Advent 2023

1: Advent Activities: Waiting

December 3, 2023 • Sean Higgins • Titus 2:11–14

The Great Commission requires disciples of Jesus to learn to observe everything that Jesus commanded. Jesus never commanded disciples to observe Advent. Jesus never commanded disciples to celebrate Christmas. But Jesus *did* command His disciples to *wait* for Him. We do a number of things that aren’t prescribed by a Scripture verse that are good for us, things aimed to help us learn Christ’s commands and help us build strength to follow Him. For example, we have reasons for our Sunday morning order of service, including the fact that any/every liturgy accomplishes *something*, so we might as well choose wisely. We worship as an assembly the way we do based on principles for a purpose. The five Cs are an outline that—by God’s grace and through His Word and Spirit—enables each member to behold Christ and become more like Him. God calls His ministers to serve the church toward Christlikeness. We proclaim Christ, warning every man and teaching every man in all wisdom that every man would become complete/perfect in Christ. As a minister of the Word, desiring the progress of faith and joy and obedience for the entire church, I think some meditation on advent will be good for our wisdom, along with some warning and teaching. Seasonal sermons are not a default for the holidays; I have convictions about the glories of sequential exposition. But for what *we* need in these days, a month of advent activities might just bless us more than a month of pre-Easter sermons. We have more ways to mature as disciples in terms of understanding and living in light of the incarnation than we do the resurrection, though more of the former can’t help but make better the latter. Like we recognize some principles of wisdom in the sabbath without following Mosaic Law regarding the Sabbath, we recognize some principles of wisdom and faith in advent without tracing every Advent tradition. Or word advent means “the coming.” It’s a derivative from the Latin word *advenire*, “to come to.” It refers to an arrival, usually the arrival of a notable person or event. Some Christians have specified the four Sundays before Christmas with distinct names and candles and colors, all to remember Christ’s first advent. While that’s worth celebrating itself—God come in flesh to save sinful man—it also reminds us of His second coming. There are certain activities appropriate to the advent season. I’m going to highlight four, starting with the one I think we are the worst at: 1) Waiting, 2) Feasting, 3) Singing, 4) Giving. Waiting is an appropriate subject for a heavenly host of reasons, including that this is the first Sunday of advent, so it is the furthest Sunday from Christmas. So, what are we waiting for? The key text for today is Titus 2:11-14, with special attention on verse 13. > For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation for all people, training us to renounce ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright, and godly lives in the present age, **waiting for our blessed hope, the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ**, who gave himself for us to redeem us from all lawlessness and to purify for himself a people for his own possession who are zealous for good works. (Titus 2:11–14 ESV) Grace has **appeared**, it showed up, it arrived. Grace advented. Grace was enfleshed in Jesus and has been received through Jesus for sake of salvation (John 1:14-17). That grace has gone to work, *discipling* us (**training** in verse 12 is an translation of παιδεύω - developing our abilities to make appropriate choices, providing instruction for informed and right living). Grace shapes our affirmations and denials. We **renounce**/refuse/disown **ungodliness** and we embrace lives that are **sober, righteous, and godly**. Grace develops people who adorn the doctrine of God our Savior (Titus 2:10). And that adorned, godly living requires **waiting**. The present age is good, it’s not our goal. The present age is when we’re being purified, but not when we’re glorified. We are disciples in this present age, and He redeemed us to make us a people who are zealous for good works (Titus 2:14). Our waiting (at least in this paragraph) isn’t idle; we don’t sit on our hands or wait it out in an underground man cave. But it’s still waiting. What is waiting? What is *godly* waiting? How can advent help us with adorned waiting? Waiting is *inevitable* in one way, because time moves forward on a line and we just can’t force an upcoming point to hurry up. A future minute will become the present minute at the right time, but even Augustine can’t make time go faster. As Jonathan says, “The time will pass regardless of whether or not you do the hard thing. You may as well have something to show for it." Godly waiting is more than more than a constant stand by. But it starts