The big day is still three weeks away, but I know what I’m getting for Christmas. At least, I think I know what I’m getting for Christmas. At least, I know what I put down on my Kolander family Christmas list, which is what I hope I will be getting for Christmas. Do you want to know what it is? I would tell you, but you are so kind and generous that I might get a whole lot more of what I’m wanting for Christmas than I would need for every Christmas for the rest of my life.
But what I will tell you today from God’s Word is that God wants you to be very certain that each of you can know and say for yourselves, “I know what I’m getting for Christmas,” which is something I pray will help make your ongoing Advent preparation for that day full of Christmas joy and Christmas peace. After all, isn’t that what the apostle Paul prayed for in the last verse of our lesson – joy and peace – in that last verse, verse 13: “May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him.”
So, what is God giving us for Christmas that can fill us with what he calls “all joy and peace” – not just a little joy and peace or some joy and peace, but all joy and peace? For that let’s go back to near the beginning or our Lesson – verse 5: “May the God who gives endurance and encouragement give you the same attitude of mind toward each other that Christ Jesus had.” Endurance and encouragement. What God is giving you for Christmas is endurance and encouragement – the gift to keep serving him with joy and in peace, no matter what’s going on in your life. That isn’t a gift God puts in a box and wraps with a bow, so that you can open it and see what’s inside, but it is a gift that results from what God put in a different kind of box called a manger and wrapped it with a halo so that we can peer over the top and see that what’s inside is the eternal all-powerful Son of God in the body of a baby. And it is that God-man whose birth we are preparing for in these weeks who had an “attitude of mind,” Paul says, that will give you and me God’s great gift of endurance and encouragement to keep serving him.
So, what is the apostle Paul talking about, and what makes this gift something that you and I can spiritually ooh and aah about and say to our Lord and to one another, “This is the best Christmas gift I ever got,” even if it isn’t something that is on any of our family Christmas gift lists? What Paul is talking about in this part of the Bible is how people treat one another. He has just finished a section of God’s Word where he has been telling people not to get all worked up about things that the Bible hasn’t said have to be done one way or the other, but to be patient and respectful of each other, so you don’t harm someone’s faith in Jesus, which is the most important thing anyone in this world can possess.
To be more specific, Paul was writing to a congregation in Rome, Italy which was made up of people who were Jews and non-Jews — or Gentiles. Some of the Jewish Christians were tempted to think that it was more God-pleasing to still worship on the Sabbath day – on Saturday — and to not eat certain foods – like pork, as one example — which is what God had told the Jews very clearly to do and not do in the Old Testament, ending up with them basically implying, “You Gentiles must not really love the Lord our God if you don’t do the same kind of things we do,” while some of the Gentiles were tempted to use their appropriate knowledge that those commands had been done away with by the coming of Christ as a way of saying they were better Christians because they could eat what they wanted and worship when they wanted, so, “Get over it, you Jews. We love the Lord our God just fine. Back off!” In essence Paul was telling all of them in Christ to rise above such foolish human ways of looking at the great things of God — which end up more in arguments about getting your way and winning someone over to your opinion — and to remember instead how the great Son of God came to take care of what every person has in common, no matter their race, culture or background – what will happen when they die. Before the words of our Lesson, Paul had given this stark reminder: “For we will all stand before God’s judgment seat… So then, each one of us will give an account to God.”
“Standing before God’s judgment seat.” That may not sound like a super Christmassy thought, but as our worship folder tells us, and as Pastor Casmer reminded us at the beginning of our service, today’s emphasis as we prepare for the coming of Christ at Christmas is that Christ will come as Judge. And, while that may not at first hearing sound all that Christmassy, that reality is in reality at the heart of making our Christmas one of all Christmas joy and peace. When you stand before God’s judgment seat, how will Jesus judge the gifts you have given him by how you have treated other people? Will you be able to able to say, “I have accepted and treated them, just as Christ has accepted and treated me,” when you think of people in your family or at your school at your job and on your street or people you may not even know, but who just frustrate you? We are not talking about accepting what people are doing if they are blatantly sinning against God – that must be humbly rejected and lovingly sought to be corrected – but what God is talking about is our everyday actions and attitudes toward people he has placed in our lives. Not a single one of us can say – or dare say – that we have treated them as Christ has treated me. And what makes this even more humbling is that even when we are truly trying to do so, we can’t do so as perfectly as we want, because even the good things we do out of love for Jesus can’t possibly be perfect. They are always tainted by some sin of weakness or the inability to do everything we do with an absolutely perfect good intention. Standing before that Judge of glory, who came as a little baby in a box, is not something that we could even imagine giving us anything close to all Christmas joy and peace.
That’s why we need the Christmas gift of endurance and encouragement that only God can give us – and that God has given us, all of which can be understood so wonderfully in those simple words in verse 7:“Accept one another, as Christ accepted you.” Christ accepted us by being rejected by God. The perfect Jesus, who had perfect endurance and encouragement to serve his heavenly Father, allowed himself to be judged the opposite by his heavenly Father. The perfect Jesus not only accepted the punishment you and I deserve when we purposely treat others in a sinful way by what we say to them or think about them, but he also accepted the punishment for our inability to love everybody perfectly, even when we are truly trying to. In other words, Jesus Christ did what Jesus Christ came to earth to do. He showed us the grace and mercy of God above in forgiving us for everything we have ever done wrong and in not holding us accountable for all the hurts those sins have caused, even though in his love he may allow us to live with some of the consequences of those hurts to keep reminding us of how great he is to love us so.
And that is what leads us to love each other so, one of which ways is to join our minds and voices in thanking God for his Christmas gift to us in Christ Jesus. That, for example, is what he says in verse 6. After telling us to have the “same attitude as Christ Jesus,” he says in verse 6: “… so that with one mind and one voice you may glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.” And that also explains, then, why St. Paul has those Old Testament quotations in verses 9-12. If you look at them, they are talking about Jews and Gentiles sharing the Word of God together so that they may join together in “singing the praises of your name,” Paul says, and “Rejoice, you Gentiles, with his people,” Paul says, and “Praise the Lord, all you Gentiles, let all the peoples extol him,” Paul says, and “The Root of Jesse (that is Jesus Christ) – The Root of Jesse will spring up,” Paul says, “in him the Gentiles will hope.”
That Root of Jesse – Jesus Christ — who will come to judge the living and the dead on the basis not of what you and I deserve, but on the basis of what he did by living and dying in our place, is the one in whom we put our trust, so, as Paul says once again in that final verse, “May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.” That is the certain hope we have because of the certain fact that each of us can say, “I know what I’m getting for Christmas” – and that, dear brothers and sisters – that is what gives us the Christmas gift of endurance and encouragement as we treat and accept one another as the Christ of Christmas has treated and accepted us, since in all reality we are all God’s Christmas gifts to each other. May God give all of us all joy and peace as we enjoy the gift of our Savior and the gifts of one another, for that is what is on God’s Christmas wish list for you. Amen.