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Philippians sermon

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I imagine that all of us here are waiting for something. Depending on your view, you may be waiting either for Christmas Day or Boxing Day! But whichever it is, you must have been making preparations for that day – buying food and presents, putting up decorations, writing cards. And we know that all around us there are signs that Christmas is coming – carol services in church, sales in the shops, and no snow. We know Christmas is coming. We know that we need to be ready for it. But actually the season of Advent reminds us that we are not ultimately waiting for Christmas, but the return of Jesus Christ. And in our reading from Philippians Paul writes to the church telling them how they should wait for that day. And we are still waiting now, so the things he tells them still apply to us. So if you'd like to open your Bibles at page XXX let's see what Paul can tell us about waiting for the day of Jesus.

The first thing we need to know, and it seems obvious, is that the day of Jesus is coming. Paul begins with a series of facts about Jesus in verses 5 to 11: “He was in very nature God... He made himself nothing... He humbled himself... God exalted him to the highest place... At the name of Jesus every knee will bow.” If we are think something is coming, we will wait for it. I remember waiting at Basingstoke station for a train to Salisbury once. Because of bad weather, the announcer kept saying it had been delayed. So we all waited. And they said again it was delayed. But we waited because they assured us it was only delayed and would still come. Eventually, they told us it was cancelled. Now, if I had known it was going to be cancelled, I might have made other arrangements to get to Salisbury. The belief that it was going to come made me wait at the station. But do you see that Paul is not stating his beliefs about Jesus, but facts. And he doesn't just state the past events as facts, but the future events too. These things have happened and these things will happen. One day, every knee will bow, every tongue will confess Jesus as Lord and that is absolutely certain. Nothing that happens in the meantime will change that fact. We are not standing at the station, hoping Jesus will come back but with the vague worry that the day of Jesus Christ will be cancelled at the last minute. Often we can think that it is Jesus' first coming which is most important for how we live, but it makes no sense without the second coming.

And if we do not have this firm belief in the second coming of Jesus, we will not live our lives properly. See what Paul says in verse 12: “Therefore, my dear friends...” Paul bases his instructions to the Philippians about how they should live on the facts in verses 10 and 11 that one day: “at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.” He wants them to be motivated by their desire to see the exaltation of Jesus Christ at God's right hand. You see, every knee will bow without exception. But some will bow in delight and joy at seeing Jesus Christ, and others will bow with despair, because they know they have rejected him all this time. That is why Paul calls on the Philippians to “work out their salvation with fear and trembling”, because it is such an awesome task. But before we think that we are to work out our salvation in the sight of a disapproving God, who is simply waiting for the chance to take away our salvation, Paul goes on to say “for it is God who works in you.” Our lives are now a joint venture between us and God. We are in this together! That is essentially the story of Christmas – the story of Immanuel, God with us. But it was not just God with us while Jesus was physically on earth, but God with us for the rest of time. Think forward to Revelation, where the new Jerusalem comes down out of heaven – again, God with us.

So what does it look like to work out our salvation with fear and trembling? Well, look at verses 14 and 15: “Do everything without complaining or arguing, so that you may become blameless and pure, children of God without fault in a crooked and depraved generation, in which you shine like stars in the universe.” We know Jesus is coming back in the future, we know what he has done for us in the past and we know that God is working in us in the present – so we have no reason to complain or argue. We look at spoiled children and think they are awful for complaining when they have been given so much. Well, we have been given everything. Jesus Christ is everything. And one day when all things bow before him and acknowledge that he is the creator, sustainer, redeemer and Lord of all things, he will turn to those of us he has saved and smile and say “Come and share your master's happiness.” Why on earth would we complain? Christmas is about God's gift of Jesus Christ. Look again at verse 7 and 8 – Jesus made himself nothing, he humbled himself. It was all voluntary on his part. He could have stayed where he was and kept what he had, but he gave it up to share it with us. And so we are to model ourselves on him. Will we humble ourselves this Christmas? Will we make ourselves nothing for the sake of others? Will we do everything we need to do without complaining or arguing?

And finally, let's look at verses 16 to 18. It is an interesting fact that God does not call us to be miserable in our obedience. That is the caricature of Christianity which many people have – follow the ten commandments and make sure you're not happy about it. But look at what Paul says: he tells the Philippians to be obedient “so that in the day of Christ I may be proud that I did not run or labour in vain.” And then he says that even his sacrifice, referring to his imminent death, makes him rejoice and be glad. When Hudson Taylor, the great missionary to China, came to the end of his life he said “I never made a sacrifice”, because of the joy he had found in obeying Christ even in the hardest circumstances. God is no one's debtor. He does not promise comfort, but he does promise joy and he does promise to be with us through everything. So this Christmas, as we remember Jesus' first coming, let us also look forward to his second coming and that day when every knee will bow and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord to the glory of God the Father. Amen.

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