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God’s Will for Your Life / Third Sunday in Advent

1 Thessalonians 5:16-24

Rejoice always.

The perfect sign of mediocrity is when you demonstrate gratitude with moderation. That’s a great statement, particularly this close to Christmas: It’s a sign of mediocrity when you demonstrate gratitude with moderation. This evening/morning we want to deal with both exhibiting joyful exuberance and heart-felt gratitude. Particularly on this third Sunday of Advent when we lit the joy candle as part of our Advent celebration.

But first, because we’re taking a lighter touch this morning than in our normal message, I want to share a little essay that one inspired author wrote about his cat. It’s titled: of Cats and People and it was shared via a website called laugh and lift.com. Those of you who are cats lovers, well, you decide.

Lord, this cat you gave me . . . she just doesn’t listen. I told her the rains were coming . . . she goes out anyway and comes back soaked. I told her not to lie in weeds . . . yet every day she comes in and expects me to pull all the stickers out of her fur . . . from lying in the weeds. I told her that as much as it’s up to her to be at peace with all cats . . . yet she expects me to tend to her wounds from the fights she’s always in.

She embarrasses me in front of the neighbors by instigating arguments with their cats . . . she thinks she owns the whole block. She is constantly doing what she ought not to do and suffering the consequences. Worse, she seems to blame all her misfortunes on me . . . at least she expects me to deal with all the results of her disobedience. I always do, but she never seems to learn. Furthermore, Lord . . . she has never missed a meal, but when she’s hungry she yowls as if she hasn’t had a meal in weeks.

She makes it sound as if I’m a negligent and cruel father. The truth is that I always feed her and even give her treats. Just wanted you to know . . . To top it all off, she is often distant and ignores me until she wants attention or me to provide something. This cat makes me feel used. Sometimes I wonder if she loves me, or just loves what I can give her. It’s pretty much a one-sided relationship. Despite all of this, I love the cat and I’ve chosen to keep her. Lord, that makes no sense, but I know you’ll understand. What’s that all about? Could the author be saying that cats and people are not all that different from one another, but still the Father loves us?

We’re very fortunate people. Ultimately, we need not fear anything. Why? Because our heavenly Father is crazy about us.

Let me ask you a question: Do you think that you know what God’s will is for your life? I hear people ask, is this God’s will for me? Is that God’s will? Did such-and-such happen because of God’s will? Would you like to know what God’s will is for you? I can tell you absolutely, without hesitation or trepidation, what God’s will is for your life. It’s right here in 1 Thessalonians 5.

Paul writes: Be joyful always; pray continually; give thanks in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus. There it is from God’s word in black and white. God’s will is for you to be joyful, to pray without ceasing and to give thanks in all circumstances.

Now I imagine that you don’t have any difficulty with praying without ceasing. After all, you’re in church. You may even find no difficulty with giving thanks in all circumstances, though that’s a little more challenging. But I would like us to devote our attention to the more neglected instruction to be joyful always.

Joy is the most perfect sign of the presence of God.

Did you know that the Hebrew Bible is a book of joy! The Jewish Encyclopedia says no other language has as many words for joy and rejoicing as does Hebrew. Hebrew religious ritual demonstrates God as the source of joy. In contrast to the rituals of other faiths of the East, Israelite worship was essentially a joyous proclamation and celebration. The good Israelite regarded the act of thanking God as the supreme joy of his life. And, of course, The New Testament is a book of Good News! This is God’s will for us; to be joyful, to pray continuously and to give God thanks in all circumstances.

One thing many people have forgotten is to be joyful. Maybe it is the natural joyfulness of children that caused Jesus to use a little child as the sole picture of the kingdom of God. As long as children feel loved, their joy is evident, even in the worst situations. For those of us who are adults, one of the things that makes Christmas so joyful is seeing the wide-eyed expressions of wonder on little faces. Children know about joy. I’ve often wondered where we got the idea that you could tell a Christian by the sour look on his or her face?

A young man writes to a celebrated Christian, one of the early church fathers: Sir, I am in earnest about forsaking the world and following Christ. But I am puzzled about worldly things. What must I forsake?

The answer: Colored clothes, for one thing. Get rid of everything in your wardrobe that’s not white. Stop sleeping on soft pillows. Sell your musical instruments and don’t eat any more white bread. You cannot, if you are sincere about obeying Christ, don’t take any more warm baths or shave your beard. To shave is to lie against Him who created us, to attempt to improve His work.

If you have the joy of Jesus, please notify your face. What is God’s will for your life? Be joyful is our lesson for today.

We need an abundance of joy in our lives. I read recently that since 2005, the Google searches for “how to be happy” have increased by nearly 180 percent. People need joy in their lives. We need a good laugh from time to time.

Somewhere I read about a Sunday School teacher who had given her class an assignment to read Isaiah chapter 9 for their Advent lesson. The next Sunday she asked the class how many had remembered to read the chapter. Every hand went up.

Wonderful! She said, I’ve got a piece of candy for anyone who can complete the 2nd half of this verse: The people who walked in darkness . . .

Instantly she was besieged by answers!

The people who walked in darkness . . . used less electricity!

The people who walked in darkness . . . stubbed their toes a lot!

The people who walked in darkness . . . spent most of their time sleeping.

The people who walked in darkness . . . were usually burglars.

The people who walked in darkness . . . could really use a flashlight!

One more Christmas story. Several years ago, during the Christmas season when the American Civil Liberties Union was insisting on the removal of a large star at the top of the Texas state capitol, the governor said, oh, I’d hate to see that happen. This could be the only time we’ll ever have to get three wise men in that building.

I hope you don’t mind me having a little humor in our celebration today. I believe just like the Psalm says, You make known to me the path of life; You will fill me with joy in Your presence, with eternal pleasures at Your right hand.

I rejoice because the lamp still glows; I love the small pleasures of life, If the doors are too low, I bend. If I can remove a stone from the path, I do so; If it is too heavy, I go around it. I find something in every day that pleases me. The cornerstone, my belief in God, Makes my heart glad and my face shining.

An unknown author adds, who could put it any better than that? Christian joy comes from the simple and beautiful pleasures in life. It comes from loving and being loved. It comes from walking daily with God. It comes from believing that God has a plan for our life, and that the path on which He leads us, leads to pleasures forevermore.

Jesus was perfectly at home at a wedding feast. He wasn’t a grouch. He loved to share in the happy rejoicing of a wedding feast. There are certain religious people who ooze gloom wherever they go. There are certain people who are suspicious of all joy and happiness. To them, religion is the thing of black clothes, the lowered voice, the dismissal of social fellowship. They arrive like a dark gloom wherever they go . . . Jesus never said it was a crime to be happy. Why should His followers do so?

Why, indeed? What is God’s will for your life and mine: to be joyful always, to pray without ceasing and to give thanks in all circumstances.