Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, Rejoice. Let your reasonableness be known to everyone. The Lord is at hand; do not be anxious 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.
I don’t want to cause you any stress this morning, but we’re just a couple of weeks away from Christmas. Are you ready? What does “being ready for Christmas” look like for you?
I read about a class of six-year-olds who were putting on the annual Christmas concert for family and friends. The kids were singing Hark, the Herald Angels Sing with gusto. They came to the line Peace on earth and mercy mild, God and sinners reconciled. One child, the loudest singer in the group, belted out, Peace on earth and mercy mild, God and sinners dressed in style! Maybe you’re the type of person who wants a picture-perfect Christmas, God and sinners dressed in style.
Or how about a woman driving her young daughter, one Christmas, through their neighborhood to look at all the decorated houses. They came to one house where the homeowners had clearly lost their heads. They had every possible light and decoration dripping off their house and crowding their front yard. The daughter looked out the window at this house and said, it looks like Christmas threw up. Or maybe you’re the person who looks around at your holiday preparations and thinks, it looks like Christmas threw up.
It doesn’t matter. The only preparation we really need, the only thing that will make Christmas real for us, is to prepare our hearts to receive Jesus.
No matter what your Christmas preparations look like, I hope you experience the love, joy, hope and peace of God this Christmas season and all year. We all know in our hearts that there’s no gift that can compare to the gift of having God within us. That’s why our Bible passage for today is so relevant. It was written by a man who knew what it was like to have every form of success and comfort, and to lose it all. But he found Jesus Christ. And his writings are full of the love, joy, hope and peace of God that changed his life.
Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice! Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near. Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.
How did he do it? How did Paul live with joy and peace under such stressful circumstances? Verse 7 in our passage is one of the most popular benedictions, or blessings, in the church. I use it after every one of my messages. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. Then in verse nine, Paul inverts two of the important words in that benediction. Instead of saying “the peace of God”, he says, “And the God of peace will be with you.” I think we found our answer to the question of how Paul lived with joy and peace in the face of suffering and stress. I hope you find that same answer this Christmas season.
There are many folks for whom the glitter of Christmas is a reminder, not of their wealth as children of God, but of their poverty in a materialistic culture.
If you and I lost the many blessings that we enjoy and then had them restored, we’d have a new appreciation for how much we really have. Yet deep in our souls many of us are tortured by the demon of unhappiness.
A five-year old wanted a red toy truck for Christmas. He talked about red toy trucks. He prayed for a red toy truck. He pointed out pictures of red toy trucks in catalogs. His letter to Santa was focused on only one item: a red toy truck.
When Christmas morning arrived, he was overjoyed to receive a red toy truck! He ignored all his other gifts to play with it. A few hours later, the little boy was crying. Dad found his son holding his red toy truck in one hand, and the truck’s wheels in the other hand. The poor little guy looked up at his father and cried, Daddy, my Christmas is broken already!
Doesn’t your heart break for that little one? His whole Christmas was wrapped up in that one gift, the red toy truck. But we’re not so different, are we? Many of us judge our Christmas by external, materialistic standards: Is our house well-decorated? Did we get just the right gifts? Could our Christmas dinner make the cover of Southern Living Magazine? If all those things fell apart, would your Christmas be “broken”?
Some of us don’t struggle with material poverty at Christmas. Instead, we experience a poverty of the spirit. We need something to put our hope in, something that’s more meaningful and lasting than decorations and parties and gifts.
Christmas is a good time to remind ourselves that the “more” we desire has nothing to do with gifts. The “more” we need has nothing to do with money. For most of us, our true poverty has nothing to do with money or things. Our true poverty is a poverty of spirit. What we really long for, what we really need, what would really make a difference in our lives this Christmas and every day of the year is to know God more.
And that’s the greatest gift of Christmas: The peace of God comes when we know the God of peace.
Think about the first Christmas ever. No one, not Mary and Joseph, not the shepherds, not the wise men, not Elizabeth and Zechariah, no one really understood what God was planning. No one knew what to expect. But they knew the Almighty God had seen them. The Great I AM had chosen them. They knew the God of peace, so even when they didn’t understand God’s plans, they still experienced God’s peace.
Advent and Christmas are times when our minds naturally move toward the hope of peace on earth, good will toward men. That was part of the great messianic hope that Isaiah described hundreds of years before Jesus’ birth. He wrote, The wolf will live with the lamb, the leopard will lie down with the goat, the calf and the lion and the yearling together; and a little child will lead them. (11:6)
Every year at this time, we rekindle our hope for peace. We look forward to that day when there will be peace in the world, when innocent children will have no reason for fear.
We long for peace, peace within our own hearts, peace within our homes, peace within our world. We long for the peace of God. We long for the God of peace.
And the peace of God comes when we trust God with our present circumstances and thank God for our future. That’s what the Apostle Paul was teaching us in this passage. “Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 4: 4-7, NIV)
Paul wrote these words when he was on house arrest for preaching about Jesus. He had lost everything from his previous life, his status, his religious community, his home, his safety, when he became a follower of Jesus. But his letters reveal a man who was on fire with joy and completely at peace, even when he faced difficult circumstances and an uncertain future. Why? Because he had met Jesus Christ, Immanuel, God with us. And he knew that he could trust every moment of his life, his present circumstances and his future challenges, to the hands of a God who loved him enough to humble Himself and come in the form of a helpless baby, walk in his shoes, and die to give him eternal life. So, Paul could live with peace in the present and gratitude for the future. Can you say that this Christmas season?
Please don’t miss the purpose of Christmas. God came to bring us peace. And what does the peace of God do? It transcends, or rises above, all understanding, and it guards our heart and mind. God’s peace rises above our circumstances and guards against our fears.
Hundreds of years before the birth of Jesus, God promised that He would send a Messiah to save His people. We are just a few days away from celebrating the greatest moment in the history of creation, the moment when the Almighty God became Immanuel, God with us. No matter how out of control our lives may feel, God’s purposes for us never change and God’s promises to us never change. He came to bring us peace, peace in our lives, peace in our families, peace in our world, and finally, peace with God. And that peace is available to you when Jesus is your Messiah and Lord.