Greetings in the name of our Lord God and Saviour Jesus Christ who gives us many reasons to rejoice!
On Thursday morning my thoughts were taking me to a few verses of scripture in the New Testament letter of Paul to the Philippians. It’s a passage that invites us to a posture of rejoicing. These two verses come in the last chapter of a letter that has become renowned as “The Epistle/Letter of Joy!” Twelve times in this short letter Paul speaks of his joy or calls the church to an attitude of joy and rejoicing. That may seem surprising at first since Paul is writing his letter from a prison cell. He is in lockdown but he can’t stop naming his joy and inviting the church to a similar stance.
4 Most of all, friends, always rejoice in the Lord! I never tire of saying it: Rejoice! 5 Keep your gentle nature so that all people will know what it looks like to walk in His footsteps. The Lord is ever present with us. (Philippians 4:4-5 The Voice)
Paul’s joy, and his invitation to his friends to rejoice, is not based on his or their circumstances but rather it’s based on and centered in the Lord! Rejoice “in the Lord”, Paulsays!Joy to be lasting and sustaining needs to find its center in something or someone who is sure, sustaining and forever faithful. The Lord becomes for Paul the center of joy and rejoicing, along with all the relationships that grow from that central relationship with God who has been revealed so fully in the Lord Jesus Christ.
What is it about the Lord that can allow Paul and his friends, and even us today, to rejoice? Paul gives an answer to that question in the next sentence of his letter. “The Lord is ever present with us.” We can rejoice in the Lord because the Lord never leaves us, never fails us and never forsakes us! The Lord is ever present with us! And the Lord who is ever present and near never stops working to bring new life, new purpose and new hope from the current realities of our lives. Paul knew that regardless of his circumstance, even locked down in prison, the Lord was near and God was still at working planting and growing faith, hope and love in his life, in the life of his friends, and throughout the whole world. Paul rejoiced in Lord who was forever faithful and present in his life, and Paul invites us to join him in his rejoicing!
Our near and ever present Lord is taking every circumstance of our lives and leading us into a new place. Last week as we began to introduce our worship and faith formation series for the fall Tanya introduced us to an important and central theme in the Bible; the Bible that we are invited to understand as God’s Big Story. The theme Tanya reflected on is how God brings humanity through chaotic waters into a new world. We were reminded that this theme weaves it way through all of scripture and starts from the very beginning, where God separates dark chaotic waters and creates dry land, a home for humans to flourish. Then the pattern reappears with the chaotic waters of the flood, where God rescues this remnant, Noah and his family, and helps them to find dry land where humanity is given a second chance. It continues with the Exodus story, where God saves his chosen people from slavery in Egypt, by leading them through the turbulent waters, onto dry land while Pharaohs army is destroyed. This theme or pattern continues into the New Testament where Jesus rescues the world from the chaos of our evil and violence by passing through the dark chaotic waters of death and out the other side to resurrection and new life! Our ever present Lord is central in the story of the Bible and gives us many reasons to rejoice!
Paul faced his own chaos of persecution and lockdown in prison but boldly lived in joy because he trusted in his Lord and saviour Jesus Christ. He knew that in the power of the Spirit he could walk with Jesus through the chaos of his circumstances, and even death, to a new place of hope and life. And just knowing that gave him reason for joy right in the middle of the chaos of his life.
The story of the Bible remind us that God has lead, and will continue to lead, through chaotic times. Can we trust God to lead us through our chaotic and unsettled time? Can we trust God to lead us through the turbulent waters of Covid-19 with continual waves of change, the threat of a second wave that could lead to more unwanted restrictions and lockdowns, the relentless changing tides of emotions that have been a part of return to school and workplaces, and the unknown future it all creates? Can we trust that God is ever present and near to lead us? As Tanya declared so powerfully last Sunday, “Yes, we can!”
The Lord will keep on being near and will keep on leading us! The Lord will keep on enriching our lives through the people in our lives and through all the gifts of life! The Lord will keep on giving us reason to rejoice! Take some time this week to reflect back over the past 6 months and to consider your present circumstances. What gives you reason for joy? What gives you reason to rejoice in the Lord even in the midst of times of struggle? Name those reasons and then as Paul invites us, 4 Rejoicein the Lord always; I will say it again, Rejoice!
If by God’s grace we can cultivate this spirit of joy and rejoicing, our lives will be lived, in our homes and neighbourhoods, with a gentleness and peace that will bless those around us. Maybe that is what Paul meant when immediately after calling his friends to rejoice he wrote, 5 Keep your gentle nature so that all people will know what it looks like to walk in His footsteps.
May God help us to be a gentle people of joy and rejoicing so that the world around will be blessed and will be encouraged to rejoice in the Lord with us!