Be thankful and joyful at what God has already done
Supply what is lacking
Let your love overflow
Pray God would strengthen your hearts
How can we thank God enough for you in return for all the joy we have in the presence of our God because of you? 10 Night and day we pray most earnestly that we may see you again and supply what is lacking in your faith.
11 Now may our God and Father himself and our Lord Jesus clear the way for us to come to you. 12 May the Lord make your love increase and overflow for each other and for everyone else, just as ours does for you. 13 May he strengthen your hearts so that you will be blameless and holy in the presence of our God and Father when our Lord Jesus comes with all his holy ones.
It’s that time of year again. People are getting ready. The shopping has begun. Trees are being decorated. Lights are being put up. The world we live in is getting ready for Christmas.
At church, we have begun a new church year, and that means we’re getting ready. We are in the season of Advent—which means “coming.” As the world gets ready to celebrate Christ’s first coming, we are getting ready for Christ’s second coming. How do we get ready? It’s a matter of the heart. PREPARE YOUR HEARTS FOR ADVENT.
Paul wrote his letter to a model congregation in Thessalonica. As our text begins, Paul asks, “How can we thank God enough for you in return for all the joy we have in the presence of our God because of you?” Paul is doubling down with these words. He’s doubling down on his thankfulness. He asks how he can possibly thank God enough in return for what he’s gotten. He’s doubling down on joy. He’s doubling down on God—he thanks God for the joy he has in God’s presence. And he’s doubling down on the church in Thessalonica. He thanks God for them and the joy he has because of them. Paul’s emotions well up into joy and thanks to God for the believers in Thessalonica.
Like Paul, we have a lot to thank God for today. As your pastor, I cannot thank God enough for you and the joy you give me. But more than that, we have many reasons to rejoice in God’s presence: people are hearing God’s Word from our congregation. With God’s blessing, we have plans to bring that Word to new sites. The Verona site has become a model congregation. The Monroe site is still here and growing. Our multi-site congregation is providing an example for others throughout our church body.
The song tells us it’s the “most wonderful time of the year.” The time of year when people are too busy to do anything. People are shopping. They’re baking. They’re decorating. And the job won’t give you a break to get it done, either. Students are studying for exams and preparing their projects. Teachers are in a mad dash to work on grades. Everything outside is cold and dead. There’s shoveling to do, salt to put down, cars to scrape. With so much to prepare, it seems like we never break! The “most wonderful time of year” often seems like “the most stressful time of year.” Yet whether you finish preparing or not, Christmas will come just as fast.
Paul was busy, too. Instead of getting ready to see the relatives for Christmas, he spent his time praying. “Night and day we pray most earnestly that we may see you again and supply what is lacking in your faith.” Paul had been to Thessalonica before. As he preached there that Jesus had to suffer and die and rise again, many—both Jews and Greeks—came to believe in Jesus as their Savior. But his stay in Thessalonica was cut short. After three weeks, the jealous mob ran him out of town. He had to leave, but he hadn’t finished getting them ready. He longed to come back to them so that he could “supply what was lacking in their faith.”
The Thessalonian Christians, despite being model Christians, had a lot left to learn. Paul never stopped encouraging them to grow. They had faith, but it was uninformed. They knew very little about Christ’s second coming. They needed instruction about what it meant to live pure and holy lives. Yet they didn’t know what they were lacking.
Have you ever had that awkward moment when you realized you forgot to buy a Christmas gift for someone? And, as if to add insult to injury, it’s impossible to find the right gift for them? Even if you remember, whatever you come up with at the last minute won’t be good. With so much going on, it’s easy to forget someone at Christmas time.
Like that forgotten Christmas gift, we are unable to see our spiritual blind spots. That’s not to say that we don’t have faith. There are just certain things we are woefully unaware of. It’s really the same problem the Thessalonians faced. Their faith was lacking, but they didn’t know what it was. So our faith is lacking. Yet we have God’s Word! There he tells us everything we need to know. But there is a sinful nature inside us that takes the amazing gift of God’s Word and turns it into a terrible chore. We don’t always like reading it because it tells us just how great our shortcomings are. When we read it, it kills us. Rather than give our hearts confidence for Advent, it tells us we have fallen fall short of what God expects of us. When we do read the Bible, sometimes we don’t take the time to think about we’re reading. We read a chapter, or a page, and we move on with our day as though what we read makes no difference. Or we don’t understand it. And we’re blind to how it applies to my daily life. With a thousand things to do in the busy season, something has to get dropped. Sometimes God’s Word gets short shrift.
