by Elaine Maust
Philippians 1: 1-11
December 6, 2009
As we prepare our homes and families for Christmas, Advent also invites us to prepare. To prepare our hearts for the coming of Jesus.
This week I saw two church marquees, one in Marion and one on Pine Springs with messages about Jesus coming back. Advent messages. Get ready. Prepare. Jesus will come again. Somebody ought to put up a big sign. These two churches did.
Preparing ourselves for Christmas is a good thing. How are you preparing? I’m thinking about gifts I want to buy and time with Duane’s family. We always have a big Christmas party for our Maust Woodworking Team. I’m thinking about that. How are you preparing?
And, who are you preparing? My sister is attempting to prepare the entire Maust family (yes, my sister is also my sister-in-law. It’s a long story. You might think these things only happen in Lost Gap…) But like I was saying, my sister is trying to prepare us. This is no easy job. Duane has two parents, seven siblings, there are six sisters-in-law, and all of those folks have kids. There is a lot to think about. Who will bring all the traditional Maust foods? Which menus will happen which days? When will the bean auction be held (this is a Maust holiday tradition that you will have to talk to Duane about). My sister is prepared and getting us ready.
Into the Text
But back to Jesus coming again, the second coming. When Jesus comes back, it will be a celebration that will make Christmas seem like National Sweet Potato Day in comparison. (it is the first Monday in April, if you must know)
So, how do we get folks ready for an event as momentous as Jesus coming back?
Our lectionary text for today is Philippians 1:3-11. It is selected on purpose for this second Sunday of Advent when many of us are consumed with preparations. God uses this text to take our faces in His hands, to get our attention. God says, “Hey, don’t forget, like the sign says, ‘Jesus is coming back again.'”
Please turn to Philippians with me. (Galatians, Ephesians…)
This is actually a letter written by the maverick missionary, Paul, to his friends in Philippi. It was a city on the Aegean Sea in what is now Greece. Paul and his church planting team visited Philippi and helped Lydia start a church there and saved a jailer’s life, but those are stories for other sermons.
Now Paul is in jail. Locked up like he was in Philippi, (hmmm… that’s interesting) and he’s writing a letter back to his friends in the baby church back at Philippi. And that letter, thank God, has been preserved for us. And here it is, part of God’s word for Jubilee on December 6, 2009.
What can we learn from Paul’s words and example about preparing for Jesus’ second coming?
1. Preparing others –
It’s not enough to only prepare ourselves
We don’t just look in the mirror and think, we’ll, I’m more or less right with God. That’s should do it. No, we take loving and joyful responsibility for others. We serve as mentors, sponsors, neighbors, friends, parents, Sunday School teachers. Let me assure you, if my sister thought, “Well, I’ve got enough to deal with getting myself ready for the holidays. I’ll let the rest of the family fend for themselves…” Let me assure you. The effects would be disastrous.
As we prepare for Jesus coming back, we look around for those who may not be ready. Who somehow missed the memo. Who need direction. Who need encouragement not to give up.
Paul could have left well enough alone after God got his attention with the bright light on the road. But Paul is constantly looking for someone else to bring along on this new path of life with him. In this text it is “all the saints in Christ Jesus at Philippi.” (v 1) So who is it that you are preparing? Someone in your house? Someone who works in the office next to you? Someone in your Spanish class at high school?
(Object lesson with the sponge and the funnel. Two kinds of Christians; those who soak up God’s love and the church’s support and those who spread it to others).
2. Preparing with Thanksgiving –
Preparation is something to cheer about
This page of the letter is not filled with dread or fear. Listen to the tone of the words. Paul is cheerful and excited. Okay, down right gushy. (v3) How he does he keep his spirits up like that, being in jail… Maybe the fumes from the black mould growing around the edges of the cell walls are getting to him…
But it’s not that. It is the genuine joy and peace from God in his heart. Paul knows that preparing others increases his joy.
(Damion’s story. The 19 year old mall custodian who shared his faith and began a Bible study).