by submitting, with thanks, to God for His scheduling. And waiting is *required* by God. It’s required not merely because of Providential timing, it’s required by His command. Not only do we have a bunch of examples, we have explicit imperatives. > Wait for the LORD; > be strong, and let your heart take courage; > wait for the LORD! > (Psalm 27:14 ESV) > Be still before the LORD and wait patiently for him; > fret not yourself over the one who prospers > in his way, > over the man who carries out evil devices! > (Psalm 37:7 ESV) “Wait on the LORD.” So again, this has to be more than merely crossing off days on the calendar. This is knowing that He knows that He will fix the problem, but not now. He wants us to know ahead of time, and to hold onto that anticipation with the proper heart-posture. Waiting is, therefore, part of God’s *purposes*. Why did the Lord “invent” waiting? It’s at least to prove His own patience, and then share that attribute into us (James 1:4). It also shows His saving power; He can deliver from what is really bad. And it gives Him opportunity to highlight His promises. The thing is, He really remembers. Time doesn’t make Him forget. And our faith *pleases* Him (Hebrews 11:6). It is *long*, and sometimes *brutal*. I read a story about U.S. Admiral James Stockdale who was imprisoned for eight years in Vietnam, tortured over twenty times, with no promise of release. When asked about the difference between those who did and didn’t survive the war camp, Stockdale said, “You must never confuse faith that you will prevail in the end—which you can never afford to lose—with the discipline to confront the most brutal facts of your current reality, whatever they might be.” Jim Collins called this the Stockdale Paradox: > “You must maintain unwavering faith that you can and will prevail in the end, regardless of the difficulties, AND at the same time have the discipline to confront the most brutal facts of your current reality, whatever they might be.” (Collins, _Good to Great_) That said, what surprised me most while mediating on waiting and searching the Scriptures about waiting, is that those who wait well are *renewed*. > they who wait for the LORD shall renew their strength; > they shall mount up with wings like eagles; > they shall run and not be weary; > they shall walk and not faint. (Isaiah 40:31 ESV) Waiters “gain new strength” (NASB), *mutabunt fortitudinem* (VLG), that is, they are changed unto fortitude. There is fresh supply of strength in the waiting station; waiting gathers rather than drains. The place of waiting (even suffering) is the place of (endurance to character to invincible hope) blessing. # Conclusion Godly waiting is controlling how we feel, while we feel bad. Waiting is self-control while uncomfortable, knowing that it could be different, knowing that it *will be* better, but trusting God for the when. The advent principle is wait training. We get to exercise waiting muscles. It’s a short season--less than a month, to practice glad, eager, anticipation that good will arrive, even though we mey hit points along the way that provoke strong feelings that we wish it were over. We teach our kids to wait, to anticipate. And we, human parents, know to give them good things. We know not just what will be better for them, we know how much they'll enjoy opening the gift. Their gratitude will be increased, not decreased, even though they will have had a couple less weeks to wear the sweater, or whatever. How much more our heavenly Father! Wait like a Boss. What does a Boss Waiter (BW) do? Renounce shortcuts, renounce cheating the discomfort. Renounce lies about the discomfort, believe that better is coming. Do all your good works now, and don’t be precious about the present age except in so far as it was given by God as part of His glory-increasing project. > Be patient, therefore, brothers, until the coming of the Lord. See how the farmer waits for the precious fruit of the earth, being patient about it, until it receives the early and the late rains. You also, be patient. Establish your hearts, for the coming of the Lord is at hand. (James 5:7–8 ESV) *Fix* your hearts, with both meanings of fix. Fix, as in correct/recalibrate your expecations. And fix, as in establish, get the roots down deep. Wait like a Boss. Wait for the blessed hope, the next advent of our Lord. ---------- ## Charge Christians, wait by faith not by sight. Wait by faith no matter how long the wait. Wait by faith in the one who never forgets, who never fails, who holds you fast. Wait from faith to faith in the LORD your God; He is the faithful God (see Deuteronomy 7:9). ## Benediction: > [Y]ou are not lacking in any gift, as you wait for the revealing of our Lord Jesus Christ, who will sustain you to the end, guiltless in the day of our Lord Jesus Christ. God is faithful, by whom you were called into the fellowship of his Son, Jesus Christ our Lord. (1 Corinthians 1:7–9 ESV)