With so much going on, how can we possibly prepare our hearts for Advent—Christ’s second coming, when he will judge the earth? Ignorance will not be an excuse. Neither will laziness, or the long list of other things we had to do. Instead, we go to the Word of God, because there God supplies us with what we lack. There he fills in our blind spots. There we see we are sinners whose failures are worthy of damnation. But there we also learn that God himself prepares our hearts for Advent.
To get ready for Christmas and all it entails, some people make checklists to make sure they have everything ready. Christmas tree decorated? Check. Christmas lights outside? Check. And then there’s the big, long list of people you need to buy gifts for. Sometimes people even make lists of gifts they want to make finding a gift easier.
Jesus filled out God’s checklist for our Advent preparation. He studied the Scripture, not as a chore, but as his delight, because we don’t always. As the God who wrote its very contents, he still took time to learn it, even as a child. He knew how to apply it. When the devil and the people of the world tried to catch him in a trap, he always had an answer. He didn’t get blindsided by something he didn’t see coming. Jesus loved God his Father perfectly. He always did what God required. And he loved all people. Jesus gave his life as the perfect gift, to check off God’s requirements for ready hearts. Jesus did for us what we couldn’t; he checked off the list of everything we need to satisfy God. He’s checked it off for you. Because of Jesus, you are prepared for Advent.
Because he knew the gaps in knowledge the Thessalonians had, Paul couldn’t wait to get to Thessalonica. He launched into a prayer asking God to bring him back to them. And God did, briefly. But Paul wrote two letters to instruct the believers there. He continued to pray for them night and day. His prayer was that God would fill them with his love.
The picture there is God filling us so full of his love that we overflow with it to others. It’s like filling a cup so full of water that it leaks onto the table around it. But you can’t overflow with love if you don’t have any. It doesn’t matter how much scraping and shoveling you do if you don’t have any gas in the tank. Similarly, we don’t rightly love others without the love of God. We learn about God’s love for us in Jesus in the Bible. It’s where God supplies all our needs and fills us with his power for our daily struggles with sin. When we are in God’s Word, faith grows in the love of Jesus. Then our love will overflow to others. Then we can use it to show others God’s love and, like Paul, make others ready for Christ’s second coming by telling them about God’s love for them. Tell them how Christ fulfilled God’s checklist. When we live our lives in the Bible, it informs our prayers.
The goal of Christmas preparation is to be ready for the big celebration. Each year, the day comes and goes. Unlike Christmas celebrations, Christ will only come again once. It won’t be expected, either. The goal of Paul’s prayer for the Thessalonians—and of our prayer for you—is that by being filled with God’s love your hearts would be strengthened, blameless, and pure when Christ comes again. On our own, we are not blameless or holy. We cannot make our own hearts strong. But God does it for us in his Word. Try it out! Read and see the difference God makes in your life. Join our Vine and Branches in the spring and encourage others. Come to Bible study and ask the teacher your questions. Continue coming to hear God’s Word. Make regular use of Word and sacrament. God makes you ready for his coming in it, because there he tells us about what Jesus does for us.
When Jesus comes again, none of our winter or Christmas decorations will matter. Until then, they have some value. They also serve to remind us of greater preparations. Prepare your hearts for Advent. Thank God for all the joy he has given us in this congregation. Thank him that he supplies what we don’t have, most importantly his Son, who meets God’s Advent requirements for us. Thank him for his love that he pours out to us. Pray that he would continue to make that love overflow in your life. He will strengthen your hearts in his Word so that he will find you holy and blameless when Jesus returns with his angels and all his holy people. Continue to study his Word. There God makes you ready. You are prepared for Christ’s Advent. Amen.
