A reflection on Philippians 4:4-7 for the Third Sunday of Advent, December 12, 2021.
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 (NRSVA)
‘The Lord is near’.
It seems like an audacious claim to be making from a prison cell. The man called to take the Gospel message to all the nations is holed up in a Roman prison.
He is called by God to go – and he is stuck in a tiny cell.
Yet Paul believes God is at work even here. So much so that he is finding ways to allow the God who is present to fill him with – of all things – joy. Twice in these few powerful sentences Paul can call forth joy. ‘Rejoice in the Lord always…Rejoice’.
The apostle’s happiness is not dependent on circumstances or even on fulfilling his call in the way he imagined.
Rather, his joy is dependent on the ‘near’ God.
I love what this closeness does to Paul. It makes him gentle. It draws him from worry and into prayer and gratitude. It fills him with a peace beyond the circumstances that surround.
I wonder if Paul even finds himself looking at the Roman guard stationed to restrict his freedom while pondering this peace he unexpectedly enjoys. There is a guard over his body – and another – over his heart and mind. One restricts. The other is offering rest – a rest that goes far beyond any rational understanding.
’The Lord is near’.
The best part about all this, however, is that Paul does not believe this is a special grace only for him. It is not a peace-gift exclusively for imprisoned apostles or magnificent missionaries.
No, this is a gift for all who follow ‘Christ Jesus’.
In fact, there is not one moment in this passage that Paul even points to himself or his circumstances. He seems so caught up in his writing and rejoicing that he forgets to make any complaint about his predicament. No ink is wasted on such selfish frivolities as the inconvenience of prison.
Rather, Paul’s gaze is firmly fixed on insisting that the peace-beyond-circumstance that is his can also be the experience of others. This whole passage is an articulation of what Paul believes is possible for anyone who embraces the hope that ‘The Lord is near’.
Clearly, Paul’s is a testimony worth hearing again this Advent: God is near – rejoice!
How does the thought that ‘The Lord is near’ impact you? Do you approach this with cynicism or skepticism? Do you approach it with hope?
What actions does the thought that ‘The Lord is near’ inspire in you? How do these actions differ from the apostle Paul? How are they similar?