"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.” Philippians 4:4-7
Advent has already been such a time of joy in our community. We’ve had wonderful energy at the intergenerational events and combined worship services. We had a joy-filled night of caroling on the River Walk last week. This week we offer a quiet evening in our newly restored Bethlehem Chapel, the return of the Women’s Christmas Luncheon, Christmas to the Street with access to our very own kitchen, the Living Nativity and Christmas pageant, and the Christmas Pops concert. My heart has been filled by the sound of our voices raised in prayer and song as we’ve prepared the way for the birth of Christ. If I’m honest, it feels a bit more like Christmas to me than Advent, and yes, I’m just fine with that.
We have been in a long period of waiting, and so there is something deeply joyful about being able to return to these patterns that define our community life. It does not mean we have been magically freed from worry; there are still plenty of things to be worried about. But as this wonderful passage from Philippians reminds us, we can still rejoice, because the Lord is near. The Lord has been near through these many months, but it is such a gift to feel that presence naturally emerging from so many corners of our life together.
The other gift of this passage is the reminder to be gentle and to make that a gift we offer to one another in community. We have been through a lot, and many of us have not had the chance to really share with one another what these months have been like. So I invite us to commit to being gentle with one another and ourselves. If we still feel a bit raw around the edges, that’s to be expected. We have been through an unasked-for and unsought time of transformation. And the culture is encouraging a lot of finger pointing and assessing of who is to blame. As people of faith, we can choose to enter a different space. We can choose joy—not because we are not in need of restoration, but because we have faith in a God who hears all of our laments and sees the pain we have experienced. Into that place of groundedness God offers to protect us from cynicism and despair. Our hearts and minds are protected so we can continue to be people of hope and experience that peace which the world cannot provide.
I continue to be so grateful for this community. Let us continue to walk this path of joy and hope as we eagerly prepare for the birth of Jesus Christ. O come, O come, Emmanuel!