Excerpted from My Soul Magnifies the Lord, an Advent Guide for Lectionary Year C from the North Carolina Council of Churches. This post contains the scripture passage, a brief commentary on the text, and a reflection on its application.
Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, Rejoice. Let your gentleness be known to everyone. The Lord is near. Do not worry about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known toGod. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.
Rejoice in the Lord always. These words of Paul are echoed over and over again throughout this letter to the Philippians, a letter he wrote exhorting the early Christians toward unity in the midst of the difficult and trying times in which they found themselves. Their home, the city of Philippi, was striving to become a miniature version of Rome; modeling its constitution, architecture, and even its coinage in the ways of the empire. I imagine for many of them they had begun to feel like strangers in their own homeland. How can they continue to have faith and rejoice in the Lord at all times when so much feels like it is going all wrong?
Paul’s message to the church is, do not worry. In a time when it would be easy and completely understandable to worry about a number of different things, Paul says, don’t. Do not worry—about anything. How are we to do that when our natural response is to allow ourselves to be overcome with fear by our current state of things? We’re instructed to pray. As one translation puts it: “to shape their worries into prayers.” Paul’s not suggesting that we huddle around together and wait for God to do something to change our current circumstances, but rather that we put some action into our supplications.
The opposite of fear is not courage. It is joy. Paul is telling us to replace our worry with joy, because as long as one exists, the other cannot. That’s not to say that we should turn our heads in blissful ignorance away from the darkness around us. But it is to say, if we allow our fear to overcome our joy we will lose the thing that sets us apart. Our joy puts us in a position of strength, because weak leaders are the ones who always resort to fear-mongering to maintain their power. That is not who we are called to be in this moment. Rejoice in the Lord, always.
~Andrew Hudgins, Program Associate for Operations
Joy is a very curious thing. We often think of joy and happiness as the same thing, and while they coexist, one encompasses the other. If we compare the official definitions of “happy” and “joy,” they both are described by words such as luck, good fortune, delight, and success. The key difference between the two is that “joy” is described as a state of happiness; hence, joy is the permanence of happiness.
The transformation of happiness to joy is halted by fear. Fear is often associated with concern, a relationship that contradicts the one between happiness and joy. Concern is described as something that causes trouble or distress. Fear creates apprehension and anxiety, shifting the focus to what appears to be a threat. Concern then turns to fear when a situation starts to feel dangerous and harmful. Fear then is the state of being that contradicts joy. The biggest difference here is that concern can be healthy and does not have to turn into fear. Concern is also described as healthy interest and engagement in a situation, a way of maintaining balance.
We have allowed fear to seep into our society and create a culture of “us v. them.” We are constantly surrounded by rhetoric that fears the “other.” This fear is especially prominent in regards to immigration. For years now, we have been referring to immigrants as “illegal aliens,” a dehumanizing term that objectifies individuals as unknown “things” rather than people. More recently, this fear has been highlighted through news of the migrant caravan. This caravan has been described as an “invasion” and nearly 5,000 troops have been sent to the border to “protect” our border from a group of people, mainly women and children, seeking asylum.
Fear can be counteracted when we open our hearts and share with one another. As God’s children we share experiences together, but feel them differently. This sharing begins to breakdown divisions and bring us closer as we begin to understand one another. This understanding opens a path to unity, and unity opens our hearts to joy. As Paul expresses in this scripture, this relationship between joy and unity is what allows us to truly embody the spirit of Christ.
~Lindsay Barth, Office Manager