Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, Rejoice. 
Let your gentleness be known to everyone. The Lord is near.
Do not worry about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God.
And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. (Philippians 4:4-7)

We’ve reached an interesting point in Advent where we move from Hope and Peace to Joy.  Now joy is different than happiness.  Happiness tends to be externally triggered and focused.  It’s based on other people, thoughts, and events.  “The new Star Wars movie is coming out, and I’m so happy!”  “Soon we’ll get to see our family for Christmas, and we’re so happy!”  Both are great in the moment!  But they don’t last.

Joy, on the other hand, is found within.  It’s an internal spiritual quality.  Joy is more consistent and we can cultivate joy even in the midst of life’s difficulties.  That’s why the above Philippians passage has been on my heart this Advent week.  “Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, Rejoice.”  It’s a reminder that when we make peace with who we are and keep God at the center of our lives, the peace of God will guard our hearts and minds in Christ no matter what.

Because sometimes the external realities of life are not all sunshine and daisies.  My mentor Pash has often posed the question, “Do we praise God only when things are going well in our lives, or do we praise God all the time?”  Furthermore, can rejoicing in God, even when things aren’t going well, somehow lead to joy?  Not happiness externally triggered.  But joy internally cultivated.

The irony is that these verses about “rejoicing in the Lord always” from Philippians, these verses about “do not worry about anything” were the email footer for the Pastor who was in charge of the UCC Eastern Ohio Association’s Student in Care Committee when I was in the Ordination process.  Every time I emailed him with questions, completed assignments for the Committee, setting up interview times and sharing travel plans from Massachusetts to Ohio, help paying for the required Psychological Exam, the good news that I had been accepted into the Clinical Pastoral Education program at the Cleveland Clinic–every time he would graciously respond to me, I would read these powerful words in his email.

“Rejoice in the Lord always.”  (Despite all these time-intensive Ordination requirements on top of Seminary!)

“Again I will say, Rejoice.”  (Despite jumping through more denominational hoops!)

“And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.”  (Feel God’s peace in the midst of the chaos!)

Given where I was in my life, this passage from Philippians became especially meaningful. So with whatever you are facing in your life right here and now, in this very moment–may you find a way to rejoice in the Lord always, feeling joy within.  And may the peace of God guard your heart and mind in Christ Jesus.

(This Week’s Thoughts 12.14.17)