A reading and reflection for Thursday, December 13, 2012.
The twelfth day of Advent.
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Philippians 4:4-7 NRSV
One of my favorite Advent hymns is "O Come, O Come Emmanuel." The hymn is a 19th century translation of a 12th century Latin hymn, which itself is based off a collection of seven 8th century Latin poems. In their original form, the seven poems (called antiphons) dealt with various names of Christ in Scripture: Wisdom, Lord, Root of Jesse, Key of David, Dayspring, King of the Nations, and, the one we know the best, Emmanuel.
Latin poets were often sneaky individuals, and would insert intentional symbolism into their arrangement of their poetry. In the case of the Antiphons, the composer(s) arranged the verses by the first letter to appear. Thus, the original order was: (Latin on the left, translation on the right).
Radix Jesse (Root of Jesse)
Clavis David (Key of David)
Rex Gentium (King of the Nations)
Emmanuel (God with us)
Read backwards, these first letters are an acrostic which spells two Latin words: "Ero cras," which, loosely translated, means "I will be there tomorrow." Each one of the verses is a petition for Christ to come again, hence its popularity during Advent. Later, a refrain would be added between verses: "Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel shall come to thee, O Israel."
I think the text from Philippians today is especially related to this contrasting idea of petition and praise. Paul's first set of orders for this church in Philippi include the commands to "Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, Rejoice," and "Let your gentleness be known to everyone", commands which follow his previous argument that "Christ will transform the body of our humiliation..." (3:21). Paul knows this "body of humiliation" all too well, for he is writing from prison. And he anticipates that the church is suffering some sort of public scrutiny or scorn for its practices. They have a body of "humiliation." Yet, with anticipation and confidence, he can say: "Rejoice!" and "Let your gentleness be known to everyone." Despite all the wrong in your life, or in the church, or in the world, in the face of suffering and anxiety, "Rejoice!" Continue practicing those radical acts of gentleness among everyone you encounter.
Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel shall come to thee, O Israel.
But the text doesn't stop at rejoicing and being gentle. It goes on to a second set of argumentation. Paul says: "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 God's peace, which exceeds all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus."
The main point here is this: "The Lord is near." Therefore, act as if you believe it. Stop worrying about your present suffering, and pray, pray with thanksgiving, and bring your requests to God. And this action of thankful petition to God elicits a peace which cannot be explained, but will protect your mind and your heart.
Anxiety threatens our minds and hearts. It keeps us awake at night. It rids our hearts of compassion because we're preoccupied with our own struggles. We focus on them so much that we have no room for the suffering of others. That is especially true for many of us. We only have enough room for our own issues, and no room for the issues of others.
We need a guard on our hearts and minds, protecting them, preserving them for a better use, namely, to be gentle toward everyone. And Paul suggests that the action of prayer is an important first step toward establishing a guard over our hearts and minds. In Christ Jesus, God grants us a peace, a peace which is greater than any explanation, peace which surpasses human understanding, peace which guards our hearts and minds, protecting them for their proper uses. Once our hearts and minds have been occupied by God's peace, granted to us in Jesus Christ, we are set free to rejoice and let our gentleness be known to everyone.
And all of this is possible because "The Lord is near." Therefore, we act accordingly. Christ's return to our realm is looming and we wait in anticipation. This Advent season, let me invite you to continue waiting for Christ's return by acting like you believe he will. Continue adopting those sacred practices of thankful prayer which leads to a greater dependence on God, which produces peace, which guards our hearts and minds so that in the face of anything we encounter, we might rejoice and show compassion.
Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel shall come to thee, O Israel.
1. Do you think that "The Lord is near?" Why or why not?
2. Do you act like "The Lord is near?" Why or why not?
3. Why do you think it is important to have hearts and minds which are "guarded"?
4. When is the last time you've prayed and offered to God your anxiety and worry?
Today we will pray. The following is a thankful prayer that offers to God the things which occupy our attention during this busy season. I invite you to add your own anxieties to this prayer and pray it as often as you can today.
O God, Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, today I am thankful. I am thankful for the start of a new day, for the warmth of a home, for the comfort of a family. I am thankful to live near so many resources, to open a cupboard and have food stocked away, to be able to heat water for showers, for coffee, and for washing dishes.
Yet, today, Lord, I find that I am not just thankful. I am worried. Anxious.
I am concerned about my family members.....
I am worried about my community.....
I am anxious about my ability to provide for my family....
I am troubled by the lack of financial stability in my life....
I am terrified about the future opportunities for my grandchildren...
I am scared about the times I wake up and feel faithless and weak....
I am worried about..... (insert your prayer here)
Loving God, I give to you my heart, I offer it to you promptly and sincerely. I give to you my mind, I offer it promptly and sincerely. I entrust these to your care, knowing that you have called me to be a beacon of compassion and joy to this world. Take from me my anxieties and help me live like your child, help me to be gentle to everyone, and help me , in all things, to Rejoice!
In the name of Christ, who alone saves, I pray: