Monday, December 17, 2012

Rejoice in the Lord, Always

December 16, 2012
Advent 3
Fr. Philip D Eberhart

 
Rejoice in the Lord!

Zephaniah 3:14-20
Canticle 9
Philippians 4:4-7
Luke 3:7-18

Everyone, I think, comes to a place in their spiritual lives, where God allows our circumstances to overwhelm us.  We are kind of like someone who has fallen over a cliff and at the last second grabbed hold of a clump of grass at the cliff’s edge.  We call for help and a voice comes, “I’m here!”  “Thank you, Lord!” We reply.  “Please pull me up!” we ask. And the answer comes, “Trust me … let go!”

Now I don’t know about you, but my first response is “Is anyone else up there?”

It seems that every conversation, every reading, every circumstance this past week has contributed in some way to the formation of this message in me.

Our passages of scripture this week take us on a quest toward a view of how God views us in Zephaniah, the promises he makes regarding his people, and how we are to respond to both Him and to the circumstance of our lives that God continues to allow and use!

Our key word in the readings is Rejoice!  Rejoice and Sing praises!  And in our Gospel the message of Repentance, from John the Baptizer.  Repentance and Rejoicing. 

But how do these two things go together?  Repentance and Rejoicing??  I’m reminded of the title of a book I read one time by Mother Basilea Schink.  Repentance: The Joy-filled Life”  Mother Basilea is the founder of the Evangelical Sisterhood of Mary, a Lutheran order that rose up in Germany, after the second world war, with the express mission of repenting for the atrocities of the Nazi’s against mankind, and particularly the Jews.

For Paul in his letter to the church at Philippi is very clear and directive, even on the heals of his expressed concern in the first three verses of this chapter about a dispute that has arisen between two women in the church, Paul is clear that they are to rejoice in the Lord.  He says it twice for emphasis, even emphasizing that He saying it twice.  So this is not just a command, it is a double double.  

Rejoice!  Let me say it again, Rejoice and for emphasis let me point out that I’m saying it again!  I want you to get this!  This is really, really, really, really … important.

Now what would you guess “always” means?    *always!*   It’s kind of like all!  All means ALL!  ALWAYS means ALWAYS!  In other words there is no circumstance out there that will push the delete button on this verse!

But Lord, do you know MY set of circumstances?  Do you know how bad it is?  Do you know what I’m going through here?  We’ve all said these words to God.  “Look at this mess!  God – how could you??”

After the Connecticut shootings this week, someone mentioned a friend, who asked the question again – If God is love and God is God, how can things like this be?

What is the meaning of our suffering in our world?  In our lives?  In MY LIFE?

Lord, WHY?  And there is silence.  But if we listen in the silence, we will hear or know without hearing a truth:  The Lord is Near. 

The Lord is Near!

Zephaniah and Isaiah both this morning let us know that this is the reality for God’s people.

The king of Israel, the LORD, is in your midst;
you shall fear disaster no more.
On that day it shall be said to Jerusalem:
Do not fear, O Zion;
do not let your hands grow weak.
The LORD, your God, is in your midst,
a warrior who gives victory;

 
Cry aloud, inhabitants of Zion, ring out your joy, *
for the great one in the midst of you is the Holy One of Israel.
 

The Lord is Near!  Do not worry about anything.  Be Anxious for nothing.
 
This is the same thing that Jesus said on the mountainside.  “How is it that by worrying you can add a single hour to your life?”   Jesus says that this is fruitless activity.  Worry is based on fear. Fear is the opposite of faith, and fear is cast out by perfect love.

The witness of scripture is unanimous here.  Worry is not a good and godly thing.  It steals, and kills and destroys faith.  And all of us do it!  All the time. 

So what is the alternative to worry?

If you don’t have this set of verses memorized, then I have an assignment for you.  Take your pen and circle the reading from Philippians this morning.  Tear it out and chew on it until it becomes a part of you.

This is a prescription and remedy for worry!

