How to Cope with Christmas

November 28, 2021

Pastor John Hering

1 Thessalonians 3:9-13

1 Thessalonians 3:9-13

Indeed, how can we thank God enough for you in return for all the joy we have before God on account of you? 10 Night and day we are praying earnestly to see you in person and to supply what is lacking in your faith.

11 May God our Father himself and our Lord Jesus direct our way to you. 12 And may the Lord increase your love and make it overflow for each other and for all people, just as ours does for you, 13 so that he may establish your hearts as blameless in holiness before our God and Father, when our Lord Jesus comes with all his saints.

It’s finally here!  Last Sunday we ended the church year with Saints Triumphant, then gathered for our Thanksgiving service, made it through Black Friday and now it’s here—the Holiday Season!  Even our worship picked up the joy of this season with the beautifully decorated church with trees, banners and services.  Advent is a season of hope (blue banners), anticipation (for Jesus’ return), and preparation (to celebrate Jesus’ birth).  We do this on purpose because we want to raise the spirits of God’s people anticipating a great celebration of joy.

But, I also know that this season is tougher on others.  They don’t really care for this season of decorating, shopping, special foods and gatherings. Maybe that somebody is you.  For some, this season brings an empty feeling of loneliness and sadness whether it’s distance from family, sickness, divorce, or even the death of a loved one.  Who wants to hear about the cheerfulness of Thanksgiving, Advent and Christmas with that hanging over their head?  No wonder people get depressed!

Do you ever wonder if the Apostle Paul, the great missionary to the Gentiles, ever got depressed?  Usually I think of him as a rock star evangelist with peppy God-talks.  Just listen: “Rejoice in the Lord always! I will say it again: Rejoice!” (Phil 4:4); or Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places (Eph 1:3).  But, students of the Bible know there are plenty of times Paul wrote about his tough days just like everyone else.  Yet, he learned the secret of coping with these difficult days.  He was inspired by the Holy Spirit to share this secret with the Christians in a northern city of Greece called Thessalonica.  What Paul shared with them, may the Holy Spirit share with us today:

How To Cope During the Holiday Season

Have Your Faith Refocused

It was during Paul’s second missionary journey that he traveled from Ephesus over to Greece and the town of Thessalonica.  When he got there he started a brand new congregation.  When Paul and Silas had traveled through Amphipolis and Apollonia, they came to Thessalonica, where there was a Jewish synagogue. As was his custom, Paul went to the Jews, and on three Sabbath days he led them in a discussion from the Scriptures, explaining and proving that the Christ had to suffer and rise from the dead. He also said, “This Jesus I am proclaiming to you is the Christ.” Some of them were persuaded and joined Paul and Silas, as did a great number of God-fearing Greeks and more than a few of the prominent women (Acts 17:4).  Look, if someone started a new church down the road and share Jesus with people, I’m all for it if they focus faith in Jesus. But, if they come here and try to rob my sheep, then I’m going to have issues.  Paul’s quick success stirred up the synagogue rulers and envy spread like seawater from a hurricane.  Paul’s life was in danger and he was escorted out of the city under the cover of darkness.  The jealousy was so strong that if followed him on to Berea.  For after he started a small congregation there, some thugs from Thessalonica showed up looking for Paul and he was on the run again.   He headed south to Athens but was only able to gather a few believers.  He continued on to Corinth.  The church in Corinth grew, but boy, O boy, did they have issues!  More persecution for Paul.  So, I don’t think I would have thought less of Paul if he had said, “You know.  Enough is enough of this missionary stuff.  I’m done.”  Sounds like a tough season to endure, doesn’t it?

But, here’s what Paul did.  The Holy Spirit inspired Paul, whose heart was full of concern for the Christians he left in Thessalonica, that he sent his co-worker—Timothy to see how they were doing.  Do you know what report Paul received?  Listen: But now, Timothy has returned to us from you and has told us the good news about your faith and love. He also told us that you always have fond memories of us and long to see us, just as much as we also long to see you (1 Thess 3:6).  Paul was so filled with joy to hear this report that he said, Indeed, how can we thank God enough for you in return for all the joy we have before God on account of you? (vs 9).

However, the Thessalonians were still trying to figure out how they could cope, for they had only received a brief instruction on Christianity.  They longed for more instruction and that’s why Paul wrote, 10 Night and day we are praying earnestly to see you in person and to supply what is lacking in your faith. This was not going to be easy.  Satan was putting road blocks in Paul’s way while he worked hard to destroy the faith that had been created in the hearts of the Thessalonian Christians.  Paul offered this prayer: 11 May God our Father himself and our Lord Jesus direct our way to you.  They needed God to step in to Refocus Their Faith.  That would be the only way Paul could supply what is lacking in [their] faith so they could Cope with their Challenges as Christians.

Do you know some of their challenges?  They learned that Jesus was the promised Christ, but they didn’t know what to do with the challenges to their faith.  For instance, some planted the idea into their heads that Jesus had mysteriously returned and missed them.  They had thoughts like this: We know Jesus is coming back on Judgment Day and end all our sufferings, but what if we’ve been so busy dealing with the attacks of anti-Christians that we forget about Jesus’ return and miss him!?!  We don’t want to miss the boat and get stuck here forever trying to cope.

