May your gracious-gentleness be known to all mankind. The Lord is near. You worry (about) nothing, but in all, in prayer and in plea with thanksgiving may your petitions be made known to God. And the peace of God, which rises above every mind, guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.
The remainder, brothers, whatever is genuine, whatever worthy of respect, whatever right, whatever pure, whatever pleasing, whatever praiseworthy, if something is virtuous, if something is recognized-as-approved–these things you consider. And what you have learned and received and heard and seen in me, these things you practice; and the God of peace will be with you.
On this "rejoice" Sunday, you are reminded that you are called to be joyful at all times! And just in case you weren't paying attention, St. Paul is inspired to write it a second time, "Again I say ‘You rejoice!'" OK, you get that God wants you to be joyful, and you certainly can understand how a believer in Christ would find a lot of things about which to rejoice, especially when the Lord's blessings abound. But what about those times when lousy things happen, like in Connecticut last Friday?
But that word is there–"always". Christians are to be joyful all the time. But you know that you just don't feel happy 24/7, 356 days a year. Cruddy things happen in your life. Health problems debilitate you and your loved ones. Finances are way too tight, and you can't always pay the bills. Children don't behave as parents want, and parents don't treat their children like they desire. These and other circumstances abound with much reason for unhappiness. How can God say "rejoice always?"
Well, the first mistake you may make is that you mistake happiness for joy. They are not the same thing at all. Your happiness is based on the situations in this world. Your joy is based on the unchanging certainty of your home in heaven above. Happiness is a fleeting feeling, while joy is a fruit which is borne in you by the Holy Spirit. So recognize the differences between happiness and joy.
Jesus taught His disciples that they ought to rejoice whenever people persecuted them, imprisoned them, told lies about them, and even threatened them with death! This would happen only because of their connection to Christ Jesus. The devil failed to get your Savior directly, so now Satan attacks believers. But you have the peace of God which guards your hearts and; minds in Christ Jesus! This is the peace Jesus proclaims to you from the cross, saying, "Father, forgive them!" Forgiveness=peace.
The second error you may make is forgetting that you are to rejoice *in the Lord*. You are not to rejoice in a political triumph, or because your team won its bowl game, or because you got a raise at work. Your rejoicing is not to be in this world, or in anything associated with it. And your joy should never, ever be in your own accomplishments, lest you become prideful and suffer a fall off your perch.
Your joy is always to be *in the Lord*. This means that you are given to rejoice in those things which bring you everlasting peace with God. You rejoice, for example, that you are baptized, washed clean to be a child of God forevermore. You have great joy that you are proclaimed forgiven, absolutely, in the Name of the Trinity when you confess your sins. You rejoice that Jesus feeds you from His cross with His body given, and His blood shed for your forgiveness, your life, and your eternal salvation.
A third mistake you may make is that you forget the very reason for your joy–"the Lord is near!" When you foolishly think that God is somehow absent when tragedies and calamities befall so many here on earth, you have begun to forget that Jesus promised, "And lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age." As you wallow in your self pity, doubting that Jesus would even want to return to this sin-sick world that plagues you so much, you forget the promise of Jesus to return quickly.
Jesus the God of Peace is with you in His word, proclaiming to you now that you are forgiven in your Savior's death at Calvary, and that you are saved from death and the devil forevermore. Jesus is also a Witness Who is faithful and true! He promises to return soon to this world to raise all the dead, to rescue you from all the crud of this realm, taking you from this valley of tears and sorrows to be with Him forevermore in heaven. He is near in word and sacraments now, and His return is ever nearer!
So, knowing that God works joy in your heart, keeps you always "in the Lord" by faith, and is ever-near to forgive, save, and give you life, you have every reason for rejoicing in the Lord always. Especially as you are ever-mindful of Jesus quick return during this season of Advent. Amen.
Hymns this week from LSB:
#333 Once He Came in Blessing tune stanzas
#345 Hark! A Thrilling Voice is Sounding! tune stanzas
#349 Hark the Glad Sound lyrics