2: Advent Activities: Feasting

December 10, 2023 • Sean Higgins • 1 Timothy 4:4

One of the derogatory labels given to our church by at least a few Christians outside of our church is that we're the "boozer" church. I've also heard a less inflammatory observation, but from the same section of bleachers, that we have mostly orthodox doctrine but an overemphasis on alcohol. Forget for a moment the fact that classifying “wine as an alcoholic beverage…makes about as much sense as classifying cheese as a salted food” (Robert Capon, _The Supper of the Lamb_, Location 1245). Let's give the benefit of the concern? Are we too focused on fermented drinks? Maybe. We should willing to put on those shoes and walk a mile to see if alcoholism is a problem for us. It's a good exercise. Lives have been destroyed by the sin of drunkenness; drunkards earn their damnation, let alone the temporal damages visible in the ditches behind them. There are a few questions down this road. Is alcoholism a one-off sin, or does it usually show up in a tangle of sins? Getting drunk is a choice, no matter how strong the physical dependence/addiction or cultivated habit. Drunkenness is a sin of letting some other substance take over; it’s filled with stupor not the Spirit (as contrasted in Ephesians 5:18). And yet this sin almost always starts by a desire to forget some other sin, maybe not even yours but seen by you. That said, a guilty conscience thirsts for cover. Strong drink blurs strong memories, at least for a while. Drinking wine because we’re *fully forgiven of all our sins by faith in Christ* isn't the same as drinking to forget. Are there any other problems/sins that are as ruinous, perhaps equally or even more so, but that masquerade as virtuous? More to the contrast, can a teetotaler sin, *in* his/her teetotaling attitude? I'd say *yes*, and I'd say that the spiritual superiority complex (aka, pride) is only the single-barrel sin. The cask strength sin is *fear*. Even though international bitterness units and the highest level of tannins can't separate us from the love of God, Christians too often fear the things of earth that God called good. Is love of alcohol our problem? Do we have too much of a focus on fermented drinks? For now, I don't think so. I think, to the degree that it's representative, we do not yet have enough fermented living (whether or not that means imbibing fermented drinks themselves). And if I was trying to describe just part of what distinguishes us, it would be that our doctrine leads not just to understanding truth, but to pursuing embodied goodness. In fact I'm good with someone saying that we're “focused on alcohol” in so far as the better way to say it is that we're focused on the embodied joys of faith in obedient feasting. In light of our faith, why wouldn’t we be? Is Jesus Christ God in flesh? Did Jesus live without sin, and die for our sins, the just for the unjust, so that we might receive the righteousness of God? Have we been baptized into Christ, buried by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life? Did He come to give us life, and life abundant? Is our faith futile? Are we still in our sins? Do we have an eternal inheritance reserved for us in heaven? Is Jesus Lord, and has He said, “all are yours, and you are Christ’s”? Can anything separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord? Is the earth the Lord’s and the fulness thereof? Then partake of His gifts with thankfulness and eat and drink to the glory of God! There are only so many options: - We are still in our sins and have no reason to feast. - We are still in our sins and all we have is a feast. - We are delivered from our sins and yet refuse to feast. - We are delivered from our sins and why not feast?! A feast is a larger than usual meal shared with others—family and friends, for sake of celebrating something. It’s a time of joy, laughter, stories, and strengthening, via the food itself and the fellowship. It’s not for everyday, but some can be scheduled. There were obligatory feasts in the Old Testament, to commemorate the Passover, to thank God for the harvest. Feasting is a receiving and a rejoicing in the good things God has given. It sees God as the source of our gladness and strength. > You cause the grass to grow for the livestock > and plants for man to cultivate, > that he may bring forth food from the earth > and wine to gladden the heart of man, > oil to make his face shine > and bread to strengthen man’s heart. > (Psalm 104:14–15 ESV) > Blessed is everyone who fears the LORD, > who walks in his ways! > You shall eat the fruit of the labor of your hands; > you shall be blessed, and it shall be well with you. > (Psalm 128:1–2 ESV) Feasting done right is *for strength* not suppression of the truth. > Happy are you, O land, when your king is the son > of the nobility, > and your