Sermon from 12th Dec 2021 (Advent 3)

Philippians 4:4-7 (ESV)

Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, Rejoice. Let your reasonableness be known to everyone. The Lord is at hand; do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.

Dear heavenly Father, send your Holy Spirit on us so we may experience joy, contentment, and peace knowing you are near to us in the person of Jesus Christ. Amen.

Rejoice!

I’m going to say it again: Rejoice!

It sounds like St Paul is commanding us all to, you know: “Don’t worry, be happy!”

Well, that’s ok if you’ve got things to be happy about, but it could be there are many times you find it hard to be happy!

Maybe you’re not having a good day, a good week, or a good life. Things haven’t gone right. People are driving you up the wall. The constant Covid conversations and media reports are getting you down. Machinery, kitchen equipment, computers, phones, or other devices are breaking down or not working as they’re designed to. Old issues resurface that you thought you’d dealt with. You haven’t finished your Christmas shopping yet. The mail is slow. You feel overwhelmed by expectations. You’re struggling with injuries, sickness, or the problems of old age. Your holiday plans have had to change…again! You’re trying to make the right decision, but you don’t know what the right decision is, and this is stressing you out.

With so many things to worry about and stress over, it often seems our list of reasons not to rejoice is always longer than our reasons to rejoice!

This means the last thing you want to hear, especially from God, is: ‘Don’t worry, be happy!”

The fact is, you and I don’t, and can’t, rejoice in our circumstances all the time.

So then, if you’re being told to rejoice, what will truly make you happy? What needs to happen so you’ll you’re able to rejoice all the time like St Paul tells you to?

In other words, how would you finish this statement:

‘I will only be truly happy if…’ What? Or who? Or when?

How would you finish that statement?

Or let’s try another one:

‘I wouldn’t be so worried or anxious if…’ what were to take place?

Again, how would you finish it?

In other words, what do you need to happen so that you’ll always experience true joy and will never be so worried or anxious?

Thinking about the solutions to your happiness, how many of your answers about how you would rejoice and be less anxious all the time include something about your faith in God and trusting him in all circumstances?

Now, without trying to read your minds, I suspect many of your answers didn’t include looking to God alone, and how you might be happy or content to allow his will to be done in your life, even in the worst of circumstances.

Most likely, your answers may have instead revolved around you, and how you wish the world, or even God, would bend to your own will so that you would be happy.

Because we’re naturally selfish and self-seeking people, it shouldn’t surprise us we expect the only way we’re going to be truly happy, or so that we would no longer have so many worries, is when we get our own way! Getting our own way is a form of idolatry because it shows we want to be our own god.

But, if you were to look more carefully at what St Paul says (and I remind you that he wrote these words from prison), you’d see some very important words which are often missed.

St Paul says:

  • Rejoice in the Lord
  • You’re to show your reasonableness and gentleness because…the Lord is at hand
  • Don’t be anxious, but make your requests known to God
  • The peace of God…will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus

Another way to put it is, St Paul is reminding you that the only way you can truly rejoice at all times, be patient and gentle at all times, and have peace at all times, no matter your circumstances, is in the Lord!

But this is our problem. Even though we know this is what God says to us, it isn’t what we practice.

Instead of fearing, loving, and trusting God above all things (which would lead us to experience lasting joy and peace), we continue to put our faith in human solutions and earthly results which revolve around our selfish wills, even though none of these are guaranteed to last.

It seems then, the reason we don’t rejoice, the reason why we’re not reasonable with everyone, and the reason why we’re so anxious, is because we don’t always fear, love, and trust God will give us everything we need at the right time, even when facing troubles, heartache, and uncertainty.

Our unhappiness indicates we’re unhappy with God, and that we’ve chosen to place our trust in something or someone else apart from God, hoping these things, or these people, or these circumstances, will make us happy.

Yet, no matter our circumstances, we’re reminded our joy and peace and hope is to be based on the eternal promises of God because we can trust God’s love, his grace, his provision, and his faithfulness is still ours, and will remains ours, through faith.

