Rejoice in the Lord always! I say again…yeah right.
Why is Paul always so happy? Why is he so insistent that the rest of us be happy too? Rejoice? Be gracious? Don’t be anxious but be at peace? Oh, give me a break.
Seriously, Paul was in prison. What did he have to rejoice about? And as far as peace goes, he was forced to be at peace, because the Romans would have killed him if he did anything rambunctious. He can tell us to be happy until he is blue in the face, but we know the truth. There are too many things in this world to not be happy about-too many reasons for sadness, anger, or just plain old melancholy.
Rejoice? You mean like when you have been looking for a job to pay off all those student loans you took out to attend that university that sold you on the idea that 90-some percent of their graduates find work after graduation and the best you can do is minimum wage?
Rejoice? We should be happy even though we are all sin addicts who have been trying and failing to stay clean since the moment of our conception, or at the very least since the moment of our baptism? Should we shout for joy because we hate our sin, but we can’t seem to shake it?
Should we give thanks when we stand by the grave of a brother or sister, husband or wife, son or daughter? Rejoice? In a life cut far too short or dragged out through far too much suffering?
When you really think hard about it, when you stretch out your life and inspect it, when you look for the good and the bad, do you really have all that much to rejoice about? Do you have more reasons to smile than you do to scream? Can you honestly say that there is more laughter than tears?
No matter where the count falls, there are enough reasons for weeping, mourning, sadness, and depression for us to cynically reject Paul’s admonishment to rejoice, give thanks, and be at peace. Life is harsh, lonely, dangerous, and deadly. Is Paul serious when he tells Christians to be happy, to rejoice?
Yes, yes he is. And we should repent of our melancholy, our despair, and our anger.
It is not so much that we should never cry, never be angry, never feel depressed. There is a time for everything under the sun, a proper place for each emotion. Yet the overall attitude of a Christian’s life should be one of joy, thanksgiving, delight, and happiness. As we stand before God in Christ we should rejoice.
Joy is not optional for Christians. We are not allowed to accept that things are difficult and so we walk around with a straight face, or a frown, or tears running permanently down our faces. No. Joy is our default mode.
I know that this is the pot calling the kettle black. I am the last person to show any emotion, especially joy, through the normal operations of daily life. I play things pretty close to the chest. My general expression is one of unimpressed acceptance-like this.
I just found a letter the other day that I had written to Rebekah a few days before our wedding in which I had to reassure her that I really was excited about our wedding day even though, in my own words, I never acted like it. Can you believe that? My fiancé could not tell by the way I acted that I was excited to marry her. What the heck is wrong with me?
It is sinful for one baptized into Jesus Christ to be stuck in a permanent melancholy. It is wrong, evil, for you and me, who have been given a foretaste of the feast to come, to mope around as if there were no hope, no reason to rejoice.
Repent. And believe the Gospel. For the kingdom of God is at hand.
The cure for our daily blues, for our woes, for our despair and depression, is this: the Lord is at hand. We can be at peace, we can act reasonably, we pray, we rejoice, because Jesus Christ and His kingdom are here.
That kingdom was on full display atop Golgotha as Jesus bled and died. And you can be certain that He was not smiling. He did not laugh as He screamed: “forgive them, for they know not what they do. My God, why have you forsaken me?”
Jesus knows our misery. He knows our loneliness, our moments of deepest despair. He has taken them on His own shoulders and He has died with them. He has conquered them. He has forgiven them and set you free from them.
For He has risen. That gives reason to rejoice.
The crucified and risen Lord is at hand. The one who bled and died for you, the one who conquered death for you, is at hand and on hand listening to and answering your prayers. Your requests and supplications are heard, not by some distant deity, but by Jesus Christ, who you know is abundant in mercy. He listens to prayer. He answers prayer. And that gives us joy.
The Lord is at hand. He is coming again. He is coming soon. And that too enables us to rejoice.
When Christ returns in glory He will raise the dead. On that day there will be no more difficulties, no more financial woes, no more hunger or poverty. Jesus will supply all that we need for life everlasting.
On that day we will be free from sin, not only by faith, but sight. We will no longer be tempted. We will no longer carry guilt. Jesus shall call us from the grave as Adam and Eve before the Fall: righteous before God and man.
Best of all, on that day, Jesus will eliminate death forever. Fear and anxiety will be impossible, for there will be nothing to harm us. Christ will give us life to the full.
Imagine it. Every person you have watched descend into the ground climbing back out alive and well. Every grave on this planet, empty. That is a reason to smile, to laugh, to rejoice.
This new perspective colors the way we look at the world. We can find in this place, not only hardship, sin, and death, but grace, beauty, goodness. We can find joy in all that is true, honorable, just, pure, lovely, commendable, excellent, and praiseworthy. We can handle anything that comes our way, any sadness, any happiness, any poverty, any abundance, through Christ who gives us strength.Rejoice. The Lord is at hand. Give thanks. Jesus answers prayer. Be at peace. Christ makes all things new. Be filled with joy in the name of Jesus.