outs or black-outs, even when suffering comes. 

Paul says he constantly prays with joy for his brothers and sisters, the “saints” of Christ in Philippi.  Prayer both springs from joy and adds to joy!  We can never be prayer-full enough.  Sometimes we don’t pray, though, because we’ve convinced ourselves we don’t know how to pray.  Wrong!!!  I’d say prayer is simply talking to God, except that prayer includes listening to God also.  Prayer is having a conversation with God.  Our loved ones are happy to hear from us, right?  They don’t grade what we have to say to them.  God isn’t grading us either.  God is longing to hear from us.  What did we hear last week?  In Holy Baptism, God made us holy,  consecrated us, to be in conversation with God about the world.  God set us apart as intercessors; we’re the ones assigned to go to bat for all the world’s needs, and to let the world know what God has to say, too.

If that still sounds way too complicated, use the hand prayer.  I’ve heard different variations of it, but basically it goes like this:

·         Our thumb is closest to us.  Our thumb reminds us to pray for the people and needs that are closest to our hearts.  When we feel most helpless to protect them, let’s remember: prayer changes things!  If nothing else, prayer changes the one who prays….

·         The pointer finger reminds us of those who use pointers in the classroom J.  It tells us to pray for those who teach us: teachers, coaches, Scout leaders, pastors, mentors of any kind.  We hear in today’s Gospel about John son of Zechariah in the wilderness.  St. John in his Gospel says that John saw Jesus and “exclaimed, ‘Look, here is the Lamb of God!’” (John 1:36)  John was a great teacher – and prophet. 

·         The middle finger is the tallest, so it reminds us of all the V.I.P.’s in the world.  It tells us to pray for our nation’s leaders and the leaders of the world, so they will use their authority wisely, be inspired by the Holy Spirit, be brave to make moral decisions, and love the people they serve. 

·         The ring finger is the weakest.  It reminds us to pray for those in greatest need, those who are most vulnerable, in the worst danger, the most desperate circumstances.

·         The pinkie is the smallest, least important finger.  It represents us.  We are allowed and encouraged to pray for ourselves, too! 

When we’re frustrated to be stuck in traffic or in line at the grocery store or on eternal hold on a help line or marooned in the waiting room of a doctor’s office, let’s turn the delay into prayer time.  Prayer changes things.  If nothing else, prayer changes the one who prays….

One of my favorite lines that Paul ever wrote is included in today’s lesson from Philippians, chapter 1, verse 6:

I am confident of this, that the one who began a good work among you will bring it to completion by the day of Jesus Christ.

God finishes what God starts!  And God has started something wonderful in each one of us and in each community of faith.  It gives God joy to see the spiritual and material gifts given to us passing through us to others.  It gives God joy when we realize that faith-time isn’t just worship-time; faith-time is all the time! Living out our faith isn’t something we do one hour a week.  Living out our faith is a 24/7 commitment.  Whatever we do in this world, wherever we find ourselves in the life cycle, whether we’re studying, working or retired, our baptismal calling, our vocation is, in the words of St. Francis of Assisi: “Preach the Gospel.  If necessary, use words.”  Our faith is to shape and permeate our life at home, in the classroom, on the playing field, on the highway, in the air, on the train, at the supermarket, in the clinic or doctor’s office, at the gym, on your cellphone, on the job and while on-line. 

I am confident of this, that the one who began a good work among you will bring it to completion by the day of Jesus Christ.

            God is doing a good work in you.  Pray on that.  May knowing it and acting on it and honoring that holy commission bring you joy.  During Advent we remember that some day we shall meet the King.  It is customary to offer royalty a gift.  The gift He desires most is our life, devoted to Him.  Make yours count.  Amen

Pastor Mary Virginia Farnham