Rejoice in the Lord always

Philippians 4:4-7 (Isaiah 12:2-6, Luke 3:7-18)

Gaudete Sunday, that bright spot in the somewhat penitential season of Advent, is here! Marked by the joyful color of pink (in churches where the third candle and chasuble change for the day), this is a day of rejoicing:

Gaudete in Domino semper/Rejoice in the Lord always (Phil 4:4)

I don’t know about you, but I resent being told to cheer up.  I’m either in a cheerful mood, or I’m not.  Telling me how I ought to feel is insulting and inappropriate.  However, the power of Paul’s call to rejoice lies in the context of his letter to the Philippians:

Paul writes from prison, where he is in chains (1:7).
The Church in Philippi is under the divisive onslaught of opponents (1:28).
False teachers (“dogs,” “evil workers” 3:2) also threaten to divide the Church.
Two significant Church leaders are in open conflict with each other (4:2).

So, no rose-colored glasses here – this is a message of joy, sent from a man imprisoned for the sake of his beliefs, to a Church experiencing threats from within and without.  How could Paul or the Church in Philippi possibly be happy?  Well, they’re not being called upon to be happy, but rather to be joyful!  You see, happiness is dependent upon external factors (other people, comfort, safety, etc.).  However, as Henri Nouwen notes, joy is “the experience of knowing that you are unconditionally loved and that nothing – sickness, failure, emotional distress, oppression, war, or even death – can take that love away.”  Which is why Paul’s call to rejoice is based “in the Lord” (v. 4) and because “the Lord is near” (v. 5). The stresses and strains of life can take their toll.  So too can persecution and imprisonment.  In the midst of suffering, there exists the tendency to become introspective – focused intently on our own loss, trial, or pain.  As if placing his finger under our chin, and lifting our head upwards, Paul says: “Let your gentleness be known to everyone” (v. 5).  In other words, show everyone your gentleness, moderation, way of being.  Paul is reorienting the Church to look outwards, just as he is doing from prison:

I want you to know, beloved, that what has happened to me has actually helped to spread the gospel, so that it has become known throughout the whole imperial guard and to everyone else that my imprisonment is for Christ; and most of the brothers and sisters, having been made confident in the Lord by my imprisonment, dare to speak the word with greater boldness and without fear (1:12-14).

Where does this attitude of faith spring from?  From the example of Jesus:
who, though he was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God as something to be exploited, but emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, being born in human likeness.  And being found in human form, he humbled himself and became obedient to the point of death—even death on a cross (2:6-8).
So, true peace is found not in the Pax Romana of the empire (Philippi is a Roman military colony); or in the happiness produced by worldly things that do not endure; but in “the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding” (v. 7).  That is a peace and a love that not even death can destroy.
Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, Rejoice! (v. 4).
Pr. Ken+