2009-12-24 (pm) Romans 12:9-21 Hope, Peace, Joy and Love
Christmas Eve! How many give gifts on Christmas Eve? How many have done so already? So the rest are still waiting. Still waiting. Are you wondering how much longer this service will last?
What I was growing up we opened our presents on Christmas morning, sometimes, I’m sure, we got mom and dad up very early Christmas morning. Of course, we didn’t realise they’d been up late into the night wrapping up all our gifts so that when we woke up, there were tons of presents under the tree!
I remember well that it was agony having to wait. It seemed like I’d never fall asleep. Then it seemed like 6:00 would never come.
Is that what’s it’s like for you? Does it seem like you’re in agony waiting to be able to open your presents? Are you so excited to go home this evening? Isn’t the anticipation amazing?
So, children, what are you going to do when you get home? Are you going to throw your jackets and boots off in a heap and then rush to the tree and start ripping the presents open?
No? Good! You’ll go home, patiently take your coats off, help your younger siblings if they need it, put your coats and boots away, calmly walk into the house and patiently, silently wait, right?
Does one person hand out your gifts? When I grew up Dad did it. Now I get to do it. It still feels kinda weird, but amazing too.
But you guys know what Christmas is all about, don’t you? Christmas is when we celebrate our Father in heaven handing out the greatest gift of all. Jesus Christ.
Now, when you open your presents, what do you do with them? Some people put them back under the tree. Some people put them in their rooms. Some, if there is clothing, will get changed right away. If the presents are toys, what will you do with them?
You’ll play with them? You’ll use your presents right away? Well, yes, after first giving thanks to the persons who gave you your gifts. After you receive a gift, you honour the giver of the gift by wearing their present to you, or playing with it.
But how do we do that with God’s gift to us in Jesus Christ?
Paul identifies four ways our lives are transformed by God’s gift of Jesus Christ. Jesus Christ, present in us by his Holy Spirit, transforms us into his people when we put our faith and trust in him.
The candles of the advent wreath each represented one of the four ways our lives are transformed, they are the areas of hope, peace, joy and love.
So first, to love. Love, Paul says, must be sincere, it must be genuine. If you’ve seen the movie, Fireproof, you can tell that the husband’s actions at the beginning of the 40 day challenge are insincere. He’s trying to show love in order to get love, to get respect, to get what he deserves. But even before he gets halfway, he realises that love isn’t like that. Love motivates us to do things for others because they are worthy of love. All human beings, being created in God’s image, are worthy of love, whether they are good to us, or whether they do evil, love is something Christ empowered people just do.
God demonstrated his own love in this, while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. While we were still enemies with God, Christ demonstrated his love for his Father, his love for us; he did this by dying for us.
Love means doing things for others without expecting anything in return. Love means going out on a limb. Sharing and caring, speaking the truth carefully, accepting people no matter what they’ve done in the past. Love changes our perspective toward other people.
It is not possible to be selfish and to be loving. A person who loves makes sacrifices. Jesus who sacrificed his life for us, teaches us how to be sacrificial in loving others. Instead of thinking, “What can I get out of it? We think, “What can I give?
What would that attitude look like in our homes? Husbands who set aside their precious time with the guys, hunting, golfing, whatever to do something special for their wives. Wives giving up whatever it is wives do for their husbands. Children offering brand new, right out of the box toys to their siblings saying, “No, you play with it first.”
And what follows, through the blessing of the Holy Spirit is the realisation that it is better to give than to receive. The joy that wells up inside us when we give of ourselves to others is unsurpassed.
The joy that comes from sacrificial love produces in us real hope. What is hope? Is it, “I hope this sermon is almost over so I can find out if I got the gift I hope I got?”
What is hope? Hope is trust. Hope is knowing that God’s promises are true. Hope is knowing that God’s faithfulness in the past means that he will be faithful in the future. Hope is knowing how much God has transformed me, I know he will transform others around me.
