The Third Sunday of Advent (Year C)

“In All Things Rejoice and Pray.”

Rejoice… and again I will say Rejoice!

While we were in Divinity School, Eric and I went to Kenya for 6 weeks. 

We stayed with an incredible Kenyan couple Alfred and Flo who had two young children at the time, Ebe and Karen. I will never forget their children running through their house and yard shouting, Philippians 4:4 “Rejoice and again I say Rejoice!” They were so excited and so full of glee every time they shared the passage. 

Paul tells us today to “Rejoice.” He is perhaps so excited about it like Ebe and Karen or perhaps so adamant about the importance of rejoicing  that he repeats himself… “again I will say, Rejoice!” 

Then Paul goes on to write one of my favorite passages in scripture. I love it so much I found a lullaby with the passage after Jonah was born  and would often sing it to Jonah.

Play lullaby

Rejoice.    Do not worry about anything.    Instead pray about everything. 

Surely at the time Paul was writing they did not have the same worries that we have. 

They did not have to contend with the demands of modern life in a fast paced future. They did not have a global pandemic.

They just had to contend with ruthless dictators that would kill at will, leprosy, a highly contagious disease for which there was no cure and no hospital heroes. Food was not readily available. They did not have any drive throughs or food pantries.

I can just hear the Philippians responding to this letter. So Paul when my kids are hungry and I have no food to give them or my next door neighbor was just sent off to a leper colony, I should just not worry about anything.  

Exactly, Paul says, do not worry about anything… instead in all things, rejoice and pray.

When we do not worry when we take time to rejoice and pray no matter what is going on around us…  

Then the peace of God which surpasses all understanding will guard our heats and minds. 

Don’t we all want the peace of God to guard our hearts? In this busy, striving, materialistic, image-centric, virus infected world don’t we all want that peace? 

Most of us want that peace, but when life is hard we find it hard to rejoice, our news and our minds focus on the negative. Sometimes it doesn’t matter how busy or quiet our lives are, we always find something to worry about. And while we may pray quite a bit, we do not pray about everything because so many of us do not ever pray for ourselves. 

We all want the peace of God, but we do not do the things that would helps us stand in the peace of God. We do the exact opposite. We dwell on the negative. We worry. We do not pray for our needs and then we wonder why we lack peace.

So how do we rejoice? How do we let go of worry? How do we pray?

Eric and I are listening to the book Cherish written by Pastor Gary Thomas. He talks about looking at your partner as your Adam or your Eve, the only one in the world. He talks about a husband who looks across a room at his wife and is filled with joy just looking at her as the sun comes through the window and when she notices his joy it brings a smile to her face. He speaks of a wife who celebrates the man she married rather than comparing him to all of her friend’s husbands who seem so handy or so extroverted or so slim. This book is about and for married couples, but the principle can be applied to our children, our communities, and the world around us.

Rejoicing in all things means looking at our relationships and the world with fresh eyes. It means fighting to see the good and delighting in the good. 

I recently met a patient who said smiling, “you know.. so much good that has come from this cancer. I used to be on the treadmill of life, but cancer has allowed me to slow down and put up the Christmas decorations a little at a time. I’m not as rushed so I have the time to appreciate each thing I set out. Cancer, crazy enough, has been really a blessing.” 

This woman has every reason not to rejoice and yet she does. 

Paul says, Rejoice in all things. And again I say Rejoice.

Do not worry about anything. 

I recently finished a book by Michael Singer, an American Buddhist, who invites the reader to notice the voice in our minds – how it is usually very negative and sometimes doesn’t even agree with itself. He talks abut that voice in our minds that says, “Why did I drink that espresso after dinner? Everyone was having an espresso. It sounded good and it was… but it was so stupid… now I can’t sleep and tomorrow I have to work and if I can’t sleep everything will be ruined. I’m such an idiot. Why can’t I ever just say no to indulgences.. but indulgences are the spice of life.” Singer encourages us to notice that inner voice that doubts and shames and criticizes and argues both sides. Singer says if that inner voice were a person standing next to you, you would probably think that person was crazy. That inner is not who you are. You are not the worry or the doubt or the shame. There is a soul deeper than all that worry and criticism. So Paul says, just shut that horrid inner voice off. Do not allow yourself to worry. 

Rejoice in all things. Do not worry about any little or big thing.

Paul goes on to say, and this is the key… “in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God.”

The lullaby translates this so beautifully,  Pray about everything. Tell God what you need and thank Him for all he has done. 

I have a patient who keeps a gratitude journal. He writes down three new things that he is thankful for every day. We have started a gratitude journal at dinner time in our family and for advent we are picking our names out of a hat each night and saying what we are thankful for in the person whose name we drew even if it is ourselves. Thank God for all He has done. There is literally always something to be thankful for… sometimes you just have to fight to see it. 

In all things, pray and when you pray Thank God. You can always thank God for something.

And when you pray tell God what you need. Paul says “let your requests be made known to God.”

Do you pray for yourself? If you lack peace in any part of your life, pray. If you lack peace in your relationships, your health, your finances. If you lack peace because of  covid, racism, politics, the news, pray. Let your requests be made known to God. Pray for your needs. Share your worries with the Lord. Ask God for what you need. Where are you lacking, let your requests be made known to God.

Then Paul explains, when you rejoice, when you stop worrying, and when you pray in all things thanking God and asking for what you need, then the peace of God will guard your hearts and your minds. 

This does not mean that you stop working on your relationships or your health or your finances.  It means that when you dive into social justice work or turn on the news, your heart and your mind is surrounded, shielded and guarded by the peace of God. When you rejoice, let go of worry, thank God and ask God for what you need, then the peace of God becomes like a fortress around your heart. 

If the sea of life begins to get choppy and the waves seem to be crashing against you, you are steady because you are shielded from the changing winds of life. Your heart is protected and guarded by the peace of God. You are not swayed by the changes and chances of this life, you are grounded in the love and peace of God. 

So in the season, if you are searching for peace, I encourage you to rejoice no matter what comes up. Find something to delight in, in your relationships, in the world. Notice the worrying inner voice and notice that the worrying voice is not who you are. It is separate, other than you and let go of the worrying inner critic. And most importantly  pray about absolutely every little and big thing that upsets and distresses you. 

And then notice how the peace of God pours over your head and flows through to your heart and your soul.  The love and peace of God is real. 

So friends, rejoice! And again I say Rejoice! In all things.