The Gift of Joy / 1 Thessalonians 5:16–24 / Pr. Ted A. Giese / Sunday December 17th 2023 / Advent / Mount Olive Lutheran Church
Mount Olive Lutheran Church / Pr. Ted A. Giese / Sunday December 17th 2023: Season of Advent / 1 Thessalonians 5:16–24 "The Gift of Joy"
Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you. Do not quench the Spirit. Do not despise prophecies, but test everything; hold fast what is good. Abstain from every form of evil.
Now may the God of peace Himself sanctify you completely, and may your whole spirit and soul and body be kept blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. He who calls you is faithful; He will surely do it.
Let us pray: May the words of my mouth and the meditations of all our hearts be acceptable in Your sight O Lord. Amen.
Grace peace and mercy to you from God our Father and from our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. Good Christian Friends. Last week our sermon ended off talking about all that your heavenly Father richly and daily provides; that He provides you with all that you need to support this body and life. Now with today being Gaudete, the Sunday of rejoicing, the third Sunday in Advent, consider also how along with everything else you’ve been provided by your heavenly Father He now, through His Son Jesus, also provides you with joy. In our modern times “joy” and “happiness” are often comingled, the very idea of them is mixed together, but there’s a distinction to make here and we’ll get around to that in a bit, but for now when you have that joy—the joy that is given to you by the Lord—you are not the source of it, the World is not the source of it, your personal hard work in life is not what brings you the spiritual joy that Saint Paul speaks of in our Epistle from 1 Thessalonians. If something is detached from God or opposed to God, if the ‘giver’ of the ‘joy’ you seek is anyone other than the Lord that ‘joy’ will be counterfeit and not the joy we hear of today.
Imagine all the good gifts that God the Father truly provides you with for the living out of this daily life, including His joy, being delivered to you like it was being unloaded from a moving truck pulled up in front of the house of your heart with God the Father, His Son Jesus and the Holy Spirit along with the holy movers—Their angel hosts—lugging it all in through your front door, unpacking it all and putting it all in its proper place. With that picture in mind the thing you want to be wary of then is the devil slipping in the back door intending to whisk away everything he can get his hands on before you can enjoy it ... or to take it from you even while you’re enjoying it. Prying it out of your hands as you hold it. Such a one is a thief. Saint Paul encourages you saying, “Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the schemes of the devil. For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places.” Elsewhere Paul asks this important question, “do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, whom you have from God?” With the peace of the Lord, with the Joy of the Lord in our hearts we can certainly say as Baptised Christians that our heart is set aside to be a heavenly place, yet this is also where we wrestle against the spiritual forces of evil in our lives. Spiritual forces that want to rob you of your peace and of your joy. Your heart is not crammed full of “clothing and shoes, food and drink, house and home, spouse and children, land, animals,” your heart is filled with these gifts of joy and peace and hope, filled with faith and love.
When Saint Paul says “Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances;” than this would happen both when things are going well and while things are all going wrong and everywhere in between. Yes, Saint Paul is saying that as a Christian this rejoicing, praying and giving thanks in all circumstances happens both when your heart is merry and bright and when your heart wrestles against itself, against the World, against the Devil, against Death and against Sin. That even in those times, in the times of wrestling, we can rejoice, even when circumstances are stacked up against us we can give thanks. From there Saint Paul continues saying, “for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you,” that even when everything feels likes its falling apart, when it doesn’t just feel like it’s falling apart, when it actually is all falling apart, when you are exhausted from trying to do it all, when you’re tempted to tap out on the spiritual wrestling mat of life, that even then, you can stop and take stock and remember that this wrestling match has already been wrestled by Jesus for you in your favour and that His victory has been included at the top of your stats as your victory. Sin, death, the devil the world ... even your thoughts and fears and anxieties have no right to steal away with the joy that Jesus has won for you. Going back to the image of your heart like a house and joy being brought in the front door by the Lord, don’t pick that joy up and hand it to the devil for him to take it out the back door. Don’t do his work for him. What does Saint Paul say in our Epistle Reading today? “Hold fast what is good.” Don’t hand it away. Elsewhere Paul encourages you saying, “By the Holy Spirit who dwells within us, guard the good deposit entrusted to you.”