Sometimes it is hard to maintain hope. Sometimes the stuff of life still comes crowding in, doesn’t it? There are fears and concerns. There are loved ones who suffer. There are difficulties in paying bills, finding work, all kinds of things. But what helps us keep our hold on hope is prayer. We must diligently exercise our faith in God through prayer. In prayer, perhaps praying through the Psalms when coming up with our own words seems too hard; in prayer, we speak the truth of God’s promises. We remind him of them. And he sends His Holy Spirit to comfort and encourage us. Hope isn’t just a nebulous feeling. It is trusting in God’s promises, knowing that they are as solid as the benches you’re sitting on.
The third way Paul identifies is joy. Joy exists in this life. Joy exists even in the face of death—Jesus, for the joy set before him, endured the cross and all its shame. Joy is a gift from God. Joy is there, it is inside us with the Holy Spirit. It comes out from time to time, often when we share beautiful moments with friends and family.
We cannot manufacture it; though it is possible to suppress it. We don’t let it in because we think it is inappropriate. I remember my dad telling me about going to the visitation at the funeral home when my grandpa died. The visitation was held on 2 nights. The first night, the funeral home was quite busy, as there was more than one viewing going on. The second evening was much quieter. One of my cousins leaned over to my dad and said, “Boy it sure is dead in here tonight.” It was funny, because, well it’s a funeral home! It was joy breaking through, helping loved ones get through a tough time.
But sometimes you think you shouldn’t laugh because of context. But at other times that’s precisely the thing that is needed at that exact time. But Christianity isn’t always about putting a brave face on. It isn’t trying to hide our feelings under a false front. So while we rejoice with those who rejoice, sometimes we need to mourn with those who mourn. I was struck the other night, reading the book of Job that Job’s three friends join him in his sorrow and spend seven days with him, in silence! Out of love and respect for their friend, they are simply present with him, no words are necessary, just being there is what is needed.
That too is a part of hospitality. We go to people, we might not know what to say, if that’s the case, don’t stay away, go there, be there, don’t say anything. If the other person wants to talk, then talk. But if they want to be silent, be silent. Listen, but don’t feel afraid of silence. In the time of silence, pray, pray for the person you’re visiting, pray for God to give you words to say, or the power to remain silent if that is what is needed.
Paul wraps this all up with a few words about peace. When we connect ourselves through prayer to God’s gift in Jesus Christ, Jesus, the prince of peace rules in our hearts. Conflict arises from selfishness, greed, jealousy, envy, coveting. When we find our greatest desires met in Christ, we are set free from selfishness, greed, jealousy, envy and coveting. And such freedom allows us to promote peace.
I can almost hear what will happen with the presents. I can almost hear what will come after the newness wears off. Hey, do you wanna trade? Mama, so and so took my thing! No! You gave it to me!
But wouldn’t it be amazing if all of us, from the oldest to the youngest chose to be generous with one another? Can you imagine children instead saying, “Mama! I let so and so play with my toy and I’m playing with his. Mama, when we share, it’s like everyone getting way more presents!
Imagine adults giving freely to those less fortunate and never worrying about if they will use the money well, because it doesn’t matter. Look at the great gift Jesus gave, his very life, and look how little he was worried about who used it and who abused it. Because he knew that either way, he would get eternal glory and honour.
Imagine blessing those who treat us poorly. Imagine if Christians overcame evil with good, by demonstrating God’s amazing love to people of different faiths. Imagine if Christians worked harder at demonstrating love for one another across denominational lines, as we are in fact doing in Edson! Imagine if it happened even more!
Imagine, if in every area of conflict that ever arose, we totally took ourselves out of it and said, “I’m going to leave this up to God. He’ll sort it out for me.” And rather than harbouring hard feelings, we’d instead continue to try to love and bless those whom we have conflicts with. This is hard. Really, really hard. But nothing is impossible for Christ!
When we give as sacrificially as Christ gave, Christ gets all the glory and honour as well. So let us turn our attention to Jesus. Let us consider the gift given by our heavenly father so many years ago. Let us remember and treasure it. And by focussing on Christ, let us not only seek to avoid evil, but rather overcome evil by doing good. By working diligently to do good deeds for everyone around us, as Christ did, let us do also! Amen.