The Second Sunday of Advent December 7, 2014
1 Corinthians 1:3-9
55, 74, 97, 91
For whatever things were written before were written for our learning, that we through the patience and comfort of the Scriptures might have hope. Now may the God of patience and comfort grant you to be like-minded toward one another, according to Christ Jesus, that you may with one mind and one mouth glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. Therefore receive one another, just as Christ also received us, to the glory of God. Now I say that Jesus Christ has become a servant to the circumcision for the truth of God, to confirm the promises made to the fathers, and that the Gentiles might glorify God for His mercy, as it is written: “For this reason I will confess to You among the Gentiles, And sing to Your name.” And again he says: “Rejoice, O Gentiles, with His people!” And again: “Praise the LORD, all you Gentiles! Laud Him, all you peoples!” And again, Isaiah says: “There shall be a root of Jesse; And He who shall rise to reign over the Gentiles, in Him the Gentiles shall hope.” Now may the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, that you may abound in hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.
Dear fellow-recipients of God’s gracious gifts:
How would your Christmas list today compare with the lists you prepared as a child? I know mine would be very different, not because I’m too old for X-ray goggles or Etch-A-Sketch drawings, but because of the experiences I’ve gone through in life. Not long ago someone asked me, “Mark, what would you like most for the remainder of your life?” My answer? “Peace. What I’d like most in life is a sense of peace and calm.” Unfortunately, peace and calm are not for sale at Macy’s nor found on the shelves at Home Depot.
As we grow older and go through difficult circumstances in life: sickness, the death of a loved one, financial burdens, broken homes; as we witness firsthand the true ugliness and selfishness of human nature; and as we see the hopelessness and black despair that lies just beneath the glow of the world’s Christmas lights, we come to realize that the most important Christmas gifts cannot be purchased with Visa or MasterCard. Even with all the money in the world, we cannot buy true love or happiness. We cannot buy the forgiveness of sins or eternal life. We cannot buy contentment or a sense of lasting peace. Yet, these very gifts God gives us freely in His Son, Jesus Christ. In a real sense, all of these are Christmas gifts because they were fulfilled in the coming of Christ.
Romans 15:4-13 is about the GIFTS BENEATH GOD’S TREE. We can think of it as a Christmas tree if that tree is symbolic of the birth of Christ. But soon enough that Christmas tree will shed its needles and become the old, rugged cross where Jesus Christ suffered and died for our sins. And Oh, how great are the gifts beneath that tree! The apostle Paul lists five of them in our text. They are: endurance, encouragement, hope, joy, and peace. As we continue our Advent preparation today, let’s open these presents and look inside.
We begin with the gift of endurance. Paul mentions this word twice in our text: once in verse 4, “so that through endurance and the encouragement of the Scriptures” [NIV] and again in verse 5, “May the God who gives endurance and encouragement.” [NIV] The Greek word translated as “patience” [NKJV] and “endurance” [NIV] is hupomone (ὑπομονῆς).
Hupomone literally means, “the ability to remain under” a difficult circumstance or heavy burden without giving up or giving in. This is not locker room pep-talk like “when the going gets tough, the tough get going.” This type of toughness has nothing to do with our own strength or power, but has everything to do with God’s strength and power. He is the source of this encouragement, as Paul clearly states in our text by calling God “the God who gives endurance.”
My Greek teacher always translated this Greek word as “enduring patience” and “patient endurance,” that is, patience that lasts and endurance that is steadfast and calm in its resolve. This is the very same word Paul used in Romans chapter 5, saying: “Not only so, but we also rejoice in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope” (Romans 5:3-4 NIV).
In Hebrews 12, the inspired writer uses this same word to encourage us on to steadiness and steadfastness in the face of severe opposition: “Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sins that so easily entangles, and let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us. Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before him endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of God. Consider him who endured such opposition from sinful men, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart” (Hebrews 12:1-3 NIV).
What type of race are you running today? Is it a sprint…a long, grueling marathon, or is it an obstacle course? Are you struggling to hold a relationship together? Are you struggling with bills and finances? Are you struggling with pain, whether physical, emotional, or even both? Do you need enduring patience and patient endurance? It is yours for the asking and it won’t cost you a cent. It’s gift-wrapped and waiting beneath God’s tree.
