Advent 3 – The Faithful Produce Fruit Joyfully

December 12, 2021

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Rejoice in the Lord

Which one are you? In PA there is a chain of restaurants called, Eat and Park. And they known for having smiley cookies. They are happy cookies. And kids love them. In reaction to this, there was another chain of restaurants that came out with frownie brownie. Smiley cookies is happy. He is always happy. In fact, you can eat him bite by bite and he will still be happy. Frownie brownie is a realist. Frownie Brownie knows that his greatest blessing is his greatest curse. He is delicious. And that means his life-expectancy is pretty short. My question to you this morning is this: Which are you? Are you, as a Christian, full of joy and bliss, like smiley cookie. Or, as a Christian, do you see the world as it is, full of sin and hardship and your face reflects that with a frown? This morning, God’s word answers that question. The apostle Paul writes these words to the congregation in Philippi: “Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice!” (Phil. 4:4 NIV11-GKE)

In these words, Paul tells us to rejoice. In fact, he tells us to rejoice twice. But my dear friends in Christ, he adds a few vitally important words to let us know there is much more to rejoicing in as a Christian than a feeling of bliss. He adds those words, “In the Lord.”1 And with that, he lets us know that there is more to rejoicing in the Christian context than the bare feeling of bliss. And the words that follow he lets us know what those words, “in the Lord” mean: “Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near.” (Phil. 4:5 NIV11-GKE)

The Lord is near. The Lord is present right here, right now with us and for us. And as Paul begins to unfold and unpack this thought of rejoicing in the Lord, we see that there is this unchangeable fact that is true in our lives: The Lord is near, not far away. And since that is true, Paul drives our minds and hearts to a conclusion: “Do not be anxious about anything” (Phil. 4:6 NIV11-GKE)

There is nothing—not a thing at all in the entire world that should cause us anxiety.2 At first glance, these words seem to hurt more than they help. I remember when I was a child and my teacher told me to not look at the sun. So then, when my teacher said this, what did I do right after that? I could not help myself from looking at the sun. Paul here tells the Philippians to not have any anxiety about anything at all. So great, Paul says that, and then we have anxiety over the fact that we’re not supposed to have anxiety. But Paul means what he says. And he gives us two tools to help us in our times of anxiety: “but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.” (Phil. 4:6 NIV11-GKE)

The first question Paul asks us is how are you praying? For, my dear friends, it is important to pour out all your pains and pressures to your Lord above. This is good and healthy. But what a great gap there is in our prayer-life if we forget to follow through on what Paul speaks about here. Is there thanksgiving in your prayers too? It is vital for us to rejoice and words of thankfulness. For the Lord is near us, proving that he is near us with so many good gifts: food, shelter, clothing, friends, family—and that’s just the lesser, smaller gifts. How sinful we are when he gives us gifts day by day and we don’t see them because all we see is our pain and pressure. And he then gives us spiritual gifts too. He forgives our sins in Christ—even those sins of omission we commit when we forget and overlook the gifts he gives to us right here and right now.

So Paul gives us guidance in how we pray. But he also asks another question: to whom do you pray? Do you bring up your pains and pressures to the Lord? Or do you complain to yourself or to a family member? My dear friends, there is so very little that we are in control of in this life. How much we miss out on when we do not pray to the one who actually is in control. And how much more meaningful this is when we know that he isn’t just in control. Our good and gracious Lord is also near and knows our troubles and sorrows.

With both of those in mind, then, all of a sudden, the anxiety begins to fade away. For as we pray with thanksgiving we see that all is not lost. Right now the Lord is giving us good gifts. And when we pray to him we see that he is in control. And he has to be because we are not.

So Paul invites us to rejoice. But we neither rejoice like smiley cookie, with a big greasy smile on his face all the way to his doom, nor do we live in fear like Frownie Brownie, only seeing pain and misery. We rejoice. But we rejoice in the Lord. And we are able to do this because the Lord is present. But Paul leaves us with one last little sermon: “And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” (Phil. 4:7 NIV11-GKE)

Have you ever heard those words before? When I was growing up the pastor had one sentence he would say at the end of every sermon. And that was it. And there were times I would think about that verse throughout the week. There is this peace that our Lord has that he gives to us. It is far above and different than the peace we have in our every day life. And all of that is true. But my dear friends, did you ever stop to think that the first and primary context that these words are spoken in is in the context of anxiety?

Paul promises to this congregation who saw Paul and Silas tortured and imprisoned that they would have peace.3 And what does that peace reach through and overcome? It overcomes their hearts ruminate on and their minds obsess over.4 When you face difficulties in your life, your thoughts and feelings preach sermons to you. Think of what sermons the hearts and minds of the Philippians preached to them when they saw Paul and Silas tortured, put to shame, and thrown into prison. Our hearts and mind can do the same. Like the Philippians, our hearts and minds can ask the question, “what next?” I remember the summer after my senior year in high school. I put in more than 20 applications for jobs throughout town. And I wasn’t hired at even one place. Do you think I began to be anxious after a while? Or, you take, for example, the mom who has a child and then goes through post-partem depression. Time goes on and she wants, yearns to have another child. But she asks that question, “what next?” Will she have that depression again? These are just two examples of so very many where our thoughts and emotions preach sermons to us, robbing us of the promises that God speaks to us and the peace he gives to us.

How amazing and wondrous it is to appreciate this verse in its proper context. The peace that we have with our Lord above is a fact. It is founded on God’s undeserved love for us and forged in Christ’s death for us. We are at peace with our God above. And that peace doesn’t just stay with God. It comes to our hearts and minds that love to preach unfounded sermons, concluding that the past is always the predictor of the future. It comes to our hearts and minds and says, “I am here, I am near, I am present.” And as that happens, the peace that is promised begins to become our possession—yes, in the very hearts and minds that so easily went astray.

So, my dear friends in Christ, rejoice. This is the Sunday for that. But do so with those few amazing words in your hearts and minds: in the \textsc{Lord.} We rejoice in the Lord because he is present. We rejoice in the Lord because he promises peace. Amen.

1 ⲉⲛⲕⲱ̅

2 “ⲙⲏⲇⲉⲛⲙⲉⲣⲓⲙⲛⲁⲧⲉ·” (Phil. 4:6 GNT-ALEX)

3 cf. Acts 16:23

4 ⲧⲁⲥⲕⲁⲣⲇⲓⲁⲥⲩ̈ⲙⲱⲛⲕⲁⲓⲧⲁⲛⲟⲏⲙⲁⲧⲁ

Pastor at Immanuel, Steve Bauer

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