If you’re struggling during this time of preparation leading up to Christmas, if this Advent you know someone who is wrestling hard who seems to have lost sight of their joy in the Lord remember Saint Paul’s words of caution, “Do not quench the Spirit. Do not despise prophecies, but test everything; hold fast what is good. Abstain from every form of evil.” We are about to celebrate at Christmas the fulfilment of the Old Testament prophecies of the first Advent of our Lord Jesus in His birth and today we live lives rooted in the prophecies of His Second and coming Advent when He will return in glory to judge the World and usher in Eternal joy on The Last Day. Do not despise these prophecies from Holy Scripture by failing to gather together to celebrate them as they are proclaimed. If something is getting in the way of such celebrations test it to see where it comes from perhaps it is not from the Lord, perhaps it’s a thief looking to steal your joy.
I’ve spoken of the devil and mentioned how we can even be accomplices in the theft of our God given joy and I’ve listed off the World and Sin and Death being adversaries of joy in our lives, we won’t go into all of them here but briefly let’s think about Death in regards to joy. Anyone who has experienced the loss of a loved one knows that Death lurks around looking to steal your joy. Death wants nothing more than to nick your joy away and leave you with ashes in your mouth: the empty armchair, the empty seat at the dinner table, the missing kiss, the absent hug ... the silence these things all sting the more as the celebration of Christmas comes and death with all his nasty malice desires to slip away with your joy in his icy grip. Dear ones wrestle death to the ground, hold fast what is good, hold fast to joy, By the Holy Spirit who dwells within you guard the good deposit entrusted to you. When the one you love rests in Christ there will be a happy reunion, you will see them again; dwell not on their absence but on the joys you had in years gone past and in the joys that are yet to come in Christ Jesus. And when Death attacks you with morbid thoughts, when he lies to you about your life in this world, remember the Lord has put you here for a purpose and that purpose is not to be morose without joy in Christ or even to be happy without the joy of Christ Jesus. Rather it is to be here in Christ and to be His witness and love to the ones you come in contact with so that they too may be your brothers and sisters in this same Jesus and know His joy. Lastly when it comes to death remember where and when Death was pinned to the wrestling mat, when and where Death tapped out in defeat, it was at the Good Friday Cross of Christ’s crucifixion when Jesus said “it is finished,” and breathed His last, and in was at that first Easter Sunday morning in the tomb where Jesus took His first resurrected breath of life, promising you the same in Him.
So perhaps the question now emerges how can I know if I have this joy? How can I know if I have it or not? Will birds suddenly appear every time joy is near? Will I hear the songs of angels from on high sweetly singing o’re the plains? Will I have a warm fuzzy feeling in my heart of hearts: Is this how I’ll know? Dear ones here’s where John the Baptiser comes in, he’s the one that the disciple Saint John writes of in our Gospel reading today. This John who’s clothed in camels hair, eating locusts and wild honey out in the wilderness by the Jordan River, preaching fiery sermons of repentance and baptising all who come to him for the forgiveness of their sins points them and you and I away from ourselves to Jesus. You will know if you have joy if you know you have Jesus. You will not generate or maintain joy by your own power, you will not find the joy Saint Paul writes of anywhere but in Christ Jesus, so if you have Christ Jesus you also have the joy the Father gives in Him. But keep likewise in mind how our Gospel Reading goes today: the priests and Levites from Jerusalem sent from the Pharisees mistook John the Baptiser for the promised Christ long prophesied, they along with everyone else coming out to John the Baptiser where looking for the Christ, looking for the Redeemer, looking for the Joy of the people of Judah, for the one anointed to bring Good News to the poor; looking for the one sent to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, looking for the one who would open the prison of those who are bound and while John the Baptiser in some ways looked and sounded the part this John was sent to proclaim the Christ not to be the Christ. John was sent to point Him out to the nations and ironically Jesus was right there in their midst yet they couldn’t see Him. Joy was right their standing before their very eyes and they couldn’t pick Him out from the crowd. This is why John says, “I baptize with water, but among you stands one you do not know, even He who comes after me, the strap of whose sandal I am not worthy to untie.”