 
1.  Rejoice because the Lord is near!

             I’ve been talking about and looking at Gideon this week.  The angel came to Gideon when Gideon was a nothing – a big fat zero.  He self described as being the lowest of the lowest of the low in Israel.  But the first words that the messenger angel spoke to Gideon were, “God is with you / The Lord is with you, O mighty man of valor.”

Gideon’s response was a little like Noah’s;   RIGHT!

If God is with us, then why has all this happened to us?

We look around at our circumstance, when the messenger is calling us to look at whom?

The Lord!

When times are bad two things can fill our vision:   The problem or the solution.  And if all we can see is the problem then the answer is to begin praying and praising God that He is the answer.
 

2.  Focus in Praise and in Prayer!

            We must recall the times when we have seen God act, in our own past and in the history of God’s action with His people.  Gideon, asked the messenger, “Where are all his wonderful deeds that our fathers told us about?”

            Did you know that for many of us, Gideon included the favorite form of prayer we use is “whining?”  Anyone?  Have you ever had a child around who has a habit of whining to get their way?  How does that work for them?  If it’s working for them, then the problem isn’t with them, its with you as a parent!  And God is a perfect parent!

This is why the command to Rejoice is way UP FRONT!  And we rejoice not in our circumstances, but in the “hope of glory.”  Paul says it best, in his second letter to the church in Corinth – talking about all the bad things that happened to him as he was being obedient to God’s call to go and preach the gospel to the Gentiles: 

 

“We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not despairing; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed;…

All this is for you, Corinthians, so that the grace which is spreading to more and more people may cause the giving of thanks to abound to the glory of God.

Therefore we do not lose heart, but though our outer man is decaying, yet our inner man is being renewed day by day.  For momentary, light affliction is producing for us an eternal weight of glory far beyond all comparison.  So we look not at things that are seen, but at things that are unseen!  Things that are seen are temporary; things that are unseen are eternal!”

Rejoice, The Lord is Near!!

Praise Him and Pray!!

3.  Surrender it all to Him!  Let your requests be made known to God in thankful prayer.

What is the international symbol of surrender?  Interesting!

What is the most common gesture of worship?  Hmmmm.

Same thing.  Amazing isn’t it.  But we hate surrender!  We hate admitting we are not in control.  And it is probably the biggest obstacle to success in the spiritual life of any believer that I can name.  With its roots down deep in our pride – in our personhood – and in our sinful nature.

Surrender is trusting God and leaning not on our own understanding.
Surrender is letting His Word be the light to my path – the lamp to my feet.
Surrender is taking my hands off; taking my plans off.
Surrender is coming to the end of my resources, my ability to fix things, my ability to                    manipulate, people and circumstances.
Surrender is a hard place to go and a hard place to be.  But is it absolutely necessary.

Why?  Because without it the next thing will never happen…

4.  Now the promise…

“And the peace of God which passes all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.”

There may not be a more precious promise in here!

This is not just an “absence of striving” kind of peace, this is an active presence of God in our life that comes as a result of surrender to Him.  This is the presence of the Holy Spirit, our comforter and guide into all truth.  This is the God of the Universe coming into our hearts and into our circumstances and making all things new. RE-Making things in His image and after His purpose!

And our focus becomes HIM, not the circumstances.  And we end up where we started:  The Lord is Near!

Think on these things… And the God of Peace will be with you. (end of v. 9)

 

Let us pray:

Lord Jesus Christ, we set our eyes on you this morning.  We look to you, Lord, the Author and the Finisher of our faith.  And we see in you, Lord, all that is true, and honorable, and right, and pure, and lovely, and admirable.  You are excellent and worthy of praise!

God of Peace, come into our lives and into our circumstances this day.  We open our hands and raise them to you in surrender.  All that troubles us – all that hurts us – all that plagues us, this day, we give to You.  Come Holy Spirit and give us your peace.  Speak that peace of Jesus to our hearts.  Be with us.  You are our source and our reward.

In Jesus name we ask it, and for the sake of His Kingdom.

Amen.

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