This means our unfading joy is in him who doesn’t change, rather than on our feelings or possessions or health or anything else on this earth, which has a habit of changing, rusting, decaying, breaking down, or dying.

Now of course, you may reckon you won’t always have reasons to rejoice, after all, bad things happen. Some of them are your own fault, but some of them aren’t.

It’s hard to rejoice when you’re facing tough times. It’s hard to be happy when computers or machinery won’t work properly, or when the rains fall at inconvenient times, or when people betray or abandon you, or when you’re afraid or lonely, or when you’re injured or old, or when government responses to viruses threaten your health and freedom.

But St Paul isn’t telling you to rejoice in your circumstances. He’s telling you to rejoicein the Lordall the time.

He can say this because, no matter what you’re going through, your Lord and Saviour and Rescuer is near, after all, he’s promised to be with you always. Since the Lord is at your side, who can be against you? Since the Lord is your light and your salvation, whom should you fear?

He’s the one who strengthens you with his Spirit so you can endure testing times. He reassures you of his love by not abandoning you in your times of trouble. He washes you clean from abuse and defilement. He promises to take you to himself in heaven and make you whole again. He forgives you for all of your sins, so that nothing you’re experiencing is punishment. Instead, he uses all your times of trouble and heartache to teach you to trust him more fully so that you can rejoice in him and his holy gifts.

Even when you feel like giving up, he encourages you with his eternal words and feeds you with his own body and blood. He keeps reminding you to call on him and tell him all your needs through prayer.

You can’t ‘think’ your worries away through make-believe or positive thinking, but when you faithfully bring all your concerns before God in prayer, trusting he’ll truly answer you in surprising and wonderful ways, he swaps your troubles with his peace.

And notice it’s his peace he gives you, which is far better than any calmness you could ever achieve by your own reasoning, or by avoiding the issues you face, or by getting your own way.

It’s a peace knowing, no matter whatever is happening to you, you’re assured of his merciful presence to guard and guide and protect you. It’s a peace knowing your name is engraved on his hands. It’s a peace knowing he’s prepared a place for you where you’ll get to remain forever with him. It’s a peace knowing you’ve been reconciled with God himself though your faith in Jesus Christ. It’s a peace knowing he loves you because you’re precious to him – warts and faults and all.

Then, as all your worries are put into this spiritual perspective, God grants you his peace through faith in him, and his joy can start growing in your life again.

As your focus shifts away from what you’re missing out on (which threatens your joy), you instead meditate on all that God gives you, which is right, good, pure, holy, and pleasant. The more you meditate on God’s goodness and grace and promises to you, even in the midst of trouble and turmoil, you learn to rejoice that the Lord is always near.

Your Lord Jesus Christ is near and never abandons you or attacks you. He supplies all your needs for body and soul. He lifts you up when you’ve fallen. He gives you the strength to endure your times of trial and suffering. He promises to listen to your cries, answer your prayers, and give you his peace.

Therefore, you can rejoice, because you live with the dependable knowledge that your Lord and Saviour is always with you as your Immanuel. With God’s help, you can be gentle with all people. With the peace of God guarding your hearts and minds, you don’t need to fret or get overly stressed with anxiety. You can do this because you carry all your needs to God in prayer and thankfulness.

As you confront all the trials and temptations of this life, you can be sure Jesus is near, which brings you joy. Through the peace and forgiveness from Christ, you can be gentle with all people, including your enemies. Through prayer, all your anxiousness is taken away and your joy is now accompanied with thankfulness.

This is because the secure foundation for your joy is in the Lord Jesus Christ.

The reliable basis for dealing gently with all people, no matter how they treat you, is in the Lord Jesus Christ.

The dependable foundation and antidote for all your worry, is prayer in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ.

In fact, the steady foundation for your lasting peace is in the Lord Jesus Christ

And it’s this peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, which will guard our hearts and minds in the Lord Christ Jesus. Amen.