Next on the gift-list of Romans 15 is encouragement, mentioned in verses 4 and 5. The Greek word translated as encouragement really means “to call to one’s side” in order to encourage. This is a marvelous, comforting picture. Recall your own childhood. When you were outside playing and hurt yourself—bumps, scrapes, bruises—what did your mother do? She likely called you to her side: “Come here, sweetheart, let Mommy see.” She swept you into her arms. She kissed your cheek and dried your tears, and she said in a soothing voice, “Don’t worry. Mommy will make everything better.” And she did make it better, didn’t she? This is exactly the same picture contained in the biblical word for encouragement in this text. From where does this type of encouragement come? Again Paul answers: from “the God who gives endurance and encouragement.” [v.5 NIV]
If ever a man needed encouragement and comfort, it was the apostle Paul. In 2 Corinthians, he lists all the hardships and heartaches of his ministry: hard work, frequently in prison, flogged severely, exposed to death repeatedly, five times received forty lashes minus one, three times beaten with rods, once stoned and left for dead, an entire night and day waiting for rescue in the open sea, constantly on the move, often hungry and thirsty and sleepless (cf. 2 Corinthians 11:24ff). Can any ill experiences in our lives compare with Paul’s? Yet, listen to the way in which he opens Second Corinthians: “Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of all compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves have received from God” (2 Corinthians 1:3-4 NIV).
Are you hurting? Do you feel as if God is indifferent to your pain, as if God has no desire to comfort you and sweep you into His arms and tell you everything will be all right, and it will be all right if God says so? Then listen to these comforting words from God Himself in Isaiah 40: “Comfort, comfort my people, says your God. Speak tenderly to Jerusalem, and proclaim to her that her hard service has been completed, that her sins has been paid for, that she has received double for all her sins” (Isaiah 40:1-2).
It is no coincidence that one of the New Testament names for the Holy Spirit is “Paraclete.” Paraclete means “Comforter.” The Holy Spirit is our Comforter. How does He comfort us? By leading us to Jesus. By creating faith in our hearts and the certain knowledge that we are the redeemed people of God. If you want comfort and encouragement in your life, it is waiting for you—lovingly gift-wrapped beneath God’s tree, the cross of Jesus.
The next gift Paul mentions is hope. “…so that through endurance and the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope.” [v.4 NIV] In the Bible, hope is always based in God—not in self, not in other human beings, not in material possessions. When King David was going through a very difficult, depressing period of his life—remembering happier times, waiting and waiting for God to rescue him from his problems—he asked himself a question we should all ask ourselves: “Why are you downcast, O my soul? Why so disturbed within me? Put your hope in God, for I will yet praise him, my Savior and my God” (Psalm 42:5 NIV).
Why does the Bible direct us to place our hope in God and nothing else? Is it because of God’s infinite power? Yes. It is because of God’s endless love? Yes. But it is especially because God is the only one who will never dash our hopes and never disappoint us. This is not my promise. This is the very promise of God. Paul includes this promise of God in Romans 9: “See,” declares God, “I lay in Zion a stone that causes men to stumble and a rock that makes them fall, and the one who trusts in him will never be put to shame” (Romans 9:33 NIV). That means the hope placed in Jesus Christ is hope that will never be disappointed
How hopeful are you today? Are you filled with the bright, certain expectation that God loves you dearly, that God will never forsake you, that God will lead you safely from grace to glory, that God will force every impossible situation in your life to serve your best interest? In such hope, do you believe God when he says to you in Psalm 50:15, “Call upon me in the day of trouble; I will deliver you, and you will glorify Me?” Or is there a part of you that is worried that God is going to disappoint you?
In our text for today, Paul tells us why our hope in God—whether that hope is for eternal life or daily bread, a happy marriage or productive ministry—should be so certain. In so doing, he points to Christmas, the coming of God’s Son. “For I tell you that Christ has become a servant of the Jews on behalf of God’s truth to confirm the promises made to the patriarchs.” [v.8 NIV] Jesus Christ came not only to suffer and die for our sins. Jesus Christ came in fulfillment of every promise God ever made about saving lost humanity. The coming of Jesus Christ is proof that God always keeps His word, that God takes His promises seriously. The coming of Jesus Christ, then, is why we can all be certain that God will never break a single promise He makes to us, why God will never disappoint our hope in Him. Do you want a life overflowing with hope? You will find it beneath God’s tree, the cross.
Then, the gift of joy, as listed in verse 13 of our text: “May the God of hope fill you with all joy.” [NIV] I’ve always had a rather strange reaction to the phrase, “Have a nice day.” When store clerks or smiling cashiers tell me this, my first instinct is to say—though I never do say it: “Well, thanks. I appreciate the sentiment. But exactly how am I supposed to do that? What can I do to be certain I will have a nice day?”
The same could be said of the phrase “Have a merry Christmas.” Exactly how do we do that? Does Christmas joy have anything to do with the number of presents beneath the tree? Does it have anything to do with the weather on Christmas Day, the tenderness of the roast, the texture of the mashed potatoes, whether Great Aunt Mary spends the day complaining about her health or old Uncle Bill falls asleep in the Lazy Boy recliner and snores loudly enough to disrupt Christmas conversation? Sometimes we do look for Christmas joy in outward circumstances and when we do, our joy can flicker and go out like a bad Christmas tree light.