princes feast at the proper time, > for strength, and not for drunkenness! > (Ecclesiastes 10:17 ESV) Feasting belongs with a life of truth and thanks, as Paul writes in 1 Timothy 4. > Now the Spirit expressly says that in later times some will depart from the faith by devoting themselves to deceitful spirits and teachings of demons, through the insincerity of liars whose consciences are seared, who forbid marriage and require abstinence from foods that God created to be received with thanksgiving by those who believe and know the truth. For everything created by God is good, and nothing is to be rejected if it is received with thanksgiving, for it is made holy by the word of God and prayer. (1 Timothy 4:1-5 ESV) [Jonathan has taught on this passage](https://subsplash.com/trinityevangelchurch/media/mi/+q6q56nk), and spoken about feasting a number of times before. I'm trying to add a side dish to the table, not steal his main protein. One thing I'd point out from this paragraph is that those who *reject* are more likely to be the problem than those who *receive*. Paul told the weaker brothers in Romans that they could *not* eat and still honor God by abstaining with thanks (Romans 14:6). And actually, fasting is an assumed tactic of spiritual discipline in Scripture. But **insincerity** in rejection is the target, and its cousin ingratitude. What drives abstinence and prohibition is not always demons, but it is often more defense, not offense. It's fear, not faith. It's defining righteous by what we avoid rather than by good works done. Too many pastors have told their flocks not to feast (except figuratively on sermons, maybe also theology books). Pastors fear losing control (as if control was actually possible). They may not be devoted to the teachings of demons, but fear and manipulation are more demon type tactics than means of the Spirit. You can't easily manipulate feasting people. Joy is strong. The joy of the Lord is our strength. Mr. Joystrong is the guy who gets up and fights attackers because he has great joy in what needs defending. Mr. Joystrong is a considerable man, and considerable men don't bother with controlling men. > “May your men wear their weight with pride, secure in the knowledge that they have at last become considerable.” (Capon, _The Supper of the Lamb_, Location 2461) Feasting isn’t about eating and drinking as much as you can; it’s not a contest of portions. Note again that **thanksgiving** and **prayer** season the meal if it's to be a feast. Like waiting, feasting is a *heart posture*, but also like waiting, it's *more*, not less. True feasting fights envy; Judas fussed about any extra expenses, and so do the woke and complaining egalitarian Karens in our culture. Feasting fights pride, isolation, pretense. Feasting fights idolatry, especially in materialism and consumerism, because God gets the thanks, the stuff isn’t god. Feasting fights laziness, there’s too much Pre-op and Post-op work to ignore. Feasting fights false/demonic/dualistic teaching. Feasting fights fear, especially pietism, which is works based righteousness. Feasting by faith strengthens faith. Of course you can overindulge; gluttons and/or drunks are sinners. You can eat/drink too much out of boredom, or to distract yourself from pain and other problems. You can do it to be selfish, worldly. But none of those belong with truly considerable men. How does advent help us? Waiting isn't just a December thing, and feasting isn't only for a four or five week window from Thanksgiving to New Year’s Day. But there are more parties with more fudge and more cookies. And, good. Our remembrance of the incarnation is that Jesus *took on flesh*, not to destroy it. The reception encouraged in 1 Timothy 4:4 depends on 1 Timothy 3:16, God was “manifested in the flesh.” He came to destroy sin and death, which are the real enemies, not food and wine, not meat and sweets. And we are headed toward the Supper of the Lamb as seen by the apostle John in Revelation 19, to the feast Isaiah saw in Isaiah 25. # Conclusion Feasting opposes fretting. A good feast is not grabbing the neck of the event and strangling the strings tighter and tighter. Better is a dinner of Costco Dino-nuggets with love than a plate of organically fed duck tongue with strife (see Proverbs 15:17). Feasting that increases affections that inform our obligations is a great delight, feasting that is an obligation for affection flips over the table’s purpose. King Lune gave wisdom that is not fictional: > “For this is what it means to be a king: to be first in every desperate attack and last in every desperate retreat, and when there’s hunger in the land (as must be now and then in bad years) to wear finer clothes and laugh louder over a scantier meal than any man in your land.” Let us be considerable men, considerable fathers, with considerable presence. If you picture considerable people, you