Advent 3, Year C–Philippians 4:4-7

These verses from Paul’s inspiring prison epistle come close to hitting just about every Advent theme there is.

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 to 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

Let’s just count those Advent themes, shall we?

  1. Joy (Rejoice)
  2. The coming of the Lord (The Lord is at hand–literally, ‘the Lord is near’)
  3. Anxiety
  4. Prayer
  5. Thanksgiving
  6. Peace
  7. Love

Some might quibble with the inclusion of love, but Paul references ‘hearts’ in verse 7 and even uses along with ‘minds’ as two different things-cognitive and affective. This indicates he is speaking about love. The words ‘faith’ and ‘hope’ are missing, but they can be deduced through the activity of prayer, which is faith in action, so to speak. Hope is about the future, which is where the passage goes in terms of God’s peace guarding our hearts and minds.

Now, let’s make another list. Let’s make a list of the things that can make us anxious during the Advent season leading up to Christmas?

  1. Gift buying
  2. Gift receiving
  3. Family
  4. Money problems
  5. Health Issues
  6. Weather
  7. Busy Activities
  8. Loss/Grief
  9. Bing Crosby
  10. Elf on the Shelf
  11. Pressure to cook
  12. Weight gain
  13. Schedule interruption/loss of routine
  14. Christmas cards
  15. Christmas parties
  16. Travel
  17. Houseguests
  18. Crowds
  19. Christmas trees
  20. Christmas music

That is a quick list, but hardly exhaustive, amiright?

If I were preaching this passage this Sunday (I am not), the bulk of the sermon would live with that idea-what makes us anxious. I’d spend considerable oxygen on seasonal anxiety but then I would shift to anxiety in general and perhaps have our congregation daydream with me about a warm day in June and the anxieties there.

  1. Vacation plans
  2. Plane tickets
  3. Sunburns
  4. Graduation Parties
  5. College Issues (there are about a hundred that go with this)
  6. Juggling schedules at work
  7. Children getting out of school
  8. Mowing the grass/yard work (this is a high source of anxiety for me, personally)
  9. Church activities
  10. Air conditioner broken
  11. New tires for the car
  12. Dropped phone in the lake/fountain/toilet
  13. Dog’s veterinary visit
  14. Frenemies at work (textually, this is close to the source of anxiety in Philippi, c/f 4:2)

You can see anxiety is not just a seasonal issue. It is continual and always with us. Having made that point, I would then pull from the text two different aspects that Paul seems to offer as solutions.

The first one is prayer. Whatever makes us anxious is an issue of prayer. Certainly this means focusing on these things when we pray, but it probably also means letting the moments of anxiety themselves become prayer opportunities. When the crowd makes me nervous it will help if I center myself and pray in that moment. This practice makes the awarenesses that “The Lord is near” more relevant than ever. His presence, his Immanuel, can help with anxiety.

But he seems to give us more than prayer to work with. Paul says that we should let our ‘reasonableness’ be known. The ESV chooses reasonableness as the rendering, but ‘gentleness’ has a fine tradition for interpretation, and the word could even indicate ‘graciousness.’ One of my favorite little Greek New Testament tools indicates ‘considerate’ as a baseline meaning. When you have this kind of word soup for options, I find it nice to put them in a blender and hit puree. What we get at is the concept people should not be jerks and take whatever actions are relevant to ease anxiety, whether it is their own or someone else’s. In our modern context, I take that to mean enjoying the science-based evidence that medication, therapy, a psychologist, meditation, or any other treatment that might help is in play here. It is only reasonable. Some people face anxiety in different ways than others. This could be as much biochemistry as it is spiritual. That doesn’t mean you stop praying, though. It means you let your faith and reasonable activities partner together to help you enjoy the peace that guards your hearts and minds.







What do you do when you feel like you’ve lost control of your life?

Sometimes life feels like jumbled wires
Sometimes life feels like jumbled wires

Everybody feels that way at one point or another, and most of us will feel that way periodically throughout our lifetime.  The feeling is so nebulous that it is almost impossible to define, but you know it when it happens.  Things that once seemed certain no longer seem as certain, relationships that were rock solid are suddenly muddy or fragile, things that used to make sense don’t any more, and we feel helpless to do anything about it.  Please note, I am not talking about clinical depression, mood disorders, or other medically treatable mental illnesses.  I am referring to the normal feelings we all have sometimes–that feeling that things are spiraling out of our grasp.

Although there is no magical elixir, my experiences have taught me there are some things to help us get through the muddle, and I offer them here as suggestions.

1.  It is important that when we feel this type of identity crisis or confusion, that we do not make big decisions.  Don’t quit your job because it feels hopeless, or divorce your spouse because you think you don’t love her/him anymore, or move just because you think a change of venue will help.  These big decisions might feel right for a little while, but they are long term solutions for short term problems.  Its a bit like going to Costco when all you really need is just one new toothbrush.

2.  Getting back to your roots, whatever your roots may be, is often helpful.  Visit your family, make a phone call to a loved one, or reread a familiar book.  For me, my roots are my wife and two daughters.  Mrs. Greenbean and the sprouts are such an important part of me that spending time with them often puts me back in balance.

3.  Sometimes that out-of-control feeling we have is a spiritual warning sign.  That is why one way to help is by engaging in spiritual activities.  For me, as a Christ-follower, this means reading the scriptures–long passages of scripture like the Psalms or all the gospels and prayer.  Although I don’t use one, many people are helped by a prayer journal.  God made us as spiritual beings as well as physical, and a feeling of lack of control can be an indicator that our spirit is out of whack.

4.  It might be that our feelings of anxiety or confusion are because we’re not thriving, but we can’t see how to fix it.  This is when it is often helpful to talk to someone smarter, more mature (not necessarily older, just more mature) and trustworthy.  Although talking to your spouse or a healthcare professional like a counselor might help, that is not what who I’m talking about here.  I mean a mentor, a guide, someone you look up to.

5.  Focus sometimes is the solution.  Earlier this year I was feeling mildly out-of-place in my writing schedule.  There were four different things that I was working on all at once.  The result was I felt lost and behind schedule in all four of them.  What I needed to do was focus on one with my primary energy, and let the others wait their turn.  This turned out to be a tremendously helpful decision.

6.  But sometimes, the solution is not to focus, but to unfocus.  Instead of buckling down on one project, what we need is some distance.  Withdrawing for a little while, like a weekend, or a week, will often re-energize the soul.  I know this is hard to do, especially if you have young children and/or work full-time but it might be worth it in the long term to take some leave, find a friend to watch the kids, and get away to a cabin, a tent, or a  luxury resort for four or five days.  Time alone can give us insight into who we are, which then gives us inner strength to carry on with the things that matter.

I am certain there are other things that can help us in these times when life is flapping around us like newspaper in a tornado, but these are some strategies I have found helpful.

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