Celebrate the Lord!

Scripture: Philippians 4:4-7



This is the third of our Advent sermons based on some of the gifts of Christmas. We have looked at hope & being prepared for the return of Jesus Christ. Last week I spoke about love. Jesus, according to the apostle John, was “love incarnate,” God’s love in human form. Next week we will focus on peace. Today, our focus in on joy; specifically on Paul’s admonition to the church in Philippi - & by extension to us – to rejoice always. Or as the Common English Bible translates it, be glad!


I will begin by asking you to recall the worst day of your life. What was the worst day of your life? For me, the worst day physically was a Christmas Day when I was nineteen or so. I had the flu & got physically sick ten times in 8 hours. I got out of bed long enough to open a few presents, & then spent the rest of the day sick in bed – usually getting sick!


And I have had plenty of other ‘bad days.’ There have been low days for me emotionally – like days when my dad & mom died - & even low days spiritually. What might have been your worst day? Did it involve being beaten? Have you ever been stoned – I mean having rocks tossed at you! Has anyone here in worship today ever been whipped? Does your worst day involve being in prison?


Our Scripture reading for today was written by the apostle Paul, the great evangelist, from a prison in Rome. He is under arrest for spreading the gospel. Actually, he is under arrest for saying that Caesar is not the ultimate god. Paul is in prison for refusing to acknowledge Caesar as the lord of his life. It is not a comfortable, federal prison like Martha Stewart spent time in. It was a damp, dreary, underground prison most likely. And Paul was probably chained between two guards 24 hours a day.

Paul is writing to a church of his own founding. It may have been written, at least in part, to heal a rift that had arisen between two church members who are now no longer speaking to one another. But whatever the reason for writing the letter, Paul is admonishing the church to be joyful. He exhorts the church to joy or rejoice thirteen times in four chapters.


Now let me be clear what Paul means when he speaks of joy. The joy that Paul expects to see among the believers is not just an inner sense of peace – an inner grin. The word Paul uses means much more than that; it means a celebration.

So, what Paul is writing is better translated: Celebrate joyfully in the Lord all the time. I will say it again: Celebrate! This kind of joy is an inner happiness & peace, yes; but it is a joy that bubbles over to our outward appearance, our attitude, & our actions. True Christian joy is much more than an emotion.


Throughout his letter to the Philippians, Paul points to three sources of this joy.


The first source of joy is fellowship. If you have been involved in the church – whether it is Shiloh or somewhere else – for any length of time, I want you to reflect on the support you have received from others. I am very often told by those I visit how important the fellowship of the church is to them. If it is a homebound member, I usually hear about how much that person misses the fellowship of the church. If it is a family in crisis, I hear about how important the fellowship is to their progress through the crisis.


For me, it simply exemplifies how God has made us to be in relationship with one another. You & I are called to live in harmony with all persons, & especially with those who are of the household of faith. God has wired each of us with a need for relationship, & this need can - & should – be most perfectly met in the church.


And in this Christian fellowship, we are to give joy to others just as we would hope to receive joy from them. In 2:29, Paul wrote: welcome [one another] in the Lord with great joy & show great respect for [one another]. It is in the church that we ought to find extraordinary joy from spending time with one another. Our denomination’s founder, John Wesley, wrote: “I want the whole Christ for my Savior, the whole Bible for my book, the whole Church for my fellowship, & the whole world for my mission field.”


One of God’s gifts to us at Christmas is the gift of joy. And one of the sources of that joy is Christian fellowship.


Another source of our joy is service. The London Sunday Express once printed: “Most people wish to serve God – but only in an advisory capacity.” I can relate to that! A trendier way of putting this sentiment is: “God is my co-pilot.” Really? Your co-pilot? James Moore has authored a book, the tile of which is much more appropriate: If God is Your Co-Pilot, Switch Seats!


Unfortunately, I can relate to using God simply as an advisor to my life, rather than the Lord of my life. Even in the midst of Christian service, I have tended to look at God as just another resource to use – when needed – rather than as the source of my being.


Paul could point to his service to the church in Philippi as one of the sources of his joy. Paul could point to this church of his founding as a source of joy because it reminded him that he was part of a larger team. Too often we feel like - & even act like – we are lone rangers, doing the work of God all on our own. But that is a false reality. You & I are part of a larger movement; we are part of this church, & part of THE church, all working to bring the kingdom of God to reality on this earth.


