Shout for joy, O daughter Zion! Sing joyfully, O Israel! Be glad and exult with all your heart, O daughter Jerusalem! The Lord has removed the judgment against you. He has turned away your enemies; the King of Israel, the Lord, is in your midst, you have no further misfortune to fear. On that day, it shall be said to Jerusalem: Fear not, O Zion, be not discouraged! The Lord, your God, is in your midst, a mighty savior; he will rejoice over you with gladness, and renew you in his love, he will sing joyfully because of you, as one sings at festivals.(P) The word of the Lord.
God indeed is my savior; I am confident and unafraid. My strength and my courage is the Lord, and he has been my savior. With joy you will draw water at the fountain of salvation. (R)
Give thanks to the Lord, acclaim his name; among the nations make known his deeds, proclaim how exalted is his name. (R)
Sing praise to the Lord for his glorious achievement; let this be known throughout all the earth. Shout with exultation, O city of Zion, for great in your midst is the Holy One of Israel! (R)
Brothers and sisters: Rejoice in the Lord always. I shall say it again: rejoice! Your kindness should be known to all. The Lord is near: Have no anxiety at all, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, make your request known to God. Then the peace of God that surpasses all understanding will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.(P) The word of the Lord.
The crowds asked John the Baptist, "What should we do?" He said to them in reply. "Whoever has two cloaks should share with the persons who has none. And whoever has food should do likewise." Even tax collectors came to be baptized and they said to him, "Teacher, what should we do?" He answered them, "Stop collecting more than what is prescribed." Soldiers also asked him, "And what is it that we should do?" He told them, "Do not practice extortion, do not falsely accuse anyone, and be satisfied with your wages."
Now the people were filled with expectation and all were asking in their hearts whether John might be the Christ. John answered them all, saying, "I am baptizing you with water, but one mightier than I is coming. I am not worthy to loosen the thongs of his sandals. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire. His winnowing fan is in his hand to clear his threshing floor and to gather the wheat into his barn, but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire." Exhorting them in many other ways, he preached good news to the people.(P) The Gospel of the Lord.
Today we enter into the third week of Advent. Advent is a period of preparation for the celebration of the birth or the first coming of Jesus and also the return of the Lord or the second coming of Jesus. In His first coming, Jesus was born at Bethlehem just as the prophets had foretold. But the second coming of Jesus is interpreted differently by different people. Some people contend that Jesus will return at the end of the age to defeat evil and establish His reign of justice and peace. Others claim that Jesus will appear at the time of our death when we will see Him face to face. Some others hold that the second coming of Jesus could also mean the appearance of Jesus in our hour of need. However, since we know neither the day nor the hour of such coming we must be always prepared. But how can we prepare for the coming of Jesus?
Throughout his epistles, the Apostle Paul exhorts all Christians to prepare for the Lord's coming. For instance, on the first Sunday of Advent we read that Paul had urged the Thessalonians to increase and abound in love for one another, and walk in holiness unto the Lord. Last week in his letter to the Philippians from his prison cell in Rome, Paul went one step further and advised them to not only increase their love for one another but also grow in knowledge and discernment of others so that they could love others despite hurts, fears, disappointments and their own anxieties and hardships. Of course it is very hard to increase our love for others in adverse situations. But Paul's love and concern for others even while he was in prison proves that only intimacy with Jesus Christ can help us transcend even the darkest hour of our life and make us love others more and more.
In today's text of his letter to the Philippians, Paul speaks of Christian joy, as we await the coming of Jesus, even in times of affliction, distress and persecution. He says, "Rejoice in the Lord always. I shall say it again: rejoice", Philippians (4:4).
What does it mean to rejoice? The term "Rejoice" suggests not just happiness but also jubilation or joy. There is a difference between happiness and joy. For instance, if I ask, "Are you happy?" What would you say? Most often our answers would be like: I have a job, so I am happy. I am in good health, so I am happy. I won the lottery, so I am happy. It's my birthday, so I am happy. So, often our happiness is produced and sustained by events, things and experiences often involving moods, people, places, circumstances and material things. It can fluctuate greatly from day to day. Unlike happiness, joy will not change with circumstances.
Joy is a permanent result of one's faith and peace in God. In other words by practicing patience, love, compassion and forgiveness, a person can transcend all pain and suffering and move into a state of profoundly deep joy and peace all the time. For instance, Paul was able to be jubilant even in unusual circumstances. While in prison he felt lonely and abandoned yet he was joyful. It was Paul's faith in God that saw him through his trials and made him feel hopeful, peaceful and joyful. Paul's example is a great encouragement to all Christians. That's to say, it is possible to be joyful anytime, if we abide in Jesus Christ.
Paul then said, "Your kindness should be known to all." What does Paul want to say here? Some translations mention "forbearance" or "gentleness" instead of the word "kindness". It is believed that joy in the Lord makes a believer gentle, kind, gracious and generous to others. So Paul urged the Christians not only to be joyful in the Lord but also exercise and practice joy publicly, so that it might be seen and known to all, and God might be glorified, just as Jesus said, "It is by your love for one another, that everyone will recognize you as my disciples", John (13:35).
In all of this, Paul was deeply aware of the Christian followers' inadequacy and lack of trust in God. So in order to encourage and uplift them he said, "The Lord is near." It means either the Lord's coming is near or God is at hand. Since God knows all things; sees all things and He is everywhere all the time, it is believed that God will quickly come to our rescue especially when we are anxious, worried and feel defeated by our earthly circumstances.
He then exhorted them, "Have no anxiety at all."
"Have no anxiety at all" - is this really possible? How can one be so optimistic and say that bad things can never happen? Or how can one say he or she has no worries whatsoever? We are all human. We all could be anxious about health, finances, job, security, relationships, friends and families. From his letters to different communities we learn that Paul himself had endured many hardships few of us could conceive - beatings, shipwrecks, imprisonments, snakebites, bodily ailments and so on. Yet he encouraged the Philippians not to be anxious at all.
We should note that Paul does not say "do not worry" or to be careless, but encourages all believers to avoid excessive care that distracts their thoughts from the service of God, and hinder their growth in holiness. As a matter of fact, Saint Paul was echoing Jesus who said to his disciples at the Last Supper, "Do not let your hearts be troubled", John (14:1). And Jesus also knew that human anxiety stems from a lack of faith and from the wrong focus on the things of this world. So in his sermon on the mount, Matthew (6:27-33), Jesus instructed the disciples not to worry about their material needs because he said that God will take care of them just like He does with the lesser things - the birds of the air and the grass of the field. Both Jesus and Paul are not telling us to ignore reality but rather as Christians, we must learn to identify anxiety, and then learn to apply what God's Word says on how to handle it.
Paul further reminded the people what they should do instead. He said, "In everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, make your request known to God. Then the Peace of God that surpasses all understanding will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus." Paul always found strength in God. So he encouraged the Philippians to take all their concerns to the Lord in prayer but always with thanksgiving. That's to say, they were to not only seek material things but also remember gratefully the mercies they had received.
Let us then take Paul's advice and apply it to ourselves.
God Bless You!