"Rejoice always," wrote Paul from a Roman prison.
Rejoice is a rich word, meaning, according to a leading Greek lexicon, to be in a state of happiness and wellbeing. For many, this is a fleeting experience encountered rarely, not a reality coming even close to always.
As Christmas approaches, and the world begins to slather everything in green, red, and sugar, you may find yourself feeling something on the opposite end of rejoicing. The bitter winter of this curse-afflicted world we talked about Sunday may be all too close and painful for you to muster any happiness or sense of wellbeing.
But what if rejoicing meant something much more profound than the crooning-carol version of American tradition?
Notice that the definition of rejoicing is not primarily a feeling, but a state. Rejoicing is an inner reality pressing out, not an external reality pressing in. It is a condition of the soul anchored to objective realities, often in spite of external circumstances.
Paul’s command to rejoice always (Phil. 4:4) is written from a position of physical suffering (jail), immediately following a rebuke of relational suffering (telling two women in the church to stop fighting, Phil. 4:2-3), and right before addressing mental and emotional suffering (how to fight off anxiety, Phil. 5:5-7). Paul understood only too well that life is full of moments when glib or sentimental levity is entirely inappropriate. He also understood, so very well, that no moment in life is to be lived apart from a reality of rejoicing.
In Phil. 3:14, Paul gives us his life mission – “I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.” Paul had mastered the art of overcoming horizontal problems with vertical hope. When institutions, relationships, physical health, and personal reputation were in tatters, Paul was determinedly fixing his eyes on heaven “from which also we eagerly wait for a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ; who will transform the body of our humble estate into conformity with the body of His glory, by the exertion of the power that He has even to subject all things to Himself” (Phil. 3:20-21).
Brother and sister in Christ, let us commit to making this Christmas a season of true rejoicing. Despite the winter you are in, let the hope of Christ be the rock of true wellbeing from which the hope of lasting happiness is flowing ever outward. You may have to preach a thousand Gospel sermons to your downcast soul, or wrench open heavy eyes to gaze at heaven – but this is our privilege as Christians. We have a Gospel message to preach. We have a hope to look to.
Perhaps you relate to Abraham this year, “an old man and satisfied with life” (Gen. 25:8). Rejoice in the Lord!
Perhaps you relate more to Job this year. Nevertheless, “Though He slay me, I will hope in Him” (Job 13:15).
Hark! The herald angels are now silent. They do not wing their flight o’er all the earth. That’s our job now. This world needs to hear the clarion voices of the children of God, in the midst of all this world’s cursed misery, calling out:
“Peace on earth, goodwill to me. And to you, if you will receive it.”