Now, Israel, hear the decrees and laws I am about to teach you. Follow them so that you may live and may go in and take possession of the land the Lord, the God of your ancestors, is giving you. 2 Do not add to what I command you and do not subtract from it, but keep the commands of the Lord your God that I give you. 6 Observe them carefully, for this will show your wisdom and understanding to the nations, who will hear about all these decrees and say, “Surely this great nation is a wise and understanding people.” 7 What other nation is so great as to have their gods near them the way the Lord our God is near us whenever we pray to him? 8 And what other nation is so great as to have such righteous decrees and laws as this body of laws I am setting before you today? 9 Only be careful, and watch yourselves closely so that you do not forget the things your eyes have seen or let them fade from your heart as long as you live. Teach them to your children and to their children after them.
It’s that time of year again. If children haven’t already gone back to school, they will be back in school shortly. And why? Why do we send children off to school? They have lots to learn—life skills, life lessons. The ability to read and do simple math problems are important in our fast-paced culture. History and social studies provide much-needed perspective on the world we live in. And there are many more lessons to learn. Whether we prepare students for further studies, for the work force, or just to be responsible citizens, a good education can go a long way in shaping the youth of our nation. But our learning is never done.
It’s the same here. We never finish learning this side of heaven. We’re gearing up at Resurrection for the school year, too. Sunday school and confirmation class seek to give children the necessary backdrop from which to continue to learn the important truths of God’s Word. Bible study puts us in contact with the Word of God as we grow closer to him. In God’s Word today, we see Moses encourage God’s people to learn God’s Word and take it to heart. He also impresses on them the importance of passing it on. Like Moses urged the people, REMEMBER WHAT YOU’VE LEARNED. Keep learning what God has done for you, and teach others about the LORD.
Moses lead Israel for about 40 years. He taught them the things God told him. God called them away from Mt. Sinai after Moses received the Law from God. After the LORD delivered them from slavery in Egypt and miraculously provided for them in the desert, the people cowered in fear when they saw the giants living in the promised land. They rebelled against the LORD; the people were forced to wander 40 years in the desert. Even Moses sinned and was not be permitted to enter the land. Still, the LORD was good to his people. He delivered their enemies into their hands. He brought them to the other side of the Jordan. Now Moses gave his last great lesson to Israel.
Educators know, “Repetition is the mother of learning.” Moses knew that, too. He repeated the law of the LORD before the people. He begins in our text with an urgent plea to listen. “Hear the decrees and laws I am about to teach you. Follow them so that you may live and may go in and take possession of the land the Lord, the God of your ancestors, is giving you.” Moses made it clear why the Israelites were receiving the land. It wasn’t because they were the best theology students, or because their nation was better than any other. The LORD gave it to them. That was to be their motivation for following the laws Moses taught them—the promise the LORD had made to their ancestors Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.
The best teachers don’t just know the material they teach. They know how to ignite a passion for learning, to motivate students to learn. So what is our motivation to learn from the LORD? Like Israel, our motivation is the promise given to Abraham. Not the promise of the promised land, but that all nations would be blessed through him. That is God’s promise to us.
People forget a lot of what they learn in school. Students retain a fraction of what they learn from year to year. But even that is enough to remember addition and subtraction. But Moses told Israel they didn’t need to perform such simple operations with God’s Word.. “Do not add to what I command you and do not subtract from it, but keep the commands of the Lord your God that I give you.” The people weren’t to add to the commands of the LORD. Or take away from them. Why? Because God was the one who gave them. They were good, like everything that comes from the LORD. He knows how to make good things. What’s more, the people would show their wisdom by obeying the LORD. Their job was to make God look good by living his law to the world—a law that was itself flawless and good. God was making them look good by giving them this law.
God’s law is so good that if everyone kept it all the time, the world would be a perfect place. If everyone loved God and their neighbor the way God intended, there would be no need for any other laws. So why don’t we see that?
