Summary: God shows us how to maintain JOY, even when there are many things attacking that joy.
3rd Sunday in Advent
December 11, 2005
1 Thessalonians 5:16-24 Be joyful always; 17 pray continually; 18 give thanks in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus. 19 Do not put out the Spirit’s fire; 20 do not treat prophecies with contempt. 21 Test everything. Hold on to the good. 22 Avoid every kind of evil. 23 May God himself, the God of peace, sanctify you through and through. May your whole spirit, soul and body be kept blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. 24 The one who calls you is faithful and he will do it. [NIV]
In the Middle of J-O-Y is a Never-ending Circle
I. Follow God’s dotted plan.
II. God restores our broken circles of joy.
Grace and peace to you (I Thessalonians 1:1b). Amen.
In math, when you graph a line, you draw arrows on both ends of it to symbolize that the line goes in both directions for eternity. But there’s another line you can draw on a page, that goes on and on, but you don’t have to draw arrows, because you can see the whole line and it’s eternal continuation right there in front of you on your piece of paper. It’s the circle -- one of the first shapes that our children learn. A circle is a line that never ends.
When we teach our children the shapes, we show them how often those shapes are found around us. There are circles all over the place – the wheels on the bus, a person’s eyes, a glass bulb Christmas ornament. Today Paul reminds us that there is a circle in Christmas that we should always keep before us. Where is it? It’s in our very first verse: “Be joyful always.” In the Middle of JOY (J-O-Y) There Is A Never-Ending Circle. If we (I.) Follow God’s Dotted Plan, we will enjoy the never-ending circle of joy throughout our lives. And even when that circle of joy is broken (II.) God restores it for us.
Consider the Advent wreath. Some point to the symbolism of its circle as the promise of eternal -- never-ending life. The circle of Christian joy rests in the promise of God, that after death, we will be renewed. We will live. And once we enter that second life, the circle will never turn back to death.
As the Christmas season gets more hectic, it gets tougher acting on Paul’s command: “Be joyful always.” How do we do it, when the children don’t want to help anymore with the cookies, the cards, and the decorating? How do we maintain the ‘never-ending circle in the middle of joy’ when the flu hits, or someone is sent to the hospital, or God forbid, someone in the family dies. Where is the joy, when you are running all day long, and somehow you have to fit in the many church services of Wednesday and Sunday during Advent, and then Christmas and Christmas Eve programs?
I. Follow God’s dotted plan.
Well, if we go back to geometry and the simple concept of a circle, we are reminded that a circle is a set of points next to each other, forming a line that goes around and around. God gives us the points, the dotted path, of maintaining joy in our lives, even when outside circumstances want to stomp that joy to death. This was important to the Thessalonians, because in their new faith, they were being persecuted. They weren’t experiencing Christmas busyness – they were actually being mocked, threatened, and even thrown into prison for their faith. It’s to them that Paul gives God’s dotted plan to joy. Here they are:
“Be joyful always” – it’s not beyond the realm of possibility to maintain a sense of joy, even in difficulty.
“Pray continually” – You, yourselves are not Joy Generators. You can’t simply tell yourselves, “Today, I’m going to be happy.” Christ, himself prayed for our joy. In what is called his High Priestly Prayer, Jesus prayed to his Father, “I say these things while I am still in the world, so that they may have the full measure of my joy within them. I have given them your word and the world has hated them, for they are not of the world any more than I am of the world. My prayer is not that you take them out of the world but that you protect them from the evil one” (John 17:13-15). Jesus knew the hatred that Christians would experience for their convictions and trust in God. He prayed that God would protect them from losing their joy. Prayer is part of the circle with which we surround ourselves, so that pain, worry, and sorrow does not overwhelm and drown our joy.