Paul talks about rejoicing in his letter to the Philippians. We know that as Paul writes this letter, he is nearing the end of his life. His journeys in the faith are coming to an end. He is looking back over his career and offering a word of encouragement to a church, a community of faith, he cares about a great deal. The church at Philippi was the first church established by Paul on European soil. It is here that the Christian church is likely to live or die, to grow or diminish. Paul is writing to them from prison, awaiting trial.
Now wait a minute. Imagine this. Paul, sitting in a prison cell, not sure what his fate will be, persecuted for his faith, jotting down a letter that says, “Rejoice.” It seems odd. I could understand one that read, “Get me out of here.” Or “I was framed, “but Paul writes “rejoice. Rejoice in the Lord always.”
Paul is writing to encourage the church which may well face some of the same challenges he has faced in his missionary journeys. It is likely that they will go through a period where people become hostile toward the church, that they will be isolated from friends and family in the community. The cost of being a Christian, of professing their faith is likely to increase and he is trying to prepare them for this.
Being a Christian means facing persecution in some form. How can we prepare for these challenges? Paul says, “Rejoice.” The first step toward holding onto what you’ve got in the faith is to rejoice. Before we begin any program or develop any strategy, we must first rejoice. Rejoice. Celebrate. Singing and shouting and generally being glad to be alive. Rejoicing is remembering to praise God for the good things in life and doing it from your heart, with your heart, with your whole self.
Rejoicing can be a loud and vibrant activity. It may also be a more silent appreciation, giving thanks with a smile or a glint in your eye. One mistake many Christians make is to feel obligated to put on a happy face and try to make joy happen. For some external expressions of joy come naturally. Others rejoice in quieter ways.
The rejoicing that we do is not something that is removed from hardship and struggle, but goes on right in the middle of it. Some might believe that faith in Christ needs to be a neat gift-wrapped package with a bow on it, but we know as Christians, Christ was born a poor child born in the dirt and the mess of a manger. The beauty and meaningfulness of Christ’s birth, his Incarnation, comes to us in the simple, earthy moments that are real, not in the glitter and glamour. Our rejoicing takes place where there is not only joy but sorrow, not only peace but worry, not only pleasure, but pain.
Rejoicing is not just something you feel, but something you do with what you feel. Rejoicing is something that’s done even when you’re short of breath, when you can’t carry a tune or speak a word, but you know that all you are and have is a gift from God. It’s not a big glorious production, but a heartfelt moment of thanks.
Often we view our troubles and concerns as threats to our serenity, something that robs us of joy. Yet it is only by honestly expressing our deepest longing to God in prayer that we can come to delight in the One who delights in us.
Rejoice in the Lord always. It is our biggest defense against when the world teaches us to be without hope. It is our greatest hope that carries us through each day and helps us to hold onto what is good. Through Jesus Christ, who makes all things possible, even rejoicing in our suffering.