We are not alone in this godly work. We need to remember that there are others doing the work with us. We need to remember that there are others praying for us. And we need to occasionally stop & look at the work that has been accomplished. We need to pause once in a while & rejoice in the fruit of our labor.


Fred Craddock, one of my favorite preachers of all time, told of a message he gave at a university chapel in Norman, OK. After the service, in which he preached on Mark 1, the call of the disciples, a young woman spoke to him. “I am in medical school here,” she said, “& that sermon clinched what I have been struggling with for some time.” “What is that?” Craddock asked. “I am dropping out of med school.” “What do you want to do that for?” Craddock asked. She said she wanted to go to work in the Rio Grande Valley in TX. “I believe that is what God wants me to do.” So, she quit medical school, moved to the Rio Grande Valley, & slept under a piece of tin in the back of a pickup truck, instructing little children while their parents are out in the fields working. She dropped out of med school to work with little children. Her folks back in MT were asking, “What in the world happened?” Fred said, “Now, I was just preaching the Scripture…”


Service to God through service to others can be, & should be, a source of joy for us all.


A third source of joy, for Paul & for us, is worship. Theologian JI Packer in his book, Your Father Loves You, writes: “Scripture views the glorifying of God (that is, worship) as a six-fold activity: praising God for all that God is & all God’s achievements; thanking God for his gifts & God’s goodness to us; asking God to meet our own & others’ needs; offering God our gifts, our service, & ourselves; learning from God’s word, read & preached, & obeying God’s voice; & telling others of God’s goodness, both by public profession & testimony to what God has done for us.”


He summarizes, “We might say the basic formulas of worship are these: ‘Lord, you are wonderful’, ‘thank you, Lord’, ‘please, Lord’, ‘take this, Lord’, ‘yes, Lord,’ & ‘listen everybody!’


Packer says, “This, then, is worship in its largest sense: petition as well as praise, preaching as well as prayer, hearing as well as speaking, actions as well as words, obeying as well as offering, & loving people as well as loving God. However, the primary acts of worship are those which focus on God directly - & we must not imagine that work for God in the world is a substitute for direct fellowship with God in praise & prayer & devotion.”


Worship is a source of joy in our lives because in worship we acknowledge what God is doing in each of our lives. We also acknowledge what God is doing in the lives of others, especially those we know personally.


Worship is a source of joy in our lives because in worship we focus upon God. No matter how busy our lives might be during the week, no matter what the distractions might have been, & no matter how tired we might feel, worship allows us an hour to focus solely on the Lord. It is truly time away – time away from the world & time away with God. Worship is designed to renew us, refocus us, & even revive us.


Worship is a source of joy in our lives because it allows us a safe space to share our joys with others. Too often during our week we seek to share our joy with others only to find that they are too busy, or too distracted, or too tired to hear us. But in worship, we are free, even more we are encouraged, to share our joy with others. It is a chance to sing & praise, as well as to pray.


Now remember, this joy I speak of is not simply an emotion. It is an attitude, an outlook, & a lifestyle. If we want, we can go through this life without an ounce of joy. But if that is our attitude, we miss so much of what God has for us! May we receive from our fellowship, our service to others, & our worship the proper perspective to prepare us for Christmas – an attitude of rejoicing!


And if those three sources are not enough, then let us remember that, as followers of Jesus, we are called to continue Jesus’ work. Let us remember that all Christians are expected to give flesh to Jesus Christ. Norm Langenbrunner wrote that after a wing of St Gregory Seminary in Cincinnati, OH was damaged by fire, one of the priests found a crucifix in the rubble. The hands & feet had burned off the body of Christ. Instead of throwing the crucifix away, the priest attached it to a new cross & hung it on the wall of the seminary. And he had these words placed beneath it: “I have no hands but yours.”


Many use Christmas as a time to focus on Mary, for many of the Scriptures of Advent recall her willingness to serve God. But Christmas is the feast of the Lord. Mary is the means by which the Son of God became incarnate. She is indeed highly favored, but it is the Son of God who makes her blessed among women.


An angel greets Mary with good news from heaven. The Messiah is about to make his appearance. She is to be his mother, & the Messiah, whose name will be Jesus, is in fact the Son of God. No wonder Gabriel says: Rejoice! When we take our calling seriously, we realize we have reason to rejoice. We are invited by the Creator of the universe to participate in the renewing of the earth!


Be glad in the Lord always! Again I say, be glad! One of the gifts of Christmas is that it is cause for celebration. So, may we rejoice in God our Savior. May we sing with joy of Christmas. And may we celebrate in anticipation of the second coming of our King.