Rejoice in the Lord Always

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 to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.
[Philippians 4:4-7]

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Thomas Cole, The Voyage of Life: Childhood, 1842, oil on canvas, Ailsa Mellon Bruce Fund.

This passage is from Paul’s letter to the church at Philippi.  Philippi was a Roman colony in the province of Macedonia, and the church there was founded by Paul. It appears that the church at Philippi and Paul had a close relationship. The church sent gifts to Paul, including when he was in prison, and he sent them this warm and optimistic letter, full of confidence in Christ’s love.

In my Bible, this section is labeled an “exhortation,” and it is full of advice to the church. Amazingly, Paul wrote it in prison. Paul himself was in a miserable  situation, but he found the strength to tell his fellow Christians to rejoice in the Lord always, that Christ is coming again soon, to give up their fear and be at peace, and to let their love be evident to all.

I never thought of this as an Advent reading before, but historically, that’s exactly what it has been used for. In four verses, it touches each of our four Advent candles.

Joy: “Rejoice….Rejoice!”

Hope: “The Lord is near.”

Peace: “And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard our hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.”

Love: “Let your gentleness be evident to all.”

Most commentaries emphasize that Paul and the congregation at Philippi thought Christ’s second coming was imminent – “The Lord is near” – and so the passage is traditionally placed in the lectionary on the second Sunday of Advent, when the candle of Hope is lit; we used it just so in service the Sunday before last. But we revisit Paul’s exhortation now, just a few days before Christmas, to emphasize that it has all the elements of Advent – Joy, Hope, Love, and Peace – rolled into one short reading.

Rejoice! Rejoice! Immanuel will come to thee.

Listen:

“Rejoice In the Lord Alway” (Henry Purcell)
Performed by the Schola Cantorum of St. Peter’s in the Loop

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