Advent 3C: Philippians 4:4-7 Rejoice?

I’ve really gotten annoyed with people who reduce inner peace to an equation. (Maybe you have, too?) You hear it in a sermon. Or read it on a greeting card. Or see a Facebook posting with a well-meant, helpful comment that goes something like this:
“If you just ______________, then you will find transcending (or inner) peace.”

It can be anything that you DO — eat this food, read this book, try this medication, exercise in this way, pray in this way, go to this meeting or church… The emphasis is on DO. And as a conditional act is completed, then you GET something.

Paul, writing from prison, isn’t allowed to DO anything. In the easiest of his imprisonments, he was under house arrest. In the worst, he was in a Roman prison, shackled to the wall or a guard. Waiting for his trial, kept locked up without access to family, friends and the comforts of home, he would have every reason to think God had abandoned him. And yet, he wrote these words:

Be glad in the Lord always! Again I say, be glad! Let your gentleness show in your treatment of all people. The Lord is near. Don’t be anxious about anything; rather, bring up all of your requests to God in your prayers and petitions, along with giving thanks. Then the peace of God that exceeds all understanding will keep your hearts and minds safe in Christ Jesus. Philippians 4:4-7 {CEB]

From the darkest of situations, Paul’s voice of confidence in God rings out. He doesn’t say, “don’t ask!” He says, “bring up ALL of your requests.” It’s not like God has forgotten them. It’s reflecting all of the questions, concerns and anxieties to God, all the while being thankful.

In the fast-darkening days of winter, the grey days can get to you. Maybe the extra tasks of shopping, wrapping, shipping, driving, baking and socializing get to you. Or the “waiting game” of Advent gets to you.

Maybe you’ve gone through huge personal pain recently, and the reserves aren’t there to cope brilliantly with anything. You put on your ‘game face’ and pretend. But inside, it’s pretty grim. You take the next step. Tick the next item off of your list.

If you’re in school, you cross off another day on the calendar. It’s excruciating.

Maybe it’s not the case that you’re struggling, you just live in ‘The Land of Blah.”

I think you’ve got plenty of company.

“Be glad in the Lord always!”

This isn’t a trite saying to embroider on a sampler. For my patients at the hospital, it can   be a lifeline that helps them cope with today’s struggles. Or, if used incorrectly, it acts as more of a guilt trip. I agree that it can sound like a tall order when your life is upside-down or the carefully-laid plans of yesterday get tossed in the trashcan. But perhaps Paul’s voice of experience gives it a little street cred.

I’ll keep trying Paul’s advice. How about you?

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