Based on: Philippians 4:4-7
Thanksgiving has passed and Christmas is coming – two times when family and friends like to get together. Are there people you look forward to seeing? People who bring a little joy to the gathering? I remember as a kid I looked forward to seeing my Uncle Joe. His gregarious smile and humorous wit added to the joy of the occasion. We looked forward to seeing him. I even remember some of the things he said. For example, as he was leaving sometimes he would say, “I’m glad you got to see me.” He was just teasing us – I think.
Is there someone you look forward to seeing? What is it like when you are looking forward to seeing friend or relative and the time for their arrival is near? For a brief period of time, do you smile more? Do the little problems of life bother you less? Don’t you have a little joy in your life?
Think about that feeling of joy and then also think about the Apostle Paul and what he tells those brothers and sisters in Christ in the Greek city of Philippi. His letter to that dear Christian family is full of joy.
There was joy because the Christians in Philippi worked with Paul to tell others about Jesus. There was joy because others were spreading the good news of God’s forgiveness. There was joy because they shared the same faith. There was joy over all this even though Paul was in prison.
All of this joy for Paul and the Philippians was connected to the anticipation that someone very special was coming. “The Lord is near,” Paul said. Christ is coming and he is getting close. Like Uncle Joe calling on his cell phone to say that he is a couple miles away and he will be here any minute. The thought that Jesus is on his way brings joy, great joy.
As Paul focuses on joy in his letter to the Philippians, he uses the words joy and rejoice fourteen times. I’m sure you already see the connection between those two words – to rejoice is simply to express with your words and actions the joy that you have.
Paul knows the great joy Christians have in Christ and so he says, “Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice!” Paul is telling us, “You know that joy you have because Jesus is coming? Let that joy always show in your life.” A Christian just naturally rejoices, but how? Certainly a Christian will sing praises to God, give thanks, and proclaim to others that our joy comes from knowing our offenses against God are forgiven because Jesus suffered our punishment for us.
But when the Christian rejoices the whole life is involved. Rejoicing is not something we do just on Sunday. Your whole life is involved as you follow Paul’s directive, “Let your gentleness be evident to all.” Gentle – isn’t that the type of person you want to go to when you are hurting – someone who is kind and caring. Be gentle with others. As children of God we take after our heavenly Father and we are gentle with others just as he is gentle with us. Picture Jesus as he gently takes the little children into his arms and blesses them. Or picture Jesus, our Good Shepherd, as he gently holds us, the straying lamb, in his arms.
But keep in mind that this word “gentleness” is a translation. The word Paul used really doesn’t have a direct equivalent in English. The word Paul used includes the idea of gentleness, but it also includes the idea that we, as Christians, are willing to give up our “rights” for the sake of others. Christians are self-sacrificing and humble. Like Jesus we consider the needs of others above ourselves.
That doesn’t mean that we are simply letting people take advantage of us or push us around. Quite the contrary, it means we know who is coming. Think again about that special friend or family member that you look forward to having at your house – the one that always seems to bring a little joy to your gathering. When you know that person is coming, do you care a little less if things don’t go your way? As a kid, if I knew my Uncle Joe was coming soon and my brother wanted to play with my toys, what would I say? “Sure, go ahead!”, because I knew Uncle Joe was coming and I didn’t really care about my toys.
We have a far greater joy knowing our Savior is coming. “The Lord is near!” He is right around the corner and could be here at any moment. Our joy as we anticipate the coming of our Lord means that the things of this world just aren’t as important. If someone needs what we have or tries to take what we have, we know we have greater treasure in heaven and the Lord is near. If people try to hurt us with the things they say and do, it might be painful for a time, but in the end what does it matter? The Lord is near. He will be here soon.
We rejoice in the Lord, as we live lives of gentleness. We also rejoice in the Lord by living a life of trust in God’s providing and protecting hand. As Paul says, “Do not be anxious about anything.”
Paul is just saying the same thing Jesus said, “Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear.” No matter what happens on this earth there is no need to worry or be anxious about anything because “The Lord is near.” Jesus is coming. And if Jesus is coming, he is coming for us and he will certainly make sure we have all we need until he gets here. We can stay calm, peaceful, and content like a little baby sleeping in her mother’s arms.
While we are waiting for Jesus to come, God gives us a way to bring our concerns to him – prayer. Perhaps we can compare it to calling Uncle Joe on the cell phone and asking him to pick up some snacks at the store on his way, but really it is much better. We can bring anything to God that might tempt us to worry or be anxious. As the hymn writer says, “What a friend we have in Jesus, all our sins and griefs to bear! What a privilege to carry everything to God in prayer!”
As we bring our concerns to God in prayer instead of holding on to them ourselves, we are expressing the joy we have that the Lord is near.
Not everyone is looking forward to his coming. For some his coming will be a day of terror. Why does the news of Jesus’ coming bring us joy? It is because we have peace with God – a peace that is beyond our comprehension. Let’s remind ourselves where that peace comes from. Peace with God is not our own doing. In fact, we are God’s enemy because of every decision we make that is based on what we want instead of what God wants. Every sin is a war against God that we will not win. We need that peace with God, not God, but God is the one who paid for it. With the blood of his own Son he signed the peace agreement between us and him. Through faith we receive the benefit of this peace. Now, when our days on earth have ended we will receive from God perfect joy and happiness instead of the perfect pain and suffering we deserve. Our lives will show that we have this peace that brings joy.
This morning we have focused on how we as Christians rejoice in the Lord, not just on Sunday morning, but how our lives become an expression of the joy and anticipation we have because the Lord is near. He is coming. That joy will show itself as we live lives of gentleness and with a calm confidence that God will take care of us until he returns. And while we are waiting for Jesus to get here, “Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice!”