Our Joy in the Arms of the Lord

Jeremiah 33: 14-16
1 Thessalonians 3: 6-13

November 28, 2021

Every year, Megan has a plan … it seems that her plan coincides with the appearance of Christmas stories on Hallmark, Christmas Cookie Baking contests on the Food Network, and the sales of twinkling lights in a wide variety of stores. Megan pulls out a blank sheet of paper to draw THE MAP … THE MAP of the Christmas outdoor arrangement for the new year. And, she begins to put that map in front of me … “Dad, what do you think?” “DAD … let’s put the lights up!” DADDDDDDDDD … and I continue, annually, to remind my eldest daughter that the Christmas season does not begin until we celebrate Thanksgiving … The plan; THE MAP, Megan’s well thought out map drawn on paper, has to wait. And, yes on Friday the lights went up.

And, frankly it’s not a Chevy Chase Christmas Vacation type of outdoor home decoration causing power failures on Atlantic Electric’s grid that greets those walking by the house in Smithville nor are there lines of cars waiting to get their 30 second glance at the amazing artistry created by Ms. Megan Delaney but there is a key element … there is something that Megan always has on her first map as she calls it … something that I am pretty sure matters most to her. Frankly in this season it is something that matters to me too ….

And, friends that is the manger scene …. Ours features simple silhouettes that do not attempt to transform Mary, Joseph, and baby Jesus into Nordic Europeans. No false imagery of the group from the East that eventually arrives to see the family in their Nazareth home not on the birth date as is all too often implied in crèches during the Christmas season … not even the sweaty shepherds down from the hillside beckoned on by the angels whose call we read about seasonally, if not more often, from the Gospel of Luke the historian.

Just a wooden star … over the image of a baby in a manger … a barn … God’s gift to all humankind … a gift that should be sending ripples of joy into your heart and mine every day … on our worst days and our best days. Not reserved for the Advent or Christmas seasons. We should be the ultimate optimists pushing aside global conspiracies to shout with Paul about the ultimate global truth “REJOICE REJOICE … Immanuel shall come to thee O Israel.”

Friends, we have entered the season of Advent in a turbulent time of history … in a troubled time … in a time as I noted in our Thanksgiving letter in which individuals and families who just needed an excuse to escape church, God and Jesus Christ for themselves and their children have found their personal excuses to no longer be connected to a house of worship along with more than 50% of their neighbors here in the United States of America who no longer associate with a faith tradition.

Many of us had to listen to conspiracy theories and politically enflamed debates over Thanksgiving rather than just celebrating the day as a chance to give thanks … special thanks to my son-in-law Ryan for engaging one-on-one in a conversation with the person at our table who said to me … “Dave you are always an optimist but not me … not me.”

Sadly that friend has not embraced God … is not energized about Jesus nor sensing the ripples of joy in this season of Christmas almost admitting my optimism is something he wished he had. His daily conversation is filled with conspiracies and fears whereas we, his friends, have heard the message of Light from God … the assurance from the Creator of the universe. As John wrote, “God is love; whoever lives in love lives in God and God in them. There is no fear in love … perfect love drives out fear.”

Our faith … our God … our Jesus … friends, as the season of Advent begins our anticipation of the celebration of Jesus’ birth … are you already rejoicing? Rejoicing in the arms of the Lord? Allowing God’s love to lift your spirits …. God’s Holy Spirit to guide you … Jesus’ love to overwhelm you in a way that leads you into the only plausible reaction, which is to love God back and to love all of our neighbors just as Jesus did!

Paul felt it was so important of a message that in two of his letters that are now part of our Holy Scriptures he writes, “REJOICE in the LORD ALWAYS!! I will say it again … REJOICE!!!” In both Philippians and Thessalonians he follows the rejoicing admonition with a reminder that we need to be talking with God … leaning on God … putting our very souls in the arms of the Lord because that is when we get “the peace of God, which transcends all understanding.” A peace that will “guard our hearts and our minds in Christ Jesus.” Something that those enthralled with political conspiracies and overcome with anger are missing out … something that they are not allowing their children to even discover because church and perhaps even Christmas Eve services are on their NO WAY lists.

So, on this first Sunday of Advent in the year 2021 are you ready to move forward with Jesus Christ? Are you ready to rejoice in the arms of the Lord? Have you morphed the Thanksgiving Seven Day challenge and made it a life changing event like so many who have spoken with me about the peace they are feeling now that they are refraining from sharing attack memes that demean other humans created in God’s image on their social media and how much better they feel now that their own words are no longer are viciously attempting to make others whom they disagree with seem evil or worse on the global platforms of Facebook and Twitter.

