Rejoice in the Lord always: and again I say, Rejoice. 5 Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near. 6 Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. 7 And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.
Full disclosure, verse 4 is from the KJV and the remainder of the passage is from the NIV.
Rejoice – verb, show great joy or delight: give joy to. What time of year is more appropriate for this word than Advent and Christmas? We arguably spend a greater percentage of our time and other resources “rejoicing in the Lord” this time of the year than any other. The Christmas of my childhood was no exception to this phenomenon.
There were preparations, concerts, rehearsals for church Christmas pageants, baked goods from my mother’s students, their parents, and her teachers, and of course, Christmas Eve dinner with family followed by attendance at my grandparents’ Missouri Synod Lutheran church (the church of my mother’s youth), a tour of the light displays in my small Midwestern hometown while my grandparents prepared their home for the remainder of the evening’s festivities, all culminating in a joyous gathering for celebration and gift exchange.
Christmas Eve church services always had a special meaning to me. Their meaning evolved over time. Initially it was my participation in the “pageant” and once I was no longer a part of the service, we began attending my grandparents’ church on Christmas Eve. Sitting next to my grandmother in church feeling the warmth of her smile, her fur coat, the glowing candles, and the familiar Christmas hymns is one of my fondest memories of the season and the yardstick by which all other Christmas experiences are measured.
As I grew older (as tends to happen) things began to change. I don’t remember exactly when, but I remember one year we were sitting in the back of the church my grandparents helped found and build. As we and the other late arrivals in the Sunday School room rose to receive communion, my mother made it clear to me that we were to wait in our seats. We were not members of the denomination and therefore were not welcome at the table. My initial reaction was one of disbelief. Hadn’t I been taught that Jesus loves everyone; all are welcome in His house and at His table?
For several years afterward, each Christmas I sat in my seat and stewed, consumed with hurt and anger. One year, a year in which I had put particular focus on my relationship with God, I decided to use the time during Communion for prayer.
Prayer that I would understand their interpretation of scripture, prayer for those who were hurting, prayer for my family, prayer that I would discern what God wanted me to take away from this experience. 6 Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. 7 And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.
I left the service that year with a smile on my face, inner peace, a determination to make others feel welcome in my church as well as my life, and a genuine “Merry Christmas” for the pastor on my way to the warmth and joy of my family celebration.
I could see that God was at work when I was assigned this passage because it brought back a grace sung at mealtime at a camp I attended. Some of you may remember it as well. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8Rs1SeuBgU0
As proof of my belief that there is no such thing as coincidence, just a week or two after I found out this Bible verse was my assigned devotional passage, a hymn based on the verse was part of a Sunday morning service at Northminster.
Music was and is my haven, especially this time of year so God’s little tap on my shoulder filled me with warmth, joy, and thanksgiving, and reminded me that God is always at work in the world. We just need to be receptive. It is for us to bring this message that God is ever present to the world in thought and action; whatever form that action may take for us. With thanks to Christopher Owen, here are links to the aforementioned hymn and some information about it.
Wishing all a season full of understanding, love, hope, joy, and peace!