“Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, Rejoice.” Philippians 4:4; Advent 3; December 16; 2018
Do you ever have to laugh at yourself? At something silly that you did or thought, or said. Something silly, just plain silly? You may not have thought a lot before you did something. But, you went ahead and did it. Let me tell you what I mean.
Several years ago, when we lived in the Chicago area, I had an old set of dining room chairs. These chairs were not in the greatest shape, and the spindles on the bottoms of the chairs would keep falling out every now and then, we would sit down on them. It led to a lot of problems as you can well imagine. I tried a lot of things over the years for minor repairs like sanding the spindles down, and using carpenters glue, tried it again, used gorilla glue, listened to the guy at the hardware store, and a few other home remedies. Nothing seemed to work.
So, one day in my frustration, I decided to just use some super glue. It’s not made for it, I know. I poured the super glue on and slammed the spindle into the socket. But, the problem was that when I did this, the super glue shot out and went directly in my eyes, causing my eyes to be glued shut. Immediately, I knew I was in trouble. I called for my wife. “Take me to the emergency room, I have super glue in my eyes. They are glued shut!” On the way to the emergency room, thoughts went through my mind like, “Oh no, what if I never see again?”
When we got to the emergency room, and proceeded to explain what happened, they immediately took me to a room, and started simply running water over irrigating my eyes. Within a short amount of time, the doctor mentioned, “You’ll be just fine. The super glue has loosened up.” You’ll be just fine.”
Have you ever had something like that happen to you? You want to do something well. But, you get frustrated and start to complain. And out of your frustration, you do something completely wrong. And it backfires. Sometimes you just have to be able to laugh at yourself and really rejoice in forgiveness, second chances, and mercy.
And in this Advent season we have so much to rejoice about. As the Philippians text reminds us, “The Lord is at hand.” The celebration of the birth of the Christ Child is so near. It is “at hand.” We Christians believe with all of our heart that the birth of the little Child in Bethlehem so many years ago changed everything, right? Right?
I honestly have to chuckle a little bit every year that the assigned lectionary readings for the 3rd week of Advent call us to “rejoice.” Way back in Christian church history this 3rd week of Advent is called “Gaudete” in Latin—which means “rejoice!” It’s usually indicated in other ways in the church too, like even the Advent Wreath with a pink candle, which is lit today to remind us that today is special, so rejoice!
And the point is this. Sometimes we get all caught up in the hustle and bustle, and frustrations of life that we forget what we really have. For many people the middle of December is “stressed out” time. We don’t have this or that done yet? We worry, we fret, we complain about the struggles of life. The things that pester us, we lose our joy, and we forget. Remember this, the Holy Spirit says, “Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say rejoice! Let your reasonableness be known to everyone. The Lord is at hand.”
But, you might say, that’s easy to say when it’s just a chair falling apart, or minor things like that. How about when we get major changes in life. When it feels like you’ve literally been punched in the gut? When it becomes personal. A visit to the doctor tells us that we have major changes in life to prepare for. Your boss decided that your branch office is no longer needed, and sad to say, you’re going to need to find a new job. Your best friend is moving far away and you will miss her. Those are the breathless, hard moments, where we don’t know what to do, at first.
Well, dear friends, it’s times like this that we are called by God to think about who we are and to whom we belong. The Word of God reminds us today to rejoice. And we certainly rejoice about that baby born in Bethlehem who is the Savior of the World. This little baby named Jesus, born of the Virgin Mary and laid in swaddling clothes, changed the world, and brought God’s love down to earth. And we rejoice that this same Jesus, will come back on the Last Day to take all who believe in Him to heaven, to be with Him forever, in a place prepared just for us. This is great news! This is the Good News for all people!
Beyond this, there is something even more for right now. Through the Holy Spirit, St. Paul reminds us to rejoice because the Lord is “at hand.” Paul uses the Greek word ἐγγύς . It literally means “near and even present.” These words remind us that He is here with us right now. He is present. God is saying come with me a little farther. Follow me a little more. Hold my hand. I am ready to teach you something more. I am ready to open your eyes and your ears up even more. Lift up your heads for the King of Glory is here with us right now, so rejoice. He is with us in His Word. He is present in our baptism. You are a child of God. And He is present in the Lord’s Supper.
Paul is writing to the Philippian people from a jail cell. But he is writing to people whom God placed together, to grow in faith and love. At the beginning of the chapter he wrote, “Therefore my brothers, whom I love and long for, my joy and my crown, stand firm thus in the Lord my beloved.” I am convinced that he wrote this letter with a smile on his face as he though back to the people who were part of the church in Philippi. They were people like Lydia, a woman who sold purple cloth. And it’s likely that in that congregation was a man who was a one-time jailer who had imprisoned Paul years before. A man who heard Paul singing praises to God at midnight—who saw a miraculous opening of jail cells. A man who at one time almost took his own life, but God caused to be saved. He was a man who asked the question, “What must I do to be saved?” And Paul said those beautiful words, “Believe in the Lord Jesus Christ and you will be saved—you and your whole household.” (Acts 16:31) And as the Bible teaches Paul baptized that jailer and his whole family.
In no less miraculous ways, we have all been brought together. Each of us has a story too. You may sometimes think it was no miracle, but God has called us out of darkness to His marvelous light—rejoice together for the Lord is near!
And when the perils of life come your way, instead of worrying, acting out in anger, present your requests to God with thanksgiving, knowing that He will hear, and He will understand in a way that is best for you. And let the peace of God which surpasses all understanding guard your thoughts and minds in Christ Jesus.
There’s an old saying in life, that says, “Keep your chin up!” And what it means is in all circumstances of life, look at it with hope, and be confident. In the church, we have the statement, “Lift up your head, for the king of glory is coming.” People can have all sorts of reasons why to keep their chin up. But nowhere else than in the church, can you truly know the peace of God, the nearness of Christ, the blessing of the Christian life, and the joy of following Him in a Christian congregation.
Look around…here you have people—a great group of people that God has brought together—people young and old—uniquely called. I hope that they bring you joy, like they do with me. They are people loved by God. Called from places near and far away. Long time Christians, and new ones alike. Take joy in them. In hearing their voices. In praising God together. In being in their presence.
In a moment, you are going to hear the hymn, “Joy to the World”. It was written by Isaac Watts in 1719, to proclaim God’s fulfillment of His promises in Jesus. Joy to the World, the Lord has come! Let heaven and nature sing. That’s you and me too! God is in charge! Joy to the world!
This Advent….This Christmas…and always, dear people, let joy be your guard. Let it protect you from the grumbling and the super glue of life, because the Lord has come. He is truly here!
God grant it…