Summary: How is the first coming of Christ at Christmas connected to the coming of Christ at the end of time? See the connections and how the same preparation makes us ready to celebrate and anticipate the coming of Christ.
When you look at that picture of a mountain range, can you tell me which mountain is closest or where one begins and the other ends? It’s kind of hard to tell from a distance, isn’t it? Only when you get closer, into the mountain range itself will you be able to tell which comes first and where one ends and the next begins. Throughout these last two weeks of Advent, we have heard the call, “Christ is coming!” We’ve heard the call come from the Old Testament prophets. We’ve heard the call come from John the Baptist as he pointed to Jesus as the Christ. But the call of “Christ is coming!” does not stop once Jesus is born. The Bible views the coming of Christ kind of like that mountain range. The first coming of Christ at Christmas nearly 2000 years ago, so often blends into the second coming of Christ at the end of the time. Sometimes the two events blend so closely one into the other, you can’t tell where one description stops and the other begins. That’s only fitting because those two events are so closely connected. For it is the preparation that takes place for Christ’s first coming, that also makes us ready for the Christ’s second coming at the end of time. And it is Christ’s first coming as that child in Bethlehem that affects our view of Christ’s second coming and the time leading up to it. This morning, in the words of Philippians 4, we again see how closely connected those two comings are and how they prepare us both to celebrate and anticipate the coming of Christ Jesus.
This letter that Paul wrote to the Philippian Christians is what many people have called his most joyful letter. It is true that you can sense Paul’s joy as he thought about his fellow 1st century Christians who he had heard were witnessing their faith in Christ in many different ways. And so it might almost seem a bit redundant for Paul to say, “Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice!” (Philippians 4:4). While Paul had heard of many good things going on among the Philippian Christians, he had also heard about two prominent women among those Christians who were fighting with one another. In the verses immediately before the one I just read, Paul told those two women to stop fighting and instead, “Rejoice!” And just in case they didn’t hear him the first time, he says it again, “Rejoice!” Now this might seem superficial, almost like he’s telling them to just pretend like they’re happy. But did you notice where their joy was supposed to come from? Pauls says, “Rejoice in the Lord.” There is the key “IN THE LORD.” This was a joy that was to come from recalling what the Lord had done for them. It was a call for them to remember how Christ had come, the Lord God almighty, to live for them and die for them and rise for them, so that they could live with him for eternity. This is the joy that comes from recalling the Lord’s forgiveness of our sins, and the salvation that Christ had come to win for us. This is a joy that belongs to every Christian through faith, as we continually recall the love of Christ Jesus. And yet, what too often happens to that joy?
You might picture it like a campfire on a cool night. If you stay close to the fire it will keep you warm and toasty. You start to walk away from the fire, that warmth quickly leaves and coolness sets in. The Philippians had started to step away from the fire of Christ’s love and their joy had begun to cool and quarreling had taken over. Their loss of warmth had affected their relationships even with their fellow Christians. Paul tells them to get back by the “fire” of Christ and his love, and to get that joy warmed back up. And I think that’s probably a good reminder for all of us also.
Do you ever sense your joy cooling? You get frustrated with a fellow Christian because of what they did or did not do? Bitterness begins to set in, and you slowly begin to step away from the warmth of Christ’s love. Dear friends, don’t freeze! Come on back, and stand around the fire that Christ provides for us, the warmth of Christ’s love that comes through the repeated hearing and life-long learning of his Word, the regular receiving of the Lord’s Supper. Have that joy warmed back up with Christ’s love for you.
Paul goes on in these verses to show how that joy positively affects our relationships with the people around us as he writes, “Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near” (Philippians 4:5). That word “gentleness” is kind of an interesting one. It has the picture of “yielding,” let someone else go ahead of you even if you have the right to demand otherwise. Now this is not talking about apathy or ambivalence towards what we know to be wrong or sinful. It’s talking about how we treat the people around us. How good are you at “yielding” to others? It seemed to be a bit of a problem among the Philippian Christians, and unfortunately, they’re not unique. Instead of “yielding” we can be more interested in winning, of making sure that we’re heard, of getting OUR way. How often do we attempt to excuse our lack of gentleness by saying, “It’s my right to…” That’s the voice of our sinful nature, not our faith. That’s the voice that is quick to make demands and slow to show gentleness. But that is not the way of our Savior.