In our gospel passage today we see John the Baptist talking about repentance. People begin coming up to John and ask him questions about how they should live their lives? “The tax collector asks: “Teacher what should I do?” John says: “Don’t fill your pockets with people’s money. Just take what is actually owed. Forget your selfish interests and ambitions, which is really not appropriate behavior.” Then one of the soldiers asks: “Well what should we as soldiers do?” John says: Don’t exploit people, and don’t use your position and power to throw your weight around and use your position to help yourself at the expense of others. Don’t be a bully. God does not appreciate bullies. (Luke 3:7-18)
In our first reading today in Philippians, we read, “Rejoice in the Lord and again I say rejoice”. The pastoral passage goes on to say, “live a life of gentleness”. That is something you can do if you have a clear conscience and are not involved in taking advantage of others. I am always reminded when I read passages like this to remember the greatest commandment that Jesus gives us “to love God with all our hearts, soul, mind and strength and to love our neighbors as ourselves”. (Philippians 4:4-7)
Both of these statements are absolutely true at the same time. We are called to enjoy our life in Christ, but we are also responsible for how we treat the people we live with, our loved ones, our friends and all people in our community, especially not to take undue advantage at the expense of others. We are reminded in the previous chapter of Philippians “to continue to work out our own salvation with fear and trembling”. (Phil. 2:12) I am reminded of that question: “If you are arrested for being a Christian, would there be enough evidence to convict you”? As citizens of Kingdom of God we have responsibilities. The flipside of this spiritual coin is that we are called to enjoy this gift of salvation, this gift that reminds us that every day is another day to enjoy life, “to rejoice in the Lord always and again I say rejoice”. It’s our privilege. Living a Christian lifestyle involves both responsibility and privilege.
So here is the dichotomy, this balance of responsibility and privilege. If you are treating others fairly, and doing the best you can, at least most of the time, to love God and to love others, then by all means “rejoice in the Lord”! And, the peace of the Lord will always be with you. You will find that even in the times of sadness and sorrow, the peace of the Lord will always be with you. It’s not always easy to rejoice in the Lord. And, there are times for mourning. None of us are exempt from times of sorrow, but I love the words of the Psalmist: “Weeping may endure for the night, but joy comes in the morning”. (Psalm 30:5)
As the wise man in Ecclesiastes says “There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under the heavens: a time to be born and a time to die, a time to plant and a time to uproot, a time to tear down and a time to build, a time to weep and a time to laugh. a time to mourn and a time to dance”. (Eccl. 3:1-5)
Let’s not forget that joy is a fruit of the Spirit. “For the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness, goodness, meekness, temperance, faith, against such there is not law”. (Galatians 5:22) Joy like the other fruits of the Spirit can also be described as a core value. We are joyful because we have hope and anticipation for this journey called “The Way”. (Acts 19:9) Joy is a result of the way we live our lives in alignment with the principles of the Kingdom of God as laid out by Jesus in the Gospels, the writers of the New Testament, and the wonderful traditions of our church over a couple thousand years
Advent is a time of anticipation and a time of hope for the coming of Jesus as a child, but also the coming of Jesus in the resurrected life. As we read in our first reading today from the prophet Zephaniah: “Do not fear, and do not let your hands grow weak. The Lord your God is in your midst. He will rejoice over you with gladness; he will renew you in his love; he will exult over you with loud singing. At that time, I will bring you home, at the time when I gather you”. (Zephaniah 3:14b, 16,17,20) Even so come Lord Jesus!
It’s part of our faith. It’s a rich tradition of compassion and empathy, love, joy and peace. The joy of serving the Lord and the joy that it brings as we serve others, and the fulfillment we have when we see others do well. “not looking only after our own affairs, but after the interests of others”. (Philippians 2:4)
Notice that the theme of the Letter to the Philippians is not so much about what you believe, but it’s about how you live into your beliefs. Of course it’s good to know and understand your core beliefs, but even more important to practice those beliefs, not just to read about them. Of course there are times and seasons, but in the Christian tradition joy is a wonderful fruit of the Spirit, a core value, the joy that comes from living into our freedom. “Stand fast in the liberty wherein Christ has set you free, and do not allow other things to come between you and your relationship with God”. (Galatians 5:1) We experience this joy that is a by-product of knowing God and being known by God. Be joyful, and again I say rejoice. Core values influence the way you live your life. It’s one thing to learn, but it’s another to participate. We are called to participate.
Let us take heed to the message of John the Baptist: “The voice of one crying out in the wilderness. Prepare the way of the Lord”! Or to say in another way: “Practice is about paying attention to our relationship to what is sacred”. (Marcus Borg).
I ask you to take this message of joyful and responsible living and carry that message, only insofar as you accept it, enter it, live it, and thereby establish it. God’s kingdom is a collaborative relationship. (John Dominic Crossan)
Rejoice in the Lord always and again I say rejoice.