Meditations for Advent: 4. Moving Toward Joy
On this fourth Sunday of Advent, as people around the world celebrate the birth of Jesus, our destination—JOY!—is in view. We can see the top of the mountain we have climbed. Looking back, we can see how far we’ve come.
At least I hope you have moved toward joy these past weeks. That has been my goal—to share my roadmap from loss to joy with you. And for me, the Apostle Paul’s letter to the Philippians is the roadmap. Today, we reach chapter 4, which I consider a Hallelujah Chorus moment. I can’t pick a single verse to summarize the theme, because the chapter is rich with memorable passages.
- Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, Rejoice.
- Do not worry about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.
- Whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is pleasing, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence and if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things. Keep on doing the things that you have learned and received and heard and seen in me, and the God of peace will be with you.
- I have learned to be content with whatever I have.
- I can do all things through him who strengthens me.
- And my God will fully satisfy every need of your according to his riches in glory in Christ Jesus.
- The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ be with your spirit.
So—in 21st century layman’s language—what does that mean for us?
Developing the maturity and wisdom to get to this place in the journey is difficult. Paul’s letter to the Philippian congregation is both a thank-you note for their continuing support and prayers and an admonition to seek unity within the community. He wants them to know that they can have joy in spite of adversity and opposition.
In last week’s Meditations, Paul offered a series of contrasting positive and negative role models, as he taught them how they should live. Now he is more direct. He urges the Philippians to stand firm together, calling out the two feuding women and asking members of the community to work together with them to heal the divisions. And he tells them how:
Be gentle and forbearing. Don’t worry. Instead, pray with gratitude. If you do that, you will have the peace of God that passes human understanding.
Have the right mindset. Fill your mind with what is true, honorable, just, pure, pleasing, commendable, excellent and worthy of praise. Furthermore, don’t just think about what is worthy and excellent. Keep on doing all you’ve been taught. Keep on emulating worthy, positive role models. Again the promise: If you do this, you will have the peace of God.
Next, in thanking them for all they have done for him, Paul assures the Philippians that he has plenty; he has learned to be content regardless of his circumstances. Not in his own strength, but through Christ, he is able to do all that he needs to do. Because of their generosity, he makes another promise: God will fully satisfy all your needs. Through Him you will have an abundant life, and the grace of God will be with you.
I wish for you this Season an abundant life, filled with the grace and peace of God. We started this Season with God’s grace to enable us to seek unity in all our relationships. We explored ways to nurture those relationships and to heal divisions. We have seen the importance of gratitude that overflows in generosity. Now, we simply need to keep on doing all we have learned.
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We don’t know the end of the story. Did the two women quit their fighting? Were they reconciled? We need a sequel. Paul expressed the confidence that with sufficient maturity and wisdom, the Philippians would all know the will of God and they would be unified. But what if each woman was convinced that she knew the will of God and the other one didn’t? I’m right and you’re wrong. Or if one of the women was one of those “false dogs” Paul described, simply wanting to protect and promote her own interests?
What do we do when the other party in a broken relationship is uninterested in reconciliation?
I’d love to hear your thoughts. Let’s explore this in more depth in the New Year.
 All quoted Scripture passages are from Philippians 4, New Revised Standard Version.