A good teacher sets up the student to succeed. The LORD set Israel up for success. He gave them the proper motivation. He gave them a perfect law. But REMEMBER WHAT YOU LEARNED in Sunday school. The people crossed the Jordan River and defeated their enemies. Except when they failed to listen to God. The people turned away from the LORD. When it got bad, they cried out for help again. The LORD delivered them, but they went right back to doing the terrible things the law forbade. Sure, they had moments of greatness, in days of kings like David and Solomon, Hezekiah and Josiah. Faithful men like Elijah and Elisha still pointed people back to God. Humble women like Ruth and Esther still quietly trusted in the LORD. But the nation abandoned the LORD. They forgot his law. Didn’t care what God said. Ignored the prophets who pleaded with them. Ignored the Word of God. Even in Jesus’ day, they added their own customs to God’s Word. But they subtracted the love—the motivation behind it all.
So is there a problem with the law? NO! So what’s the problem? Human nature adds what I feel to the Word of God. Human nature adds science because it’s reasonable. It adds the tradition of the Church, because how else can we know for sure that we’ve got it right? Human nature adds my experience, because that’s my truth. But it doesn’t just add. It subtracts. Human nature subtracts all the little parts that point out what I’ve done wrong. All the things I don’t like. Sure, we’re okay when others hear the good law of God. But don’t let it point at me! The law always accuses us, because we omit— intentionally or by forgetting—what we don’t like.
People strive to make the world a better place without the Word of God. They inevitably fail. That’s human history. Since the beginning, people have been taking the Word of God and wrecking it. Ever since Adam botched the world we live in, his descendants have followed. And the Church, instead of bringing glory to God as his beautiful bride who keeps his commandments, has tarnished his reputation in the world. If God gave us a grade, it would have to be a complete failure.
The best teachers aren’t the ones who take the job because the hours are good or because they get a long summer holiday. The best teachers love their students. They want to see their students do well. They do all they can to help the student learn.
God knows that we can’t learn how to follow his law perfectly. He knows that on our own, we will never do anything more than fail. So did something no one else could. He came near. As Moses reminded Israel, “What other nation is so great as to have their gods near them the way the Lord our God is near us whenever we pray to him?” There is no God who came near his people like the LORD did for us. Far more than any love of a teacher, he sent his Son to earth to be the Teacher. The one who taught he is the way to eternal life. He fulfilled the law we could never keep. He never added or subtracted from the Word. He brought God glory by always doing his will. He never once forgot a Word God spoke. He didn’t leave anything undone. Fulfilled God’s promises. Never broke a law. Always loved God and neighbor. For you. He earned the perfect grade for you. What the law was unable to do because human nature opposes it, he did. Because he is God. He took what people wrecked and made it good again. And he did it for you! His perfect score is yours!
When students finish a year or a semester in school, they move on to other classes and other teachers. Eventually, they graduate and don’t have to take classes anymore. But we don’t graduate from learning God’s Word. As Moses warned the people so long ago, this Word of God is spiritual life. It’s your eternal security. It’s your free pass to life with him. That’s what you’ve learned. Remember it.
But also use it! When students enter the work force, they struggle to apply equations and arts and sciences in an everyday setting. God’s Word still applies to our lives. It still has lots to say to us—not just for eternity, but also for our lives right now. But if it remains on the shelf until next Sunday, it remains a cold and lifeless book. Open it up! Watch God’s power work in your life.
And then also teach it. Moses exhorted the people, "Be careful, and watch yourselves closely so that you do not forget the things your eyes have seen or let them fade from your heart as long as you live. Teach them to your children and to their children after them.”
Teachers go to school for years to learn their trade. But you already have the knowledge you need to teach others about Jesus. It’s the same message you learned in Sunday school. It’s the God who came down to earth to save his creation. Remember what you’ve learned. It’s really as simple as telling your children the things you’ve seen—observing what God has done for you in your life. Teach his love. Tell others all our God has done for us! That’s our motivation for keeping his Word, and for observing his law. That’s why we want to do what God says—because he is good. He is near in Jesus.
School starts soon. Some students love it. Others may dislike it. But we have something far more important than the lessons we learned in math, science, and social studies. REMEMBER WHAT YOU’VE LEARNED. It’s not how we can make the world better through education. It’s how Jesus came to the world to give us his perfect record. Learn about him. Learn the Word of God. And then teach it to others. Amen.