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Meditations for Advent: 4. Moving Toward Joy

In a normal year, on Christmas Day, 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. This year has not been normal, and I have struggled to find joy. Thankfully, as we have drawn closer to Christmas, I have found the quiet joys of preparation—cooking, decorating, wrapping gifts—joyous. I have been flooded with joyous memories of Christmases past, and the hope of a vaccine in the New Year fills me with joy as well. Never have I been so glad that I am over 75. When I originally wrote this meditations in 2017, I could have never envisioned a year like this.

I hope you have moved toward joy in recent weeks. That was my goal in 2017—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. It is simply harder to claim them in such difficult time, but we need these reminders more than ever.

  • 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.[1]

Hallelujah! Amen.

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…and he would want us to know that now.

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. In our grief and anger and discouragment, we need these same attributes:

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 and to find joy in the midst of adversity. 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.


Resources for additional Scripture study:

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Author’s notes:

Since June I have had the privilege of writing monthly opinion pieces for Baptist News Global, a national moderate Baptist news service. You may read my essays here.

Portions of these meditations are adapted from my memoir, RECLAIMING JOY: A Primer for Widows, published by 1845 Books, an imprint of the Baylor University Press, in 2018. To learn more about the book or to order a copy for yourself or a friend, click here.


[1] All quoted Scripture passages are from Philippians 4, New Revised Standard Version.