In days of old, thousands might gather as the king entered a city. They would crowd the roads, wave and shout. There were neck-craning moments of anticipation, then revelry and excitement at the royal pomp, and then perhaps celebration frothed over into party and feasting. Still today, thousands crowd the streets to see a beloved politician. Or, instead, hundreds gather at a TED Talk to hang on the expert’s every word about business or life or learning… These moments happen on a spectrum of course, from very lively events with flashing, LED screen backgrounds, and rockin’ entrance music to cheers, screams, and shouts — to the very opposite — events polite with applause and respectful adoration and quiet note-taking.
If you’ve ever attended anything like that, you might have gotten caught up in the excitement, but most likely you noted that this was just a special moment in time…right? It’s not every day the politician, the Insta-lebrity, the king comes. And how you behave in those passing moments…you know things aren’t always that way. Most often you’re staring at numbers on a screen or balancing a checkbook or awake with the fevered child when you ought to be sound asleep. Life isn’t meant to be a movable feast, the never-ending thrall, a constant royal entry… or is it?
At this beginning of a new Church Year, the entry place called Advent, St. Paul seems to be striking an unexpectedly revelrous tone. But it’s perfectly fitting because our seasonal theme calls us with congregants at Philippi and Christians throughout the ages to say, “Come, Lord Jesus…”; this morning particularly, as King. As we begin to look ahead to Jesus’ coming back at the End, anticipating it through the lens of his Christmas coming, we’ll let his Word settle our hearts and shape how we live for both. Today we say, Rejoice! The King Comes!
I don’t know about you, but I’m my experience “rejoice” is a special occasion word. So we should note this ever-revelrous tone that Paul is sounding. He said in v.4, “Rejoice in the Lord, always.” I suppose we could assume Paul was oblivious. But he’s keenly aware of life’s brokenness. Things like how Paul was writing to Philippi from prison; “in chains for Christ,” (1:13) he’d said. And even in the doing of Paul’s ministry, Epaphroditus – a helper sent to him – got sick and then was home-sick and got sent home. And even as Paul preached others were preaching out of rivalry or envy or to gather a following. And, of course, at Philippi like many other first century congregations, Paul warned of false teachers and disgusting errors. And Paul even mentions just one verse ahead of ours that, in Philippi, two otherwise consecrated ladies were at war with each other. I mean, there are unexpected circumstances, even the best laid plans fall apart, the most pure stuff still gets sullied, people argue – and all that even in the Church. Paul knows…
To give him credit… Perhaps that’s why Paul says it eight times in this short letter. Perhaps that’s why in v.4 he says it not just for one situation, but “always” – like in all those mentioned and the other ones that were scooting around your head that I didn’t say. Perhaps that’s why he even says it twice in one verse. Perhaps he thinks people who experience all these things need to remember this thing most? In fact, Paul’s determined about it. He said, “I will say it again,” almost as though he recognized he had to plan to say it everywhere and we’d need to decide to repeat it in our lives over and over again, week after week, month after month, year after year: we – will – say – “Rejoice!”
If that’s daunting or seemingly impossible, Paul backs it up with something eminently practical. In fact, it’s very grounded and relational. Your rejoicing is not in certain circumstances or when the market is high or if your dreams are realized, but rather: “in the Lord”. And that’s mostly relational but I think you could also think of it locational – like, when you’re sitting in the hospital room waiting for news or struggling through the treatment; when you’re looking at your 400th TPS report, or when you’re actually lost about what to do next in life… When it doesn’t seem like rejoice-time, it actually is because that’s not just where you are. In fact, even when it seems like rejoice-time because your crypto did go to the moon or you found the love of your life, that isn’t just where you are either. Those so very changeable things aren’t what drive your joy. Your rejoicing is “in the Lord” – because that’s where you are. By faith, you are happy in God himself because you trust in his promises to you – which say things that do not change even when everything else does. Your names are written in the King’s book of life (Luke 10:19-20). When he comes, you’re the people he loves, and won for himself at great cost. What blessings he has to bestow, to you they’ll go. And that’s what empowers Paul to tell you what to do.
