11.27.22 [Philippians 4:4-7] River of Life (1st Sunday of Advent)
May the God of peace be with you in his abundance. Amen.
I can’t say I’ve ever paid attention to life or home organizational trends. I hope you can get past your surprise. I know there are magazines dedicated to the topic. I see them at the grocery store checkout line. I know there are also websites and influential voices who set trends for these things, too. I see their names attached to home decor and organizational things at the big box stores and I quickly forget them. Point is: it takes a lot for anyone in the home organizational world to make a ripple in my world.
But about seven years, Marie Kondo did just that. In 2014, her book The Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up was translated from Japanese into English. Almost instantly, it became an international bestseller. A few years later, that method became a Netflix show.
Her approach encouraged people to set aside time for a "tidying festival" so that they could put their homes in order and begin to enjoy their ideal lives. How? A single simple question. That's Marie Kondo’s secret sauce. Does this spark joy? She encouraged her readers to pick up each item and quietly ask themselves: Does this spark joy?
If not, she encouraged you to give it a special send-off and try to give it to someone for whom it might spark joy. If it does spark joy for you, she directed you to designate a place in your home for it.
Kondo’s simple method resonated deeply within our culture. Most of us would say we have too much stuff. We also love the idea of carefully curating everything that we see and use in our lives. One man’s trash is another man’s treasure. Kondo recognized that joy is something that is intensely personal & powerful. We love feeling joyful. But what makes us joyful may not make anyone else feel that way.
Kondo’s method is a helpful guide when it comes to getting your house decluttered, but it's a really poor way for understanding or finding joy. Imagine if that’s how we made decisions about what went on our dinner plates or into our daily schedules. For a few meals, we could probably get away with eating this way. But much longer than that and we’d be seeing and feeling things that weren’t very enjoyable. If we only met with people or went to places that sparked joy, how many of us would still be employed, or follow up on medical matters, or have our finances in order, or be raising kids the right way?
Only doing things that spark joy is a foolish and immature way to live. It’s how we thought adulthood was going to be when we were kids. Now we know better. Being a grown up isn’t about doing whatever you want whenever you want anymore than being a kid was.
Perhaps that dose of reality makes you think it is impossible and maybe even foolish to even try to be joyful all the time. And then we get this word from the Lord through his Apostle Paul. (Php. 4:4) Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice! How can Paul even think this is possible for people in this world? Yes, we know that we have received many blessings from the Lord in this life. But how can we rejoice in the Lord always when wickedness runs rampant?
How can we rejoice in the Lord always when it seems like our culture is marching away from God’s Word and headlong into condemnation? How can we rejoice in the Lord always when it seems like wicked people are always getting their way? How can we rejoice in the Lord always when it seems like every day we are hearing about the horrible effects of sin on this world and the people we love?
How can we rejoice in the Lord always when our bodies are breaking down and no longer able to do the things they once were? How can we rejoice in the Lord always when we see some of our loved ones die and others wandering away from the church? How can we rejoice in the Lord always when we know how much we struggle against our own sinful flesh? How can we be expected to rejoice in the Lord always?
It’s important for us to know that the troubles we see in our culture, in our world, and in our own lives, would not be unfamiliar to Paul and the Philippians. It wasn’t any easier or any more natural to rejoice in the Lord always in that day and age than it is in ours. They, too, had many reasons to be (Php. 4:6) anxious. There were forces that threatened their (Php. 4:7) hearts and minds. That’s why Paul had to tell them again: (Php. 4:4) Rejoice!
But for every command in God’s Word, there is a corresponding activity or achievement of God. God doesn’t simply tell us to rejoice and leave it at that. He tells us why we can rejoice, instead of being anxious. He shows us why we can rejoice even when we don’t understand what’s happening or why. He tells us why we can rejoice even when we feel like we are getting pushed around and feel the need to stop being mister nice guy and finally fight fire with fire. We rejoice in the Lord because 1) he is (Php. 4:5) near us, because 2) he keeps all his promises, and because 3) he (Php. 4:7) guards and keeps us.