Paul explained to them that it was good for them to be expecting Jesus’ return at any time, but not to worry.  He pointed out that when Jesus returns the enemies of God will be destroyed.  That would not cancel out the primary work of Jesus who came to save them.  What Jesus had done on the cross was done.  It was finished.  However the pressures and concerns they were feeling were a reminder that God had something much better in store for them.  He refocused their faith on Jesus who was return to take them to heaven.  This Refocused Faith would rest on Jesus and give them what they needed to cope during their difficult days.

It is a good feeling when we get all the decorations up, finish purchasing our presents, and baking the Christmas cookies.  But, the pressures of life don’t go away….trying to get a better job; how much money is in the account; how many holiday parties will you get invited to; will the business of life settle down; will Covid recycle around again? Wait!  If you’re going to cope with all these holiday pressures then your faith needs to be refocused again, too.  We need to hear again that Jesus already fulfilled the perfect job of rescuing us from Satan’s grasp; has already given us a place in the mansions of heaven; has already deposited your eternal benefits in the heavenly accounts.  So, take time to hear God’s promises again and may the Good News of Jesus Christ Refocus Your Faith on his love.  That’s the secret for Coping During the Holiday Season. 

Transition: And if you’re going to be alone during this holiday season, let me put a positive spin on it.  When we’re alone we have the advantage because we have nothing else to focus on except what really counts. God’s love for us all.  This is also God’s blessing to help us Cope During the Holiday Season.

Have Your Love Revived

Let’s say during this Holiday Season your boss said, “I’m going on vacation.  I’ll be back soon.”  But, he didn’t return the next Monday, or the Monday after that, or the Monday after that.  You came to work every day and walked past a co-worker’s desk that seemed to be piling up with paperwork with them just staring out the window.  Wouldn’t you be tempted to ask, “What are you doing?”  They answer, “I’m sure the boss is going to come back any day now, but I’ve gotten so far behind that it’s really no use, we he returns he just going to fire me anyway.”

Similar thoughts were going through the minds of those Christians in Thessalonica.  While some thought Jesus had returned and missed them, others were thinking that when Jesus returns there is no way he was going to be happy with them.  So, they quit working and were sitting around waiting for Jesus to return.  No wonder Paul had to write this letter, and the second follow-up letter. 12 And may the Lord increase your love and make it overflow for each other and for all people, just as ours does for you, 13 so that he may establish your hearts as blameless in holiness before our God and Father, when our Lord Jesus comes with all his saints. They needed their Love Revived in order to cope while waiting for Jesus’ return.

Think of this: Mom had to go away to help her sister who was very ill.  Dad and the kids thought she would be back in a couple of days.  Days turned into weeks.  Then they got word from Mom, she was on the airline web site booking a flight and would be back soon.  What reaction do you think dad and the kids would have?  “Okay kids, sit back down on the couch and keep watching Disney shows!”  Or do you think they would put it into high gear to clean up the toys, wash the clothes and dishes, vacuum up all the dust bunnies and get everything looking really nice for mom’s return?  They might even get a banner made that said, “Welcome Back Mom!”

This was the call Paul made to the Thessalonians.  Jesus is coming back.  The first time he came he arrived in humility in order to save us from our sins.  But, when he comes back again it will be with the parade of heaven’s angels, the trumpet call of God, and he will gather up all his people to be with him in heaven!  That’s how much Jesus Loves You!  That love for them would inspired them to get ready for his return with greater love for God and for each other.  Paul wrote: 12 And may the Lord increase your love and make it overflow for each other and for all people, just as ours does for you.  They could wait with eager anticipation for Jesus return because they know through faith in Christ, they would receive the gift of eternal life in heaven.  They would stand on Judgment Day 13 so that he may establish your hearts as blameless in holiness before our God and Father, when our Lord Jesus comes with all his saints.  Revived in Jesus’ love for them and their love for each other, they would have the tools they needed to cope as they waited for Jesus’ return.

This makes Advent such a precious time for us.  This isn’t the time to sit back and mull over the heartache and trouble, the disasters and depression of this sinful world.  It is the time to think how Jesus came as our humble servant to redeem us for life forever in heaven.  It is the time for us to invite our family, relatives, acquaintances and neighbors to come and hear the Good News that Jesus is coming!  He’s not coming to beat us down, but he’s coming to lift us up.  Anticipating our joy with him in heaven revives our faith and inspires our love for God and each other as we Cope during these Days Leading Up to Christmas.

Let’s be real.  We are going to have difficulty with distance from relatives, disease, and death of loved ones we are going to miss.  Don’t fake it.  Let’s do something about it.  Focus Your Faith on Jesus.  Have Your Love Revived in Jesus.  Then this Advent we’ll be ready to cope with this Holiday Season and celebrate Jesus’ birth. Amen.

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