So, we consider who we are preparing and we go about it with happiness. No fire and brimstone. The news that Jesus is coming again is good news. It needs to sound like it to others!
Paul’s letter to them is not filled with scolding (though he is capable of that. See the two letters to the Corinthian church for more about that). But his letter is filled with encouragement and loving partnership. (7-8)
Notice the corporate nature, the partnership (v7). They encourage Paul and support him. This is a mutual relationship. If your joy for God is sagging a bit these days, build a relationship with someone who needs some encouragement to follow God. The light in their eyes will reignite the fire in your heart.
Ask God with whom you are to share and God will fill your heart with the joy and love Paul has for these friends of his. God will do it!
3. Prayer as preparation –
Praying with joy
One way we nudge others toward God is by praying for them. So for whom are you praying these days? Your parents? Your kids? Your sponsee? How do those prayers sound? Like frantic desperation? Is it simply a disguised exercise in worry? (Hey, that’s prayer too and some days that’s the best we can do). But listen to Paul’s prayer. (3-4)
Paul prays with hope and joy. Instead of reminding God of how terrible these people are, Paul prays that they will be full of love and wisdom. (9-10) “Until the day of Christ.” He’s talking about his vision of his friends when Jesus comes back. On that day they will be pure and blameless. Pure and blameless means like someone saying, “hmmm… let’s see, has this person done anything wrong. Not that I can think of…” Now that’s something to pray toward, isn’t it?
For whom are you praying these days? Try writing out or simply praying a few sentences thanking God for this person. Try praying with joy. Pray that they will be full of love and wisdom. Imagine God’s best for them and pray that direction.
Damion has 70 people on his prayer list.
4. Preparation expectations –
It’s about them being prepared to serve, love and meet God – not about meeting our expectations.
Okay, this is a tough one. But Paul’s got it. He doesn’t tell them, “now, soon as I get out of the pen, I’m to speak at the church planters of the Mediterranean conference in Jerusalem. So you people see if you can get your act together so I look a little better for the event.”
Of course that is ridiculous. But I will refrain to point out how much energy we put into making sure that those in our charge look good so we do.
For Paul, it is all about them being the people who are ready for Jesus and will make God look good. (9-11)
So as you talk to your friend between classes about getting their life straight with God, you will do it with love and joy and an eye for God’s expectation of them.
5. Preparing with Confidence –
God is at work
Okay, by now I hope you have someone in your mind that you are helping to prepare. Got it? Now, check out verse 6! God does the work. God has already begun and God will finish it up!
God has a long attention span. God doesn’t start good work in someone’s life and then get distracted or disappointed or just walk away. God finishes what God starts! Hooray for God.
So prepare others with confidence in God. So, your sponsee has a relapse. So, the friend you invited to church stops coming. So, the relative you are praying for is not responding. I’m sure that every person Paul was writing about in Philippi was not perfectly on the straight and narrow.
But Paul has his eye on the end, the day Jesus will come back and he’s getting his friends ready. Confident that (6) on the “day of Christ Jesus” they will be ready.
God is at work. “When in doubt, I always assume, God is at work.” (Margaret Guenther). God initiates and God completes. God isn’t finished and God isn’t quitting. (v6). As you pray for your friend, picture the life God imagines for them. What would the completed good work of God in their lives look like? Is it that they will be peaceful or sober? Now pray that direction with confidence.
The Bible says (Eph. 2:10), that we are God’s workmanship. God’s construction project. Picture God with a tool belt. God is at work in our lives and in the lives of those we love.
Christmas is coming and we are getting ready. I hope my sister makes her cheese ball and her garbage bag party mix. Probably today she will send out another email getting the rest of the family ready for the festivities. Christmas preparations are underway.
And every day of our lives, we are quietly, joyfully preparing for Jesus to come back. But it’s not enough to just make sure our lives are a credit to God. We are expected to invite others to prepare as well. To extend our love toward them and hope, and pray and nudge them toward God.
Jesus is coming. Prepare.