It is ok to rejoice.  Really it is!

Philippians 4:4-7

December 13th & 14th, 2010


            At a conference in a Presbyterian church in Omaha. People were given helium filled balloons and told to release them at some point in the service when they felt like expressing the joy in their hearts.  Since they were Presbyterians (they could’ve just as well been Lutherans), they weren’t free to say “Hallelujah, Praise the Lord.” (at least they didn’t feel that way)   All through the service balloons ascended, but when it was over 1/3 of balloons were unreleased!       Paul writes “Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say Rejoice”.  It’s a pink candle week, and that means we move from “Preparation” to sheer joy of our Savior’s merciful presence.    While the primary component of the Divine Service (worship service) is to receive forgiveness life and salvation, there is always a “rejoicing” component as we gather together as Christians.   Our service regularly moves from forgiveness of sins, to hymns of praise (this is the feast), and we end with rejoicing in such songs as “Thank the Lord and sing his praise”.   While our faces, including your preachers may not always reflect it, the words sung make us down right Pentecostal.   This plea to rejoice is not just in the context of Christian fellowship, but the “always” encompasses the rest of life.  How is this possible? 

            The key here is not so much rejoice, as the phrase “in the Lord”.   Our Lord’s presence, and mercy is not momentary or occasional.   He says “Rejoice in the Lord Always, again I’ll say rejoice”.   You see we can’t speak of the word rejoice outside of the Lord.  This rejoicing is not merely bucking up and recognizing life is easier if we were happy rather than being sad.    It is not disengaging from life and placing some fake smile when frankly things just aren’t so hot.  Sort of like those laugh tracks on comedies which are piped in to help the audience “get the humor” (something I’ve noticed to be less and less common).  In other words this joy is realistic joy. “In this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while you may have had to suffer grief in all kinds of trials” (1 Peter 1:6).  In that same book Peter writes     “But rejoice that you participate in the sufferings of Christ, so that you may be overjoyed when his glory is revealed.”  In virtually every situation we find ourselves in, some connection can be made to Christ.  If we suffer, he has suffered on Calvary.  Through our God given faith we know that  no matter the trial, no matter the sin, no matter the hole we have dug ourselves into, or have found ourselves in, Christ is always there  there ahead of us.  He has been in that hole (tomb) and came out three days later.  So rejoice in the Lord. 

            Today’s candle on the advent wreath is sometimes referred to as the shepherds candle.  Remember when the angel appeared to the shepherds and said in the midst of their fear, “do not be afraid I bring you good news of Great joy that will be for all people.” Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you….. The pink candle is becoming more and more popular, but it has a unique origin. Long ago, the pope had the custom of giving someone a rose on the fourth Sunday in Lent. This led the Roman Catholic clergy to wear rose-colored vestments on that Sunday. The effect was to give some relief the solemnity of Lent, so this was a very popular custom. Originally—before shopping malls—Advent was a solemn fast in preparation for Christmas, so the custom was extended to the third Sunday in Advent to liven it up a little bit, too. Somewhere in there the third color of the Advent wreath turned pink. Meanwhile, Advent is no longer solemn, the pope no longer has the custom of giving out roses, and rose-colored vestments are no longer used in the Roman Catholic Church. 

            Our text says rejoice in the Lord always! Let your gentleness be evident to all because the Lord is near.  We know he is near in Jesus, in his Word, in his meal, and in the water and word of the cleansing flood of baptism.   Jesus mercy is near, but we also know that his second coming is near.    James 5:8 says “You too, be patient and stand firm, because the Lord’s coming is near.”  Even 1 Peter says “rejoice that you participate in the sufferings of Christ so that you may be overjoyed when his glory is revealed.”    The obvious theme is that rejoicing isn’t merely what God has done, and is doing, but it is what He will do.  Things will be made right.  He will come to judge the living and the dead.  This is good news.   

            We tend to be a little hesitant with joy, because we know that things can turn on a dime.  Our nature, my nature, is to not get to excited when things go well.   We “don’t want to press” our luck.   Or how about this?  Three good things happen and we are thinking we’ve had our allotment.  Two years of good crop yields is a bit much to ask for.   Luther once said that to have a God is to expect good things from him (Large Catechism, First Commandment).  Obviously we things can change on a dime, in our family, but Jesus is still the same. His love for us is still the same, and his work on Calvary doesn’t change should our life veer in another direction.   Remember we are not saying rejoice in our circumstances (though that may be there on occasion), but rather rejoice in the Lord.   There is a great verse from Habbakkuk which expresses this “Though the fig tree  does not bud and there are no grapes on the vines, through the olive crop fails and the fields produce no food, through there are no sheep in the pen and no cattle in the stalls, yet I will rejoice in the lord, I will be joyful in God my Savior.  (Habakkuk 3:17-18)

            There is a joyful crescendo when it comes to the Christmas accounts.  Zechariah, and Mary both pen songs of rejoicing at hearing the birth of their Savior.  The rejoicing comes down from heaven as the angels rejoice among the shepherds.  This rejoicing is now part of the life of the shepherds as they returned after hearing about and seeing the Savior in a manger.  Yet, this rejoicing doesn’t just come as a result of the King, this rejoicing comes from the king himself.  And guess who is the object of his singing?

            In our reading from Zephaniah it speaks about Christ’s love for his people.  I quote “The Lord your God is in your midst a mighty one who will save; he willrejjoice over you with glandess, he will quiet you by his love; he will exult over you with loud singing”.      Can you imagine, someone singing about you and your life?  Are you worthy of  this divine love song?   Not really, but Jesus is near, he is at hand, don’t be anxious about anything.  Come to him with prayer and thanksgiving, because Jesus has made a way for you and a way for me.    We rejoice in him, because amazingly he rejoices in us! 

             One preacher who preached on this text wrote that when he was a boy growing up on the South Side of Chicago, my friends and used to ride our bikes over to the house of Gospel singer Mahalia Jackson. She rode in a huge Cadillac limo, and he loved watching her step out of her house and into her car. She was something of a legend in our neighborhood. Recently I heard that Mahalia for many years was under pressure to become a blues singer. Instead, she stayed with her exuberant Gospel songs, saying that the authentic Christian note is joy or rejoicing.   She considered blues to be songs of despair, while Gospel songs she saw as songs of hope. Joy is the authentic Christian note. No wonder Paul encourages us to “rejoice in the Lord always.   Go ahead release your balloons. Go ahead, release your balloons.   Amen. [1]





[1]Eldon Weisheit, Homiletic Help!, (St. Louis, MO: Concordia Publishing House) 1998.