Rejoice!

Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice.” (Philippians 4:4).

Rejoice! What a wonderful word! What a wonderful emotion! With all we have to rejoice over, why are we not rejoicing all the time? Or do we really have all that much to rejoice over? So many seem not to think so since they seem never to have any joy in their lives. Whether we rejoice or not is often determined by our perspective, not by our real circumstances.

There is a perversity in the human heart that makes us positively inclined toward the negative, the sad, the sorry, and sordid details of the world around us. The news media have long capitalized on this proclivity. We revel in the moral downfall of high-standing officials, sports and entertainment figures, avidly following their unfolding stories day after day until the day their political or popular careers go down in flames. We look at our own minor annoyances and inconveniences as major events and believe we will never be the same again after having suffered such setbacks!

How different we are from the woman of whom Jesus spoke in Luke 15! She was apparently extremely poor. Her entire worldly savings consisted of ten small silver coins, Greek drachmas. The drachma amounted to about fifteen cents in value, and consequently the whole sum was about a dollar and a half. When she lost one of these precious (to her) coins, she was distraught. She forgot everything else in her anxious search for the one that was lost. But when she found it she was beside herself with joy and threw a party for all her neighbors, inviting them to rejoice with her.

There are many examples and occasions for rejoicing spoken of in the Bible. The “Feast of Tabernacles,” or “Ingathering” is one such example. The word feast comes from a Hebrew word ḥagh, meaning “to dance” or possibly “to make a pilgrimage.” This festival came at the end of the harvest season – seven days in the seventh month – and was a time of thanksgiving for God’s provisions for them through the past year. For the Jews, however, it also looks further back into their history with God to the time of their salvation and deliverance from Egyptian bondage. Their very identity was bound up in this singular, significant event when they came out of slavery and became God’s unique possession. During this feast the people were to remember all they had to be thankful for – to “count their blessings” as it were – and rejoice because of all God had done for them.

God said to them that on the occasion of this “holy convocation…you shall rejoice before the LORD your God for seven days.” (Leviticus 23:7). The word convocation is from the Latin, ‘calling together’ and is equivalent to the Greek, ecclesia, (rendered in English as “church), meaning “a group of people formally assembled for a special purpose.”

Think about what that means for a few minutes. God wanted His people to make a pilgrimage, gather to together and eat, dance, be joyful and thankful together – to have a “sanctified” party! Rejoicing is supposed to be shared! The shepherd who found his lost sheep “calls together his friends and neighbors, saying to them, ‘Rejoice with me.” When we have a good reason to be joyful we naturally want to tell others about it. If we hear about something good happening to others we are naturally glad for them. Having a party to celebrate something good enables us to share our joy more fully with others. Instead of just telling them about our good fortune, they come to our party and experience our joy with us.

Jesus observed in connection with these two parables in Luke 15, “I say to you that likewise there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine just persons who need no repentance.” There is joy in heaven over a sinner repenting! Does that mean that there is laughing, dancing, and a festival meal in heaven? Somehow we don’t allow ourselves to think about heaven in that way. In our Victorian concept of God’s abode, heaven is this prim and proper place where everything is solemn and sober and everyone goes tiptoeing around with a pious look on his face. But this is not the picture of heaven at all according to Jesus words here. And if there is such rejoicing in heaven, then shouldn’t we have a party when a sinner repents or when any other good thing happens among God’s people?

Or why not have a party and call our friends over when we find a lost “fifteen cents”? Oh, fifteen cents is not all that important to us, is it? Many people will not stoop down to pick up a lost penny. It just isn’t worth the effort, and fourteen more of them hardly qualifies as a windfall. If we lose a dime we won’t spend much time looking for it because we will hardly go hungry for lack of one dime.

But the worth (or worthlessness) of the coin is not the point. It is not the size of the blessing that determines whether to rejoice – it is the fact that we have been blessed. It isn’t the size of the blessing that determines whether we are to throw a party and invite our neighbors to rejoice with us – it is the fact that God has taken notice of us in our poverty and has blessed us with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places.

Indeed! “Rejoice in the Lord always! And again I will say, rejoice!”

Let’s have a feast!

Heavenly Father,

You have been so good to us and have blessed us in so very many ways – so abundantly we cannot begin to number our blessings.

Help us to look away from the negative, discouraging circumstances of our lives and see all the good things You provide us and rejoice in these things!

Help us to be willing to share our gladness with our friends and neighbors that they to may experience something of the joy that has come to us through being Your children.

Amen!

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