The Greek word translated as “joy” in verse 13 is related to another Greek word meaning grace—the undeserved love and favor of God. Joy in biblical terms means more than smiles and giggles and gut-busting laughter and happy faces. It is, rather, the deep-seated joy of the heart that can find reason to rejoice no matter what the circumstances. The reason for such joy is God’s undeserved love in Jesus Christ.
This is why the apostle Paul could write from prison—and don’t think of his prison in terms of the well-maintained, climate-controlled, and clean correctional facilities we have today, equipped with cable TV and cafeterias and stainless steel toilets. Think, rather, of chains biting into Paul’s wrists and ankles. Think of Paul shivering in the darkness, dampness, and cold. Yet, under these terrible conditions, Paul could nevertheless write in Philippians 4, which is often used as a Christmas text: “Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice!” (Philippians 4:4). When we rejoice in connection with the Lord, we always have something about which to rejoice.
I can remember one Christmas shortly after my parents divorced. I was ten years old at the time. I knew how much my dad was struggling financially, so I could not bring myself to ask for much. I only put one item on my Christmas list: a basketball. But I can tell you this: of all the Christmases in my life since, that basketball is one of the few gifts I remember. Why? Not because the basketball was unique or special in itself, but because I knew how much it cost my Dad to give it to me.
Our heavenly Father has given us salvation. Do we truly appreciate what it cost Him? It cost Him the life of His own Son. I’m sure you’ve heard the slogan, “Jesus is the reason for the season.” But beyond this, Jesus is always our reason for rejoicing, regardless of our present circumstances. If you want eternal joy, place it in your eternal Lord. This gift is waiting for you beneath God’s tree, the cross.
Finally, the gift of peace. “May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace.” [v.13 NIV]
I once saw the front page of a newspaper published on the day World War II officially ended. The headline seemed to cover half the page and declared in big, bold, capital letters: THE WAR IS OVER. Beneath the headline was a large photograph of Americans dancing in the street, hugging, kissing, throwing their hats into the air in celebration. And why not? Peace meant no more fighting, no more bombs and bullets, no more bleeding and dying, no more losing children, parents, or spouses in a faraway land. In that newspaper, it was the headline that declared the objective reality of peace. It was the photograph that showed how that peace had gone from distant battlefields to fill the human heart.
So it is with us. Scripture tells us that when Jesus Christ suffered and died for our sins, He established everlasting peace between a holy God and sinful mankind. In Romans 5, the apostle Paul reminds us: “Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have gained access by faith into this grace in which we now stand” (Romans 5:1-2 NIV). In his letter to the Ephesians Paul calls Jesus “our peace” (Ephesians 2:14). Remember also the words of the angels on the day Jesus was born: “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men” (Luke 2:14).
It is this peace with God through Jesus Christ—the knowledge that all is now well between us and God—that fills our hearts with peace and empowers us to feel at peace even when the world around us is in chaos.
These then are the gifts beneath God’s tree. They are priceless gifts that we cannot buy, yet gifts which God gives us freely in grace. How does He give His gifts? Paul tells us this as well in verse 4: “For everything that was written in the past was written to teach us, so that through endurance and the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope.” [NIV]
Think of this: Everything written in Scripture in the past was written for our learning (cf. 1 Corinthians 10:11): Creation. The fall of Adam and Eve. The tower of Babel. Abram’s firm trust in God despite impossible circumstances. Noah and the ark. Joseph’s unfair imprisonment. Moses and the exodus from Egypt. The period of the Judges. The constant warnings and encouragements of all the prophets. All of these were written for our learning, so that as we read and believe Scripture, we might be filled with hope in the faithful God who has loved us with an eternal love and redeemed us with the priceless blood of His Son.
I can think of a lot of reasons to attend Church services and Bible Classes and hold family devotions, but here are five especially important ones: ENDURANCE. ENCOURAGEMENT. HOPE. JOY. PEACE.
These gifts are waiting, gift-wrapped, beneath God’s tree—the cross of Jesus. May we open them, live them, and rejoice in them this new Advent season and every day of our lives.
Ministry by Mail is a weekly publication of the Church of the Lutheran Confession. Subscription and staff information may be found online at www.clclutheran.org/ministrybymail.
All scripture quotations, unless otherwise indicated, are taken from the New King James Version®. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
Scripture quotations marked (NIV) are taken from the HOLY BIBLE, NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION®. NIV®. Copyright© 1973, 1978, 1984 by International Bible Society. Used by permission of Zondervan. All rights reserved.