Philippians 4:4-7

 

I WILL SAY IT AGAIN: REJOICE!

 

Why twice?  Why does our God have to tell us twice to rejoice?  Rejoice in the Lord always.  I will say it again: Rejoice!”  That is the way the Apostle Paul spoke from his prison cell.  (He was under house arrest by unfriendly folks when he wrote this letter.  He seems to be a strange person to be relaying the command of God to rejoice…and then saying it again.)   First the Apostle tells us to rejoice always.  And as if the word “always” wasn’t good enough for us, he makes the command “Rejoice!” again.  

 

Perhaps Paul here says it twice because it is such a good thing to say.  It is so necessary to say it twice.  We’re going to like it twice.  Kind of like: “You won!  You won!”  If you are talking about big stakes there and you are the bearer of the good news to your friend or family member, you will be saying it at least twice.  Wouldn’t you?  Perhaps that is why Paul said, “Rejoice!” twice.

 

Maybe he said it twice because it was so important and he knew your hearing wasn’t the best, so he said it twice.  “Rejoice in the Lord always.  I will say it again: Rejoice!”  The white courtesy phone people in the airports never say any of their messages just once.  They always say them twice.  So do the people at HEB and other stores with in-house communications.  “Bob, would you please come to the head counter?  Bob, to the head counter please.”   

 

Or do you think the Apostle Paul says, “Rejoice!” twice to us because rejoicing is just not something we do very well.  If people looked at our lives, they wouldn’t usually give a one-word description of what they witnessed as “Rejoicing.”  When it comes down to it, rejoicing doesn’t seem to be something we like to do.  We might not even think that it is possible most of the time.  It is hard to rejoice.  Especially this year.  The fact that God has to tell us to do it is proof of the fact that we maybe don’t do it so easily.  One thing is sure: it is not a foregone conclusion.

 

To say, “Rejoice!” and then to say it again is not the same thing as saying, “Have a stiff upper lip.”  It is not the same as saying, “Stay positive.”  You can’t conjure up rejoicing.  It doesn’t happen through will power.  You can’t even really say to yourself, “I am going to rejoice.”  Can you?  You can’t really tell anyone short of an audience of actors, “Laugh!”  Something causes laughter.  Rejoicing is very close to being happy.  It is one step beyond happiness.  This on the surface would seem to make Christianity something very attractive and desirable.  But the devil whispers, “That isn’t happy!  You don’t want to go there.  You’ll be sad and miserable as a Christian.  Christians don’t laugh.  Christians who truly believe all this stuff about sin can’t laugh.

 

But…have a bad disease and get it healed.  Win a great prize of money and goods and see if there is rejoicing.   Tell a soldier that his tour of duty is over and he can go home to his wife and family.  Win!   Win against hopeless and helpless odds.  Figure out the really tough problem that has caused you to be sleepless.  Get the right answer.  Pass the test.  Have the most beautiful (or handsome) person say to you, “I love you.”  Or even better, have that person say, “I love you so.”

 

And when the Lord comes to us this morning and says, “Rejoice!” and then he says it again, “Rejoice!” something has happened which causes the rejoicing.  Here is what it is:  there is a God in heaven who looked down and saw the misery and woe and forlornness of you and me.  He saw that the only thing we can do well by ourselves, and we really don’t do this very well either, is to get old and die.  He saw that life for us is one long waiting for the funeral to happen.  We can play music and dance along the way,  we can hang pictures and not hang crepe, we can get real busy, we can liquor up our laughter, but the funeral is coming and we have to wait for it.  Our God who looked down and saw us  saw that without doing something about the reason for that long wait and that long wake, no command to rejoice would work.  No one would be able to rejoice ever if all life was about was death and dying.  So he came to do away with death.  Jesus came to tell some grieving sisters at the death of their brother Lazarus, “I am the resurrection and the life.  He who believes in me will live, even though he dies; and whoever lives and believes in me will never die.  Do you believe this?”  

