This year, our extended family is traveling to Indiana to spend time with us during the holidays. It is been 12 years since Christy’s sister has been to our home. It’s nice to avoid packing up and traveling south; but now we have to get the house ready for company. Maybe it’s not a big deal for you, but for my wife, everything has to be perfect. While I’m doing my best to dissuade her from major projects, she will do a bit of house-transformation before the company arrives. Last week, I found myself drawing out 3 foot letters for our mantle; Christy got the idea from Pinterest. She covered the wooden letters in gift wrap. I have to admit, they look pretty cool. The three letters spell out a common Christmas word; J-O-Y. We see this word plastered on billboards, coffee mugs and storefront displays throughout the season. But what does it mean?
It seems there is some confusion about the word joy. Most equate it with happiness. But the word is much deeper. Happiness has to do with our circumstances. If your job is going well, relationships are strong, life is generally good, you might say that you are happy. But joy is has different roots; joy does not depend on our circumstances. The Scriptures instruct us to have joy; they use the word rejoice. In our text this week, Paul emphasizes this word. He says,
(Philippians 4:4 NIV) Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice!
He doesn’t say it once; he says it twice. Imagine Paul dictating this letter. He tells his scribe, “rejoice in the Lord always” . . . “Let me make myself clear, I will say it again, rejoice!” Why does Paul say it twice? Why does he seem so emphatic? You see, to rejoice is independent of our circumstances. Paul is writing this letter from prison. He is awaiting a trial that may result in his death. It is in this context that he is able to instruct the church at Philippi. Their joy is to be rooted in God. As we study the context, we learn that the church in Philippi will experience intense persecution in the years to come. They will experience not-so-happy circumstances. Nevertheless, Paul encourages them to be joyful.
Paul instructs the believers in Philippi to refocus their attention to God’s work in them. He challenges them to place their current anxieties at the feet of God; God will then exchange their worries for immeasurable peace. As we consider this text, we find this no easy task. Is it possible to trade our anxiety for God’s peace? As we gather this week, may God empower us to refocus in this way. May God give us the strength to rejoice, even when life is not happy. May we learn to live in Paul’s posture, depending on God in all things, and all circumstances.