We can rejoice in the Lord because he is near us. Why did he come near? God did not take on flesh & blood because this world was such a joyful or wonderful place. This world is horrible and wicked, deplorable and depraved, shameful and destructive. God knows that better than any of us. Yet, God was moved to dwell in the midst of our mess.
Out of the abundance of our Lord’s mercies, God came in peace and gentleness, as the answer to the best of mankind’s prayers, as a baby boy, born to humble parents and birthed in a humble setting. Yet, his birth stirred up rejoicing. Heaven burst forth in praise as the angels proclaimed: (Lk. 2:14) Glory to God in the highest and on earth peace to men on whom God’s favor rests. Earth was moved to rejoice, too! When the shepherds arrived at the stable and saw that everything was just as they had been told, they (Lk. 2:20) returned glorifying and praising God.
God spent more than 30 years living in a world with struggles and hardships he never wanted for his creation. The Lord came near and saw the devastation of sin upon his creation. He knew how things were supposed to be in this world. (Jn. 2:25) He knew what was in every person he saw. But that insight led him to rebuke sin, instead of complain about its ramiﬁcations. Things were not the way they should be, but he still found reasons to rejoice.
Jesus lived a life that was anointed (Ps. 45:7) with the oil of joy. Jesus rejoiced whenever a sick person was healed. He rejoiced when a sinner was brought to repentance. He rejoiced when a Roman centurion, a Canaanite woman, or his disciples made excellent and praiseworthy confessions of faith. He rejoiced that God had revealed his plan of salvation to little children. He rejoiced when he saw Mary’s love which moved her to anoint his feet with expensive perfume. He rejoiced as he heard the praise of the crowds on Palm Sunday.
He rejoiced because in all these cases, he saw the effect of God’s love upon lost sinners. Jesus was so joyful in the advancement of God’s kingdom that it confused his enemies. They were baffled that he would spend so much time with those who were considered to be beneath a Rabbi. So they called him (Mt. 11:19) a glutton and a drunkard—not because Jesus ate or drank too much, but because they saw him rubbing shoulders with notorious sinners. Jesus spent time with sinners because this is precisely who he came for. This is why the Psalmist says (Ps. 34:18 ) The Lord is close to the brokenhearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit.
We rejoice because we know what our Lord has come near us to do. John 3:17 God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him. Luke 19:10 the Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost.
We see Jesus fulfilling that calling in our Gospel text for today, don’t we? As he approached the city of Jerusalem on Palm Sunday, Jesus was very near the crowds. He wasn’t riding on a stallion, but on a donkey. He wasn’t looking down at the people, but eye-to-eye. As they cried out: (Mt. 21:9) Hosanna in the highest! the Lord, who had come down to earth from on high, was in the process of saving them by his own suffering and death. And even though the crowds likely had a mistaken understanding of what kind of saving Jesus was going to do, he didn’t abstain from his saving work until they got it right. He redeemed them—and us!—long before they recognized what they needed redeeming from. Jesus did this work because this is what he promised to do. We rejoice today, because we know the Lord keeps all his promises.
Jesus did not just come into this world to be celebrated for a little bit. He came to be lifted up on a cross in our place. He came to taste death so that we would not have to be anxious or afraid of the grave. He came to triumph over the sin, death, and the devil so that our bodies and souls, our hearts and minds could be guarded by the transcendent peace of God.
We do not rejoice because we have found or rediscovered some thing that sparks joy within us for a little while. We rejoice always because the Lord who saves us has come near, he has kept and is keeping all his promises and he remains near to guard our hearts and minds. In fact, rejoicing always is a mark of deep spiritual maturity. We are (1 Pt. 1:5) shielded by God’s power. Yes, there are times when we suffer grief, we face tests & trials as God refines us. But the Lord is near even when the way is drear. He is here with us as we gather together in his name. He is with us every time we study his living & enduring Word. We receive him with joy every time we gather around his table. We rejoice because we know him and his joy. We love him because he loved us first. (1 Pt. 1:8) We believe in him and are filled with an inexpressible and glorious joy. We are filled with joy because he is near & has promised: (Heb. 13:6) Never will I leave you. Never will I forsake you and (Mt. 28:20) I am with you always, even to the end of the age. God is near so we have nothing to fear and every reason to rejoice. Amen.