 

Wait a minute!  Let’s listen to that word of Jesus again!  “Whoever lives and believes in me will never die.  Do you believe this?”  Well, if we do believe it, then how can we not break out in rejoicing right now?  That is God saying to us, “Rejoice!” and then it is God saying it again.  That’s the reason why we rejoice.  Our death has died.  That is the only reason why anyone can respond well to the command to “Rejoice!”  If inescapable and looming death hangs there over your head all the time, how could you rejoice?  But when it is gone and when it can’t come back, then we can’t help ourselves.  We don’t want to help ourselves.  We rejoice!

 

And sometimes God has to say it again…and again…and again.  We lapse back into that old mentality of misery: there is no way of escaping death, I’m going to die, all my loved ones are going to die, my wife is going to die, my husband is going to die, my children are going to die (hopefully not before I do).  The God who says, “Rejoice!” has told us again that he who believes in him will live, even though he dies; and whoever lives and believes in him will never die.  He has asked us, “Do you believe it?” Jesus came at Christmas time to deal with our dying.  He came to do it for us.  He came to release us and cause us to escape unscathed.  He came to tell us that because of this we can now rejoice.  He commands it today….twice.  

 

Jesus’ mother Mary must have heard her little son’s twofold command too.  She said at his birth, “My soul glorifies the Lord  and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior,  for he has been mindful of the humble state of his servant. From now on all generations will call me blessed, for the Mighty One has done great things for me- holy is his name.  His mercy extends to those who fear him, from generation to generation.  He has performed mighty deeds with his arm; he has scattered those who are proud in their inmost thoughts.  He has brought down rulers from their thrones but has lifted up the humble.  He has filled the hungry with good things but has sent the rich away empty.  He has helped his servant Israel, remembering to be merciful to Abraham and his descendants forever, even as he said to our fathers."

 

If you listened to that closely, you heard that Mary had much more to rejoice about than just that her son came to spring her from death.  She also rejoiced that she had a Lord who was mindful of her humble state, caused her to be blessed, did great things for her, showed her mercy, performed mighty deeds with his arm, lifted up the humble, filled the humble hungry with good things, helped her and Israel, remembered his promises.  He did all these things.  Every one of these things is also true for us.  These many things that God did and still does for us today fuel our rejoicing.

 

And before us in the words for today from Paul’s prison chronicle of Philippians there are other reasons why we can rejoice and do rejoice.  We can rejoice “in the Lord.”  Our lives are “in” him.  He is the one who takes care of the wild goats and deer and all the wild life critters.  He causes the sun to rise.  He fuels its bright fire.  He sends rain.  He brings the seasons around.  He causes the earth to spin.  We are living in this person and in this God.  That’s why we can rejoice.  It is light hearted and worry free rejoicing.

 

We rejoice because The Lord is near.  He’s near.  He’s not far away.  He’s not in another time zone.  He’s not in another zipcode.  He’s not in another culture or world.  He’s not detached and distant.  He’s not detained out there and late.  He is near!  Close by.  As close as a prayer.  He tells us we can even see him if we look.  We can do things for him in our rejoicing and thankfulness.  He reminds us along with the second command to “Rejoice!”  “Whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me.”  Jesus is as close as your brother.  Jesus is your brother!  He’s that close.

 

He says we don’t have to be anxious about anything.  What a reason for rejoicing that is.  No anxiety.  No pre-Christmas panic attacks.  To be able to cast all our anxiety on him because he cares for us!  Even at Christmas time in our world, he cares for us.  Imagine that!  Know that!  And when you have come once more to this realization, “Rejoice!”

 

And in this day and time when it seems people are saying, “Peace, peace” but there is no peace, God does give peace to his people.  He does.  He has a lasting peace established because he has triumphed.  His battle with evil is over.  He won.  And he takes the lasting peace he won on Calvary and he guards our hearts and minds with it.  Death defeated.  Sins forgiven.  Heaven won for you.

 

Really, is there anything better than rejoicing?  In the realm of human activities?  Anything better?  It is really what human beings want to do.  

 

If “ho ho ho” means rejoicing, it really isn’t with Santa Claus and his stuff.  It is with Jesus and his promise.  He makes it possible for you to rejoice and then he tells you to “Rejoice.”

 

And then he tells you again.  Amen.