So, for the practical? Paul gives you two actions that set up your rejoicing. The first is in v.5: “Let your gentleness be evident to all.” Now, you recognize the trouble immediately, yes? In your most recent “not rejoicing” moment, weren’t you tempted to put out there for people to hear or see your anger and arguing or despair and complaints? And in our “rejoice times” – temptations to “I told you so’s” and a little bit of preening or self-satisfaction? Well Paul says, “Replace it with gentleness…” You could drop in other words like big-heartedness – you’ll have room in your heart for others; or generosity & charitableness – assuming the best, filling others needs; or it could be meekness & humility – thinking not of yourself in your trouble or in your greatness, but of others first. Let that be evident to all…
Mmmm, but “How?” I suppose we could do like Instagram told me the other day – what to do when your wife comes home visibly annoyed – naturally, you tell her that such childish behavior is just not acceptable, that she should take a deep breath and count to 20 before saying anything else. Like many other things, surely that will work well… Notably, Paul doesn’t give any 10 step plan. He says the most natural thing for people who are to “Rejoice in the Lord”… He says, “The Lord is near…”
Did you ask yourself why, on this first Advent Sunday, we have that Palm Sunday Gospel reading? It’s for this: you know how I would have ridden into Jerusalem? With Thor’s hammer…there’d have been Pharisees flyin’ everywhere – that’s as much marvelous fantasy for me as those movies are. But for him, he could have entered with much more – angel armies, self-propagating gold-brick pathway, the mightiest heavenly horse, and clothed in flashing, radiant retina-searing light… But, he rode in on the foal of a donkey. And it was to praises, shouts of crowds, but he was “in very nature God” and had heard heaven’s angels sing, he is the Word who made their mouths, but he didn’t seize on to asserting his equality with God, his glory… No, he became your servant.
“The Lord is near!” The King comes! And he serves you by sacrificing himself in “death on a cross” so that all the other sinful words we make instead of rejoicing might be covered over by his blood and forgiven from God’s sight and replaced with the kind of joy King Jesus lived always. (2:5-8) In his forgiveness of your sins and his righteousness that you have received and the promise of his glory to be revealed, you have all the glory already, in a way that nothing here can change. The King lived, worked, died, and rose again just to give it to you. If that gentle King is near – in God’s sight his final arrival isn’t far / or by faith he actually lives in your hearts each day – then your “gentleness [can be] evident to all.” What could get in the way?
Well, one thing, maybe… It isn’t just that every positive thing is yours. Because, actually, you may have a number of anxieties still… So Paul also says in v.6 the other thing to do: “Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.”
It’s tempting to be anxious, sinfully worried because life is scary. But you have a vehicle for the fears, concerns, questions, desires. It’s prayer and petition. You don’t need to toss them plaintively to the world. Paul said, “Rejoice always…” because in every circumstance you can request what you need from God. There isn’t a time he isn’t there. There isn’t a thing he doesn’t hear. You’ve already received everything he has to give and he’s told you keep on asking for whatever… So that, could you really do other than ask, plead, petition, pray away – if you were worried about a thing? …but always in thanksgiving for all he’s done? You’ve been perfectly wrapped up in every reason to rejoice – that’s how God graciously works.
And so, then, in the most fitting way, Paul wraps things up. That “the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” Because he’s so powerful in his work, in Christ it’s like we reside in an impregnable fortress – there may be troubles, but there aren’t any worries – no one can sally forth and take from us what he has given. The peace he’s won is on us already, it secured us a place in God’s family, and stands like a guard at our hearts each day – so that the beating center of us and how we think and proceed is safe and secure.
I don’t know…I think Paul’s right: that’s all a recipe for one thing… The Lord is near…and he is our gentle Savior, self-sacrificing, giving, caring, humble — Rejoice! Because under his reign, our gentleness can shine out for others to see and consider — Rejoice! Because we know our anxieties and fears, our hopes and concerns – in prayers they can go up at any time to the one who always listens — Rejoice! Always! We will say it again, and again and again: “Rejoice!”