One of our sons works for the US State Department, and his position requires him—and his family—to move somewhere in the world every two years. Their current post is in the Philippines. Either my husband and I must travel long distances to see them or wait until they have home leave and can come here to see us. Because our son and family travel such long distances, I always track their flights while they are in the air. As I do so, I pray a prayer asking God for their safekeeping. I taught our five-year-old grandson how to track flights, and together we tracked the flights of family members who traveled here and gave thanks for their safe arrival—and rejoiced.
Paul offers advice to the entire community, and it begins with rejoicing: “Rejoice in the Lord.” Then he suggests that they “let [their] gentleness be known” and “do not worry about anything.” We may consider that third piece of advice the hardest to deal with given our anxiety-producing times. Notice the sentence right before this injunction: “The Lord is near.” So, near to the believer? Near in terms of the second coming? Perhaps both meanings encourage the Philippians not to allow anxiety to consume them. Paul has no doubt about the ultimate outcome of all events.
Paul writes this epistle while in prison. He writes to reassure the people of Philippi that he remains full of joy and confident despite his situation. So we, with our families of origin and families of faith, acknowledge God’s presence, rejoice always, and give thanks. Whether traveling long distances or enduring hardships in life, we rejoice in the fact that God is near, desiring the best for us.
Ever-present God, we are grateful that you are near to us. We carry your peace in our hearts, and we rejoice. Amen.
As I reviewed the scripture passages for this week, a hymn titled “Rejoice, Give Thanks and Sing” kept going through my mind. The writers of this week’s texts advise us to do all these things. At this time of year, these responses often seem to come naturally for many of us. The prophet Zephaniah exhorts his audience to sing aloud and rejoice. The prophet Isaiah calls on the people of Judah to “give thanks to the Lord.” In the letter to the Philippians, Paul advises his audience to “rejoice in the Lord always.” The tone of the Luke passage for this week is more somber; through the words of John the Baptist, Luke challenges his audience to maintain right relationships with God and humanity. Taken together, these passages provide a number of life lessons.
• Read Isaiah 12:2-6. Think about the times of uncertainty in your life. What did you fear? Who or what gave you comfort during these times?
• Read Zephaniah 3:14-20. When have you found joy in the midst of trouble? Think back on that time in your life, and give thanks for God’s presence.
• Read Luke 3:7-18. Where in your life are you being nudged to do the right thing? How will you respond?
• Read Philippians 4:4-7. At what times is God most present in your life? When do you find yourself searching for God?
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