If you were worshiping with us last Sunday evening in person or online. (thank you again to the choir and Glenda for helping to make that service special and to all of you from St. Paul’s who found value in taking an hour out of your Sunday afternoon to worship God and Christ with Thanksgiving.) … if you heard Pastor Walt’s message … have you started making your life one that is focused on THANKS-LIVING? I sure hope so!

As people of faith … Christmas is an opportunity! Christmas offers each of us the chance to showcase the manger … not claiming we own it … not insisting that they are in our images but rather than the scene under the star is a beginning that continues to be an opportunity for change in each person every day! I am sure that you, like me, can think of friends and family members whose lives would be changed for the better if they were rejoicing in the arms of our loving God. If they understood that God is not a God of division but of welcome … that God’s requirement to arrive into the arms of the Lord require only that people believe … have faith … live as people of faith and answer to the two commandments on which all of the laws and rules fall: LOVE GOD and LOVE ALL of YOUR NEIGHBORS! It is in that perfect love that there is no fear and there are plenty of reasons to rejoice with excitement and enthusiasm! REJOICE REJOICE!!

In our Good News reading of the day, Paul writes about the report that he has received from Timothy. Timothy had visited the relatively new Christian church in Thessalonica to see how those folks were doing. To me it is an ideal message for our first Sunday in Advent because we need to think about where the church of Jesus Christ is headed … we, you and I, need to do all we can now if we want this beautiful church called St. Paul’s to still be feeding the hungry, caring for the broken, serving as a place where young and old can worship God, and yes be a place where non-church goers come on Christmas Eve to fulfill holiday expectations in the year 2035.

And, as we focus in on our joy in the arms of the Lord … as we finish a year in which many of you shared your Affirmation of Faith statements and seven new members joined the church, at least two families have asked that their babies who will be born in 2022 to be baptized here, and where a young man wants to renew his baptism vows … We need to ask ourselves … how are we rescuing those who have rejected God and Jesus Christ? Paul wrote about those newbie Christians, “We are alive if you are standing your ground in the Lord.” Paul shares that he and Timothy and I am sure others have joy because of the faith of new Christians. Friends, wasn’t it so great on All Saints Sunday to see the seven new members here in church celebrating their faith … their desire to be part of this special place on earth called ST. Paul’s where God’s call to put faith into action is seen daily …. Where worship is awesome and children cared for in love so that they grow to love the Lord our God … their God … and that they like you and me can REJOICE in the ARMS of the LORD … just look at our stained glass image and pause to realize that right now ,,, right here … as we worship … if we allow Jesus to lift us up … if we allow the Spirit of God to guide us … if we push aside the world the Creator is ready to reach out to each of us … individually and that should bring us such amazing joy!

Advent … anticipation … the countdown calendar to Christmas Eve … CHRISTMAS EVE friends that should be our focus over these next few weeks … the prophet wrote, “The Time is coming declares the Lord when I will fulfill my gracious promise with my people. I will raise up a righteous branch from David’s line who will do what is just and right in the land. JUDAH will be saved …”

Think about what Jesus did as a man … think about His words, which came directly from the Father in heaven … think about his sacrifice on the cross for our sins; yours and mine … think about the women who preached the first message of Good News when they found the tomb was empty and they ran to declare HE IS RISEN <<HE IS RISEN INDEED>> …

And, then friends think about why Christmas Eve matters … why this is an opportunity to put our faith walk right in front of our small section of the world. Why we should be getting excited telling children about Christmas Eve not about the fact that fake and real trees will be shading boxes that we tell them came from this overweight man attempting to make that guy the Christmas story rather than God’s love.

Do you have it in you this year … this Advent Season to not only rejoice in the arms of the Lord but to let those around you know how good it is to be in the arms of the Lord. There is room for everyone but someone needs to value the manger scene as the key element in the map of life … the Christmas plan … where is Jesus? The Lord of our Righteousness? Is he guiding you … do you want Him to guide your friends and family. I join Paul in praying for all of us, “May the love of Christ cause our hearts to be strengthened, to be blameless in holiness before our God and Father when our Lord Jesus comes with all His people.” AMEN


© 2017- St. Paul's United Methodist Church, West Deptford, NJ