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
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.