do not picture them holding a goblet of grape juice in one hand with a half slice of Wonder Bread with the crust trimmed off in the other. René Girard once wrote, “Few people want to be saints nowadays, but everyone is trying to lose weight.” The two aren't mutually exclusive, sure. But what if it would increase your godliness for you to eat more? Is it a sign of greater godliness that you *won't* eat or drink? It really might be. But don't be deceived by simplistic, superficial satisfactions. Self-control over calorie counting that does not include patience and joy and love (which belong with the same fruit of the Spirit) is a lesser self-control, the Kraft cheese single of self-control. Guy Fieri employs “the Hunch.” Lean in, over the table, elbows above hands. Embodied posture. Afraid of looking silly? At some point, that sort of fear is what keeps us from confessing the glory of Christ. Let men their feasts employ. ---------- ## Charge May you become even more considerable fathers, mothers, sons, daughters, brothers, sisters, for generations. May you never be content with following (advent/holiday) traditions without also committing to shared joy with your people through bread and wine around a table (or Christmas tree) of love. ## Benediction: > [May you be] strengthened with all power, according to his glorious might, for all endurance and patience with joy, giving thanks to the Father, who has qualified you to share in the inheritance of the saints in light. (Colossians 1:11–12 ESV)

3. Advent Activities: Singing

December 17, 2023 • Sean Higgins • Colossians 3:16

Music is one of the seven great lights in the medieval model of education. It's part of the Quadrivium, along with Geometry, Arithmetic, and Astronomy. The common denominator of all four is numbers. Arithmetic is the study of numbers proper, geometry is numbers in space, astronomy is numbers in space and motion. Music is numbers in *time*, numbers in proportion and intervals. > “[M]usic advances even further towards that ‘summit of perfection’ for which the quadrivium is a prerequisite. The theory of music is a penetration of the very heart of Providence’s ordering of things. It is not a matter of cheerful entertainment or superficial consolation for sad moods, but a central clue to the interpretation of the hidden harmony of God and nature in which the only discordant element is evil in the heart of man.” (Henry Chadwick) Rhetoric is the pinnacle of the Trivium, Music is the crown of the Quadrivium, and in some ways, Music is the high point of Rhetoric, or at least a glorious expression of truth and goodness in beauty. A song is time *adorned*, and a song sung together is adorned time *shared*. Christmas is a celebration of God adorning humanity by taking on flesh. The eternal God now shares time with us. What better way to honor the Son’s birth than singing?! In our series of Advent Activities we started with Waiting. Since then we've successfully waited two additional weeks, closer to Christmas and to the Second Coming. Last week we considered Feasting, and I am bursting after multiple opportunities just this past week. Now we come to Singing. Unlike waiting, I've addressed singing multiple times, whether related to our liturgy or just while teaching through some psalms. Also unlike waiting, which is more a question of How? instead of If? since the time will pass regardless, feasting can be consciously rejected (and is by some). Singing can be good or bad or rejected. Unlike feasting, singing can be outsourced; we can depend on/hire surrogate singers. While there are certainly times to enjoy the skill of a soloist or performing group, we shouldn’t choose to only be an audience and never a choir. Whether or not your noise is skillful, even tuneful, it ought to be joyful. And the coming of the Son of God in flesh, once already and again anticipated, should stir the soul up to sing. A Queen once said, "a stable once had something inside it that was bigger than our whole world." Are we just supposed to hum about that? Though singing is not the command in Colossians 3:16, it is an inevitable and edifying result of obedience. We Bible people will be known to the degree our lives together are lyrical. > Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in your hearts to God. (Colossians 3:16) The word should be "in-dwelling." It's supposed to dwell **richly**, abundantly, in full-measure. We could say, let the Word live like it's completely at home in us. It belongs in us. One thing that stands out is that it is identified as **the word of Christ**. Christ Himself *is* the Logos, the Word, who took on flesh and dwelt among us. So we're to let the Word of the Word dwell in us. This is only the second time this label is given to Scripture (see also Romans 10:17), and it seems that Paul was going out of his way to help the Colossians see the preeminence of Christ. Christ is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of creation, not in time, but in rights and privileges (Colossians 1:15). By Christ and through Christ were all things created and so all glory to Christ (Colossians 1:16). Christ is the head of the church, the firstborn from the dead, both chronologically and eschatologically (Colossians 1:18). In Christ the fulness of God was pleased to dwell (Colossians 1:19), in Him the whole fullness of deity dwells bodily (Colossians 2:9). Christ, His person and His power and His life and death and resurrection to life, compels songs! It started on the night of His birth. There is good reason to think that the heavenly choir was doing more singing than chanting in Luke 2. > And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God, and saying, > Glory to God in the highest, > And on earth peace, > Good will toward men. > (Luke 2:13-14 KJV) "Hark! the herald angels sing, glory to the newborn King!" Philippians 2:5-11 has been called a "hymn"; it does have a different rhythm than most prose. It sings of the Incarnation, of Christ Jesus who was made in the likeness of men, and was found in the form of man. 1 Timothy 3:16 also has a more lyrical shape, and begins with the Incarnation, "God was manifest in the flesh." The section above in Colossians 1:15-20 is also often called a hymn, and highlights the Incarnation in multiple ways. Back to Colossians 3, when Christ appears our lives, now hidden in Christ, will appear with Him in glory (Colossians 3:4). So we are commanded to forgive like Christ forgave us (Colossians 3:13). We are required to be ruled by the peace of Christ (Colossians 3:15). And we must let Christ's Word have its place at home in us (Colossians 3:16). What happens when that happens is that we don't stay quiet. We speak and we sing. There is *wisdom* and there is *thanks*. And in our verbal arsenal are songs, songs, and more songs. No joke, I've read the argument that **psalms and hymns and spiritual songs** refer to three classes of psalms. But, there isn't agreement on what psalms are which psalms. Psalms tell us to *sing*, and many Psalms look to the coming of Christ. A couple of Christmas applicable-s are Psalm 96 and 98, both of which start with singing and anticipate the Lord coming to judge. > Oh sing to the LORD a new song; > sing to the LORD, all the earth! > Sing to the LORD, bless his name; > tell of his salvation from day to day. > Declare his glory among the nations, > his marvelous works among all the peoples! > > Let the heavens be glad, and let the earth rejoice; > let the sea roar, and all that fills it; > let the field exult, and everything in it! > Then shall all the trees of the forest sing for joy > before the LORD, for he comes, > for he comes to judge the earth. > He will judge the world in righteousness, > and the peoples in his faithfulness. > (Psalm 96:1-3, 11-13) Of course anything written after about AD 90 would have to be application of Colossians 3:16, but so would any English translation of Colossians 3:16, or of any inspired Psalm, or any more modern musical arrangement. Some of the best in our arsenal are Christmas carols. *Carol* is a word for a song of joy and praise, now most often associated with the Incarnation. Great carols exalt Christ. They teach and admonish one another in wisdom. They express our thanks to God. They let us apply Colossians 3:16. They unite us as one body. They let announce *joy to the world*. “He comes to make His blessings flow Far as the curse is found” is Genesis 3:15. “Adam’s likeness, Lord efface, Stamp Thine image in its place” is Colossians 1:28 in carol form. “God rest ye merry, gentlemen, let nothing you dismay. … Now to the Lord sing praises all you within this place.” “Comfort, comfort ye, My people, Speak ye peace thus saith our God; Comfort those who sit in darkness, Bowed beneath their sorrow’s load.” “Boundless shall Thy kingdom be; When shall we its glories see?!” There's something that makes singing stir the soul, and when the soul is stirred it wants to sing. *Let men their songs employ.* When I say this message is an apology for Christmas carols, I mean apology not as an admission of error or regret, but apology as defense against criticism. In fact, the ubiquity of pagans singing about Christ's birth is an apologetics class itself. Not every meal is a feast. Not every get-together needs a Cantus bully; we are not on stage in a musical. That said, maybe you could use a little more considerable noise in your house. Get some Cantus under the tree. Use "[Sing Your Part](https://singyourpart.app)" (or get [the app](https://singyourpart.org)). # Conclusion What better than singing (in minor keys) to express our sadness and longing? What better than singing (in major keys and moving melodies) to express our joy and praise? Choirs help to make community. There’s more about that in a book called, _Keeping