Be Glad In the Lord Always

The following meditation was written by Doug Hood\’s son, 
Nathanael Hood, M.A., New York University

\”Be glad in the Lord always! Again I say, be glad! Let your gentleness show in your treatment of all people. The Lord is near. Don’t be anxious about anything; rather, bring up all of your requests to God in your prayers and petitions, along with giving thanks. Then the peace of God that exceeds all understanding will keep your hearts and minds safe in Christ Jesus.\”
Philippians 4:4-7 (Common English Bible)
Chorus class was always my favorite part of Vacation Bible School growing up outside of Dallas. Fingers sticky from lollipops and popsicles, arms bruised from roughhousing and Red Rover, we’d sit there in the small choir room sucking in sweet lungfuls of air-conditioning as the Texas sun baked the brown grass and cracked pavement outside. We’d sing as well as any group of sun-dazed kiddies could, sometimes accompanied by a white-haired elder on the piano, sometimes by a cassette tape of a children’s choir tunelessly warbling and shouting their way through song after song. Some I remember fondly, like “Jesus Loves the Little Children” which my missionary mother taught us to sing in English, Portuguese, and Tshiluba. Some I remember rather less than fondly: “I’ve Got the Joy, Joy, Joy Down in My Heart” always grated on me; its descending verses always made me feel strangely tired and drowsy.
But one of our favorites—and one we’d always sing when we’d inevitably get dragged out before the congregation the Sunday morning after VBS ended—was “Rejoice in the Lord Always.” With its simply, repetitive lyrics and incessantly catchy melody, it became a standard part of our repertoire, especially after one of those white-haired elders figured out you could punctuate the verses with claps.
“Rejoice in the Lord always, and again I say rejoice!” *Clap clap*
“Rejoice in the Lord always, and again I say rejoice!” *Clap clap*
The parents always loved that. And we did too. (Any excuse to raise an unholy ruckus in the sanctuary, I suppose.) The hymn is a direct quotation of Philippians 4:4, a standard and popular passage for lectionaries, particularly during Advent. With its simple and forceful declaration to celebrate in the nearness and power of God, it’s exactly the kind of easy reassurance and encouragement that makes up the lifeblood of mainline Christianity. Don’t think too hard about the world or one’s suffering. Rejoice! Be thankful! Show gratitude! Clap clap!
Of course, the text\’s context was considerably less cheery. Philippians was one of the many letters Paul wrote while imprisoned by the Romans, and the church itself in Philippi was perhaps faring little better. Settled largely by Roman veterans of military campaigns waged by Mark Antony and Octavian following the assassination of Julius Caesar, this wealthy settlement in northeast Greece was a nerve center of Rome\’s civic religion, revering nearly thirty-five deities. Unlike Paul\’s earlier church plants, Philippi was largely comprised of pagans and gentiles, not Jews. It was the first Christian community in Europe, and the persecution they faced under the watchful eye of the Romans, the constant danger of betrayal and fear, must have been incredible.
Yet Paul tells them not only to rejoice in the Lord, but to abandon their anxiousness. Understand, this was not an act of surrender but one of defiance. This was not a meek and meager apostle writing these words, but a prisoner who knew his execution and martyrdom were both likely and imminent. Notice carefully Paul’s wording: be “glad” in the Lord, not “happy” in the Lord. He isn’t telling the church at Philippi to ignore their persecution but to look beyond it to the Christ that surrounds and embraces them. The promise of Christ—the promise of the empty tomb—is of victory over death and triumph over fear, both from without and within. We trust in a God who hears our prayers and knows our suffering—what a blessing compared to the pagan gods of Rome with their insatiable appetites and capricious moods! We may not know what the future holds, Paul writes, but we do know who holds the future. Clap clap!

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