The World may put up Christmas decorations and wish each other happy holidays at the cash register but that doesn’t mean that they can see Jesus or know His joy even while He’s standing right there in these celebrations and is the very reason for the season. Dear ones we are not immune to this, as Christians there will be times where we struggle to see Jesus in our life, but that doesn’t mean He isn’t there. You may lose track of the feelings we associate with joy but that doesn’t mean that the Lord has stopped giving the gift of joy to you: Because the Lord is constantly pouring Jesus out to you weekly from that lectern and this pulpit, out of the mouth of your pastor; constantly pouring Jesus weekly into your mouth and placing Him in your hand to eat, daily giving you His son in the pages of Holy Scripture when your fingers turn the pages and your eyes trace its words; daily inviting you to remember your baptism in your prayers as you wake and as you lay down to sleep. This is why it’s so important to remember that John the Baptiser points us away from ourselves to Jesus. Jesus is the source of our forgiveness in the Lord, what joy that brings. In Jesus we are called to rejoice in our forgiveness. Yes the Lord is the source of our Joy and in His Holy Spirit He richly and daily forgives all my sins and the sins of all believers, what a joyful thing to have as your own. You have this Jesus in your baptism and you have Him where He promises to be, in His Word and in His Meal. And when you have this Jesus you have His joy as well.
Therefore our goal as Christian isn’t simply to have a church that’s happy all the time, or that we ourselves would be happy all the time by the standards of the world but that we would have our joy in Christ Jesus and His salvation. That we would trust in His Word where we are promised that Jesus clothes us in His own righteousness, covering over the multitude of our sins with His love whether we are living through a time of conventional happiness or not. That we would have this joy even in our times of sorrow and trouble because in Christ this joy tells us that these hard and difficult days will pass and The Better Day is coming. So whether you are struggling in your marriage, or in your work, or with your kids, or at school or with grief or bitterness or anxiety when it comes to joy, especially at this time of year, you are not expected to pull yourself up by your own bootstraps and make yourself joyful. Yes, you are to flee from those things that are evil, and yes you are likewise to wrestle against everything that would steal away your joy, but who is it that is saving you? How does our Epistle Reading end? Saint Paul writes, “Now may the God of peace Himself sanctify you completely [that is make you holy], and may your whole spirit and soul and body be kept blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ.” Then Paul writes the most comforting part when he say, “He who calls you is faithful; He will surely do it.” This is Jesus; the one John the Baptiser points you to, the one who is your Joy on the blackest of days, in the darkest of nights, and in the brightest of celebrations. He is faithful in this when we have not been faithful, when we struggle He has succeeded and He is yours not just for today, not just this Christmas but each and every day of your life unto life everlasting. He is the gift the Father gives with joy in His heart for joy in your heart. And now you are free to share this joy with folks in your life whether they are having a happy time or a time of sadness, in fact during a time of struggle would they not need to know that true joy come to them from outside their heart and is not something they are expected to create by their own working? Pray that the Lord would, by His Holy Spirit, guide your words as you invite people to come to where Jesus promises to be, so they may have this joy for their own, Amen.
Let us pray:
Lord have mercy on us, Christ have mercy on us, Lord have mercy on us, “take our minds and think through them, take our lips and speak through them, take our hearts and set them on fire; for the sake of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ, Amen.
 Ephesians 6:11–12
 1 Corinthians 6:19
 Likewise we are called to pray without ceasing which means we are called to pray not only when things are going poorly but also when they are going well.
 2 Timothy 1:14
 John 1:19, 24
 Isaiah 61:1–2
 John 1:19, 26 –27