Joy in the Knowing
Rev. Kurt Lantz Advent 3 C Philippians 4:4-7
December 12, 2021 Resurrection Lutheran Church St. Catharines, ON
Dear saints with the Bishops and Deacons,
Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ (Philippians 1:1-2).
This is the Sunday of rejoicing in Advent. Gaudete is it’s Latin name. During the weeks of sober preparation for the coming of Christ we remember that there is even room to rejoice. In fact, St. Paul wrote to the Christians in Philippi, while he was in prison, “Rejoice in the Lord, always; again I will say rejoice” (Philippians 4:4). And perhaps that is the tie in with today’s Gospel reading wherein we heard Jesus’ response to the disciples John the Baptist had sent while he was in prison, to ask Jesus, “Are You the One who is to come, or should we look for another” (Luke 7:19). The reason that St. Paul gives for rejoicing is that “the Lord is at hand” (Philippians 4:5), and that is the same answer that Jesus gave to John’s disciples. There is joy in knowing that the Lord is at hand.
He was at hand while John was in prison. He was healing people of diseases, plagues, and evil spirits. He was giving sight to the blind. The lame walked. Lepers were cleansed. The deaf heard. The dead were raised. And the poor had the Gospel preached to them (Luke 7:21-22). It can be very joyous when Jesus is around. But it didn’t feel that way for John while he was in prison. He had to send his disciples to ask about Jesus’ coming.
There are a lot of times in our lives when we need to ask and when we need to hear the answer, “The Lord is at hand.” We get anxious about many things, yet if we knew that Lord was with us in those times, our anxiety would quickly melt away. When we feel like we are locked in a corner, that we have our back up against the wall and there are threats and enemies in our face, it is easy to feel all alone like there is no one to rescue us and that we have to defend ourselves and find our own means of escape.
There is a whole lot of tension and conflict in the world about whether or not people should be forced to get vaccinated against the COVID-19 virus. I have several friends and an extended family member who are extremely passionate on the subject. Their anxiety sometimes gets the better of them and they say things that lack compassion and understanding for those who disagree with their position. There were two people in the Philippian church to which Paul wrote who were at each other’s throats. These precious friends and family members need to find a way to work through their differences in order that the anxieties might give way to joy.
St. Paul was at peace in his prison when he wrote to the Philippians. He certainly wanted to be with them but he couldn’t. His life was certainly in danger but he did not fear. He could have been a very anxious and angry man about the whole situation. Perhaps he did have moments like that, like we do. But instead of lashing out, even as a means of defence against his accusers, he found enough joy to also counsel two members of the church to work out their differences and for the whole congregation to help them do it (Philippians 4:1-3).
How? “Rejoice in the Lord always; again I say Rejoice. Let your reasonableness be known to everyone. The Lord is at hand; do not be anxious 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 passes all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.”
Here is the key to your rejoicing, the key to finding joy in your prison, the key to overcoming the anxiety that leads to tension and conflict, the key to rejoice always, the key to being reasonable or gentle with all people even when you are backed into a corner. It is the key to knowing that the Lord is near.
“Let your reasonableness be known to everyone... [and] Let your requests be made known to God.” And something that is beyond knowing will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Paul let his reasonableness be known to everyone through his deportment while in prison and through the letters that he wrote to the Christian churches throughout the world. John the Baptist let his requests be made known to God by sending his disciples to Jesus to ask “Are you the coming One?”
Those are two things that we can do by the work of the Holy Spirit within us as we recognize the Advent message that “the Lord is at hand.” He is near. He has come to heal us; to open our eyes to see by faith what cannot be seen with sight. He is near. He comes to strengthen our weak knees so that we can stand with firm confidence in His power to deliver and save. He is near to cleanse us from the leprosy of sin. He is near to raise us and all the dead. He is near and we poor sinners have heard it in the preaching of the Gospel.
Rejoice. He has come to forgive your sins so that all of His gifts might abound in you already in this life, already while you are still in prison, already as enemies stand before you, already as death is at the door. Do not be anxious. The Lord is at hand.
This is the One who was at hand to give Himself into suffering and death on the cross to free you from all of your sins. The unreasonable way you have acted in the face of threat and before enemies and while backed into a corner, that is all forgiven in Jesus, who came and who is the coming One and who is at hand. His death and resurrection have put to death your old sinful man and given new life for you to live in peace and gentleness.
You have peace with God in the forgiveness of sins that is yours in Christ Jesus. That allows you to act peaceably and gently and reasonably toward everyone, even if it should be from a prison (actual or metaphorical). And when you are having trouble doing that, you can let your requests be made known to God, as John the Baptist did. And God will remind you that the Lord is at hand through the preaching of the Gospel, that the Lord is in hand in the bread that is His body given for you. Just look there and see the coming One.
Our dear sister in Christ, Joyce Misener, has gone to be with the Lord after a month and a half dealing with the pain of a broken back and the knowledge that death was closing in on her. Like any of us would, she had to ask and was glad to hear the answer: “The Lord is at hand.” And she found comfort in the Lord’s coming to her in absolution, in the proclamation of His Word, in His body and blood, in remembrance of the promises He made to her at Baptism and was keeping even while she was in the prison of suffering and death. We need to hear over and over again, “The Lord is at hand.”
One of the hymns that I sang to Joyce repeatedly in the last few weeks is the Hymn of the Day for next Sunday, “O Come, O Come, Emmanuel.” Like many Advent and also Christmas hymns, it reminds us that Jesus is coming to rescue us, to save us, to give us life, and eternal joy.
As if speaking to John the Baptist in prison:
O come, O come, Emmanuel And ransom captive Israel That mourns in lonely exile here Until the Son of God appear.
Speaking to Joyce and all who are facing death:
O come, Thou Branch of Jesse’s tree, Free them from Satan’s tyranny That trust Thy mighty pow’r to save, And give them vict’ry o’er the grave.
O come, Thou Key of David, come, And open wide our heav’nly home; Make safe the way that leads on high, And close the path to misery.
O come, Thou Dayspring from on high, And cheer us by Thy drawing nigh; Disperse the gloomy clouds of night, And death’s dark shadows put to flight.
As if speaking to the quarrelling members of the church in Philippi and to all who are embroiled in conflict:
O come, Desire of nations, bind In one the hearts of all mankind; Bid Thou our sad divisions cease, And be Thyself our King of Peace.
The refrain throughout, for all those who let these requests be made known to God:
Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel Shall come to Thee, O Israel! (Lutheran Service Book, 357)
This is why we have room to rejoice in the sober season of Advent. As Zephaniah prophesied to God’s people in Jerusalem, “Sing aloud, O daughter of Zion; shout, O Israel! Rejoice and exult with all your heart, O daughter of Jerusalem! [that is you, His Church] Fear not, O Zion; let not your hands grow weak. The LORD your God is in your midst, a mighty one who will save; He will rejoice over you with gladness; He will quiet you by His love; He will exult over you with loud singing” (Zephaniah 3:14, 16-17).
The Lord rejoices over you this Advent Season because He is coming to you. Rejoice with Him knowing that He brings to you a peace that is beyond all understanding; the peace of sins forgiven; the peace of rescue from all enemies; the peace of deliverance from every prison. It all comes with His coming and He is at hand. With that peace guarding your hearts, there is room to rejoice.
The grace of the Lord Jesus be with your spirit (Philippians 4:23).