4-5 Celebrate God all day, every day. I mean, revel in him! Make it as clear as you can to all you meet that you’re on their side, working with them and not against them. Help them see that the Master is about to arrive. He could show up any minute!
In the name of the Father, the Son and Holy Spirit, AMEN.
The contrasts in Advent are startling, aren’t they? The days grow darker, both literally and figuratively; the sun sets so early and we march toward the darkest day of the year. We have tragedy, evil marching forward; chaos, heartbreak, loss of life and innocence. And in it is this season that we light candles, and that light grows. We proclaim that is has come and is coming; order, peace, redemption have come and will overcome. But not fully yet. And so we wait, and weep with those who weep and remind ourselves that Jesus is coming. It is in this season, of darkness and loss, that we remember that Jesus has already come, as a baby, an innocent, full of hope and the promise of restoration.
This passage in Phil, and really the whole rest of the readings, encourage us to rejoice. While it may seem difficult, and out of place for us this weekend, I think we need to heed the words of Scripture here. In thinking about Crossroads, and what kind of people and church we are to become, the passage is instructive. Especially in the Message version, which adds to the spirit of the text, we discover a bit about how rejoicing - having JOY - can shape our individual and corporate lives.
Celebrate God every day, I mean revel in Him. When I hear the word revel, I don’t think of God or of Christians. I think of crazy parties, of loud concerts, of, well...excess and I don’t associate Christian with excess. But excessive joy - stemming from God’s excessive love; here what could be more excessive that giving up the throne and powers of heaven to be born as a helpless infant, all for love’s sake? - excessive love might just be the thing that will change the word, that will change us. Paul is encouraging us, exhorting us to celebrate God and to have joy and the way we do that is by celebrating God and not our circumstances. And yet, we are surrounded by our circumstances - how does that work? Look at the next sentence: Make it clear to all those you meet that you are on their side, working with them, not against them. That is how we are to treat others, even “the other” and this friends is no easy task. It means giving up our own ideas, our own hopes and dreams, our own power (and as leaders, we all have some measure of power here), for the sake of the other. It means acting like Jesus, who out of excessive love, became like us to save us. And in the midst of all the work we are doing with others, it’s to encourage them that the Master is coming, he could show up here at any minute. Imagine what our lives could be, what this church could be if we actually lived into this.
This next part seems to me to be first applied to us as individuals, and as we succeed individually then it will spill over to our corporate life. It makes little difference if we attempt to formalize or create ways to pray more, worry less if we aren’t able to do those things in our own hearts.
Don’t fret or worry. Instead of worrying, pray. Let petitions and praises shape your worries into prayers, letting God know your concerns. Before you know it, a sense of God’s wholeness, everything coming together for good, will come and settle you down. It’s wonderful what happens when Christ displaces worry at the center of your life.
So here is another set of exhortations: don’t worry, pray unceasingly. Let the peace of God guard your mind and hearts. The only “doing” part of the section is Pray without ceasing. The rest is the seemingly passive Don’t worry, let peace of God rule your hearts. But, like the waiting of Advent is really not passive - we proclaim the light has come, we restrain from excess, we look forward to the arrival of Jesus and the kingdom of God, much like you make preparations for a most welcome visitor - the don’t worry and let the peace rule your hearts is what we are called to actively do. We replace worry with prayer and thanksgiving (two activities we can choose to do); we make decisions about how to act and treat others (and then follow through to the best of our abilities); and we receive joy and the peace from God as good gifts (recognizing his hand in our lives).
So, let’s imagine that we are all becoming these kinds of people (the kind who do celebrate God every day, who do show excessive love and kindness, who do treat the other better than themselves, who don’t worry (as much) and pray (more and more) and who experience God’s peace. What might this church be like?
I imagine it’s a place where people want to come. People want to hang out with us, at our various houses in the ½ mile radius around Salem Sate, they want to do what we are doing whether that is children’s afterschool theater or programs, running our coffee shop, reading writing studying, making excellent art or other products, sharing, giving, receiving…I imagine it’s a place where people will be experiencing devotion - seeing what a life devoted to God and others looks like.
I imagine something will always be happening. There will always be activity and life, people engaged in ministry, growing in relationships, growing in understanding and knowledge of God, developing new ideas and listening to God and entering into his kingdom work here and now. I imagine it’s a place of transformation, both personal and in the community.
I imagine people will be ministered to. People who are hurting, broken, needy, suffering, lost, misplaced, forgotten, in transition, in crisis...that they would encounter Jesus as we care for them in all their various ailments. That we would encounter Jesus as we acknowledge our own gifts, and share them generously...I imagine that this would be a place of compassion as we all together experience Jesus.
In this season of Advent, of waiting in the darkness, may we all wait expectantly and seek God’s kingdom in the here and now for Crossroads. May we all experience some of the light and the joy that has been promised and has already come.