Together in Time_; choirs are a force against isolation and depression. TEC has power because we have one amazing singing voice. Singing together has *grown* us. > For the Lord God omnipotent reigneth > Hallelujah…. > King of kings and Lord of lords > And He shall reign forever and ever > (Handel, Messiah, HWV 56: Part II, no. 44. “Hallelujah Chorus”) Singing is not mere preparation, it is participation. Singing is not filler, it is an expression of faith. Don't hold back. ---------- ## Charge Sing Your Part is not just the name of an app, it is the charge to every member of the body of Christ. You are a part, you have a part. The church/choir is stronger and better and brighter because of you. You have been called/employed to sing joy to the world, the Savior reigns! ## Benediction: > May the God of endurance and encouragement grant you to live in such harmony with one another, in accord with Christ Jesus, that together you may with one voice glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. (Romans 15:5–6 ESV)

4: Advent Activities: Giving

December 24, 2023 • Sean Higgins • Acts 20:35

By this time it’s too late to do much about it, but it is not too late to encourage you in what you have done and to make sure you’re ready when your children ask in time to come, “What do these presents mean?” They mean the world. A gift is something handed to another, willingly and without payment. The word used for gift (χάρισμα) in the New Testament connects it with grace (χάρις), with something undeserved, with benefit(s) bestowed by favor. The whole world is a gift; all are yours. None of us have *anything* that we have not received (1 Corinthians 4:7). The first five and a half days of earth were gift creating days, which God presented to Adam for his blessing. Eve was a gift, resulting in lyrical praise. Food was a gift for mankind to share; “Behold I have given you every plant yielding seed that is on the face of the earth.” All is gift: life and new life, breath and bread, sun and moon and stars, the Word made flesh and the Word that richly dwells in our hearts. Through the Logos all things were made, and in the name of the Lord all things can be received with thanks and enjoyed (1 Timothy 4:4-5). Among the false gods of men none matches the Lord God Almighty in magnanimity, in generosity, in freely given good things. Bacchus/Dionysus gave wild parties, but he stole freedom in making men slaves to pleasure. But as we worship the true and living God we see that gifts are good, giving is good. Giving is *godly*. “If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father who is in heaven give good things to those who ask Him!” (Matthew 7:11) We come to our final Advent Activity for this advent season. This is it, the fourth Sunday before Christmas. We’ve been Waiting all this time. While waiting we’ve feasted and we’ve sung; we’ve had a feast of singing and we’ve sung at our feasts. We’ve been preparing to remember the Son of God’s birth, while also remembering the Son of God’s promised return. A King was born, joy to the world. The King comes again, let every heart prepare Him room. And to the advent activities of Waiting, Feasting, and Singing we add Giving. One more reminder for this cycle: there are no verses, let alone biblical laws, that require giving gifts on December 25, or on days leading up to this recognized holiday. We are not required to shop, purchase, bake or make, wrap, or place gifts under a tree to be opened in a coordinated manner on an appointed day, worldwide. But, *giving* is godly. Bearing gifts is true image-bearing, as our heavenly Father gives and gives and gives. Advent season is as good a time as any to exercise ourselves for the purpose of godliness. It is as good a time as any to be *blessed*. God’s Word has much to say about giving and receiving, about generosity and gratitude. Scripture also gives us a quote of Jesus that we don’t learn about until after Jesus had ascended. It’s worth considering the context. In Acts 20 Paul met with the elders of the church in Ephesus for his final time. It’s a well known passage, including Paul’s claim that he did not shrink from declaring to them the whole counsel of God (verse 27), and his exhortation to the pastors to pay attention to themselves and the flock, the church of God which He obtained with His own blood (verse 28). Paul commended them to God and the word of His grace which builds up and gives an inheritance (verse 32). And then as he finishes, he reminded them of how they knew they could trust him. He didn’t come to take from them, he came to give to them. > “I coveted no one’s silver or gold or apparel. You yourselves know that these hands ministered to my necessities and to those who were with me. In all things I have shown you that by working hard in this way we must help the weak and remember the words of the Lord Jesus, how he himself said, ‘It