Video of the Divine Service here.
In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
So there’s only a little more than a week until Christmas. It seems like it was just yesterday we were saying it was a month until Christmas, or two months until Christmas, and now there’s only a week left. And there are probably two general reactions to that news. On the one hand, people might be inclined to frenzy: frenzied buying, frenzied wrapping; frenzied baking; frenzied cleaning; frenzied preparing. On the other hand, despair: I can’t get everything done anyway, so why bother?
Of course, those reactions are not confined to the week before Christmas or other major holidays. In the face of the world the way it is, news, circumstances, those are generally the two temptations we have. We are tempted to frenzy: constant motion, constant activity, filling up our time with as much as possible—perhaps so we don’t have time to think about things we don’t want to think about. Either that, or we are tempted to despair: there is too much to do; we can’t make everyone happy, do all the things that people—or we, ourselves—expect of us, and so why bother? It may be that some people are more inclined to frenzy, and some more inclined to despair, but those are the two directions we tend to go.
And why? Because we still, after all, think we’re in control. And if we’re in control, then we’d better get busy. We’d better get busy in our families, in our communities, in our country, in our church. Because we need to do it, whatever it is! We need to make sure that everything turns out all right, that everything runs smoothly. What will they do without us? Or, if we’re in control and everything depends on us, and we can’t do it anymore, then we despair.
But both of those—both frenzy and despair—are unbelieving reactions to events or circumstances. Both of them assume we are in control, when we are not. So what do Christians do? We neither engage in frenzied action, nor in despairing inaction. We rejoice, Paul says. Rejoice always and be anxious about nothing. Anxiety is uncertainty about what is going to happen and when, and it produces frenzied action or despairing inaction. No, Paul says: rejoice always. But when we look around the world or the state of things, there isn’t a whole lot in which to rejoice. There are certainly moments of rejoicing, and there are moments when we try to manufacture rejoicing because we think that’s what we ought to do.
But notice Paul’s words: not just “rejoice always,” but “rejoice always in the Lord.” That makes all the difference. He’s not telling us to get our acts together; what’s wrong with you? Plaster a smile on your face and be happy! No; rejoice always in the Lord—the same Lord who is near. The Lord is near, and He has come near to you. He has come near to you by taking on the same human flesh you have. He will come near to us by sight on the last Day, when He is revealed as Lord over all creation. But the same Lord who was born in our flesh, and whom we will see in glory on that Day, is the Lord who is near to us now: in His words, in His death and resurrection, in His forgiving presence, and in His own Body and Blood.
That is the Lord who is near. And you have been made one with that Lord. So rejoice always in the Lord who is near. And because He is near, because He is the Lord and we are not, because He is in control of all things and we are not, be anxious about nothing. What is there to fear? What is there to worry about? He is risen from the dead! Now not even death can corrupt our confidence or our rejoicing. What then? If we have this joyful confidence, then two things: let your reasonableness, your forbearance, be known to all. And let your requests be known to God.
This reasonableness or forbearance means something very specific. There are certain people, certain actions, certain events in which we might be justified in reacting in a particular way. We might have the right to respond to certain people in the same way that they act toward us. But this forbearance or reasonableness is not taking advantage of that right or that justified response. We do not have to respond in kind. We do not repay evil for evil. Because the Lord is near! Because the Lord is in control, and He will sort it all out in the end. We do not have to be anxious or act as if everything depends on us setting things right. It doesn’t. The Lord is near. He will set it all right. And it is in this light that Paul, in verse 2 of Philippians 4, exhorts Euodia and Syntyche to agree. And not just to agree, but to have the same mind in the Lord. In the Lord for whom they are both waiting, who is near to both of them, they ought to have the same mind that was in Christ Jesus, counting the other as more important than themselves, having forbearance toward the other, not responding in kind, though they may well have had justification or the right to do so.
So we ought to let our forbearance be known to all, because the Lord is the Lord, and we are not. And because the Lord is near, because He has come near and made His Father our Father, we ought to let our requests be known to God. Bring your prayers, your petitions, your thanksgivings, your concerns, your anxieties, your temptations to frenzy or despair—bring them to the Lord, in whom they will find their resolution. All things are in His hands anyway, so we entrust all things to Him.
The Lord is near. He is near to you even today, as near as your own flesh and blood in His Holy Supper. So we work, so we wait, so we watch, so we pray. We do not despair and do nothing, because why bother. We know that, in the Lord, our labor is not worthless. Neither do we engage in frenzied activity, because if we don’t do something, everything will fall apart. It won’t. It’s not in your hands. Do what you’ve been given to do. The Lord is near. And His peace, the same peace He gave to His disciples on the evening of His resurrection—it is yours. He renews you in His peace today, which is beyond all thought and understanding. But that Peace will keep your hearts and minds now and always, and always between frenzy and despair.
In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen. “And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 4:7, ESV). Amen.
— Pr. Timothy Winterstein, 12/14/18