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Monday, December 28, 2015

Today’s Reading | Philippians 4:4–7

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. (NRSV)

There is a lot of fake joy at this time of year. For weeks now (even though we celebrated Christmas only three days ago), we have seen “Joy” on cards and wrapping paper and plastic everything from ornaments to drinking glasses. That is not the kind of joy Paul is talking about in Philippians.

These verses, his encouragement to the young Christian community he had founded in Greece, are striking in their simplicity and directness. Rejoice. Be kind. Know God’s presence. Pray with trust and gratitude. Seek peace; don’t feed anxiety. They’re all the more striking when we remember that Paul wrote this letter from prison. Surely he had plenty to worry about. Surely this church did, too.

Paul’s words bring to mind another letter from prison. On the first Sunday of Advent in 1943, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, the German Lutheran pastor and theologian who was imprisoned and eventually killed at Flossenburg concentration camp, wrote this to his parents from his cell: “It is times like these that show what it means to have a past and an inner legacy independent of the change of times and conditions. . . . God turns toward the very places from which humans tend to turn away” (Dietrich Bonhoeffer, The Mystery of Holy Night).

Christmas joy does not come from ignoring what is hard by escaping into tinsel and presents or even ritual and song. It is the fruit of really being in our lives--even the messiest stable-places--and rejoicing in the fact that the Holy One is incarnated there. This imperative to faith in the right here and right now propels us toward authentic joy.

God of life, who sent Jesus into a world as complicated and confusing as our own, we thank you for this astounding gift. Keep us open to the joy that emanates from faith and help us to spread it every day. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

Written by Susan Quaintance, Program Coordinator,
Center for Life and Learning

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