is more blessed to give than to receive.’” (Acts 20:33–35 ESV) It’s that last quote that not Matthew, Mark, Luke, or John recorded in their Gospels. Paul leaves no doubt, though; this isn’t just consistent with a principle, this is explicit teaching, “the words of the Lord Jesus, how He Himself said.” **It is more blessed to give**. Why? How? Is this just a rhetorical device to manipulate giving? One way we know it’s not manipulative is because he’s in the middle of telling them that he hadn’t tried to get anything from them. *He* was explaining his own blessedness in giving. Another reason why Paul isn’t being manipulative is because he knew that there was a way to give, and give big time, that was useless. “If I give away all I have, and if I deliver up my body to be burned, but have not love, I gain nothing” (1 Corinthians 13:3). But the greatest reason is that Paul knew Jesus’ teaching accords with how God made the world to work. God, who is the happiest being, with the ineffable felicity, is the Father who gives. The principle here applies: “Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change” (James 1:17 ESV). God gives. Giving is *loving*, it is love manifest, love incorporated. The Father: “For God so loved the world, that He gave His only Son” (John 3:16). The Son: “Christ loved us and gave Himself up for us” and this pleased the Father, “a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God” (Ephesians 5:2). Husbands are called to imitate this giving, “as Christ loved the church and gave Himself up for her” (Ephesians 5:25). The Spirit: individual spiritual gifts for each member of the body for the whole body’s good (see 1 Corinthians 12:4-11). So we receive from God to reflect Him. Jesus told His disciples, “You received without paying; give without pay” (Matthew 10:8). There is wisdom in this worldview. > Once gives freely and grows all the richer; > another withholds what he should give, > and only suffers want. > Whoever brings blessing will be enriched, > and one who waters will himself be watered. > (Proverbs 11:24-25 ESV) Or old school: > The liberal soul shall be made fat: > and he that watereth shall be watered also himself. > (Proverbs 11:25 KJV) It turns out, the blessed giver is getting something in return: *blessing*. That’s an act of faith, and it makes our souls *fat*. The one who gives grows *more* considerable. The world works the way it does because God is not stingy. He is not reluctant to give. He gives to those who hate Him, sun and rain and breath and kids. He gives even to the ungrateful, and all their gifts weigh them down in accountability. The world is changed through gift, of course in Jesus Himself, and also as earthly fathers mimic that giving work to their children, even as entrepreneurs give to the market. So give and be blessed. Give and be made fat. Connecting some of this back to Acts 20, pastors are again a big part of the problem. It’s fairly easy to identify the ones grabbing at prosperity off the backs of the sheep. But then there are the pietists, discouraging the sheep from feasting and giving feasts, warning them away from a boogeyman materialism which keeps them from the blessing/joy that comes through giving to *others*. Can you spoil giving? Of course! Give to be seen, to get recognition from men (as Jesus warned against in Matthew 6). You can give to make it so that you don’t have to give yourself, giving without love, giving to distance. You can give to cover a guilty conscience. You can give without wisdom, too far beyond your means. But if you give by faith, out of love, you are imitating the Father, the Son, and the Spirit. # Conclusion Giving is an advent activity, a Christian practice. It is not the *only* act of stewards; we earn or provide paychecks (from which to have something to give). Ownership of private property (at some level) is the prerequisite for generosity. So also giving isn’t primarily about expense, but it is about love. Jesus was “born to raise the sons of earth, born to give them second birth” (“Hark! The Herald Angels Sing”). The Wise men brought gifts to Jesus, which is right, Jesus is the King. But now, we can give gifts to fellow servants of the King, in the King's honor, while we wait for His return. Live in alignment with God’s invisible law that blesses the world. It is more blessed to give than to be reluctant. Don’t hold back. ---------- ## Charge The world is changed through gift, in the gift of Jesus Himself, and also as earthly fathers mimic that giving work to their children. Some of you are trying to break generational sins, others to build generational inheritances. Give blessings by faith and be blessed. Give and may you and your people be made more and more soul fat. ## Benediction: > But grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. To him be the glory both now and to the day of eternity. Amen. (2 Peter 3:18 ESV)