Pastor Aaron Steinbrenner delivers a sermon entitled “Jesus Brings Joy Against Any Backdrop” based on Philippians 4:4-7 at Peace Lutheran Church in Hartford, Wisconsin.
Delivered on Sunday, December 16, 2018
For a lot of different reasons, the professional photography field has really changed. But back in 1989, when me and my classmates were getting our senior pictures taken, we went to a studio. There the photographer set up his lights and cameras. And he had backdrops. You could pick from a brick wall background or a rustic wooden wall or maybe even train tracks and trees. One moment you could be standing at the bright sunny beach and, a few seconds later, a new background would appear and you’d be in the dark of night, surrounded by skyscrapers and city lights. It’s still you, just standing there, but the background can keep changing. Isn’t that a little like life? It’s you…you’re just standing there, living your life, but the backdrops keep changing…the circumstances in life keep changing. Sometimes peaceful and calm and relaxed. Sometimes manageable, but a little draining. Sometimes hectic and out of control and even scary. At the studio, you can choose the background you want; not in life – circumstances change, without checking with you first.
That can lead to stress. Anxiety. Yet, Paul says, relax. Not just relax, rejoice. Oh yeah, easy for him to say. He’s the apostle Paul. He met Jesus personally on the Road to Damascus. He’s like a super-Christian. Everything was probably easy and smooth for him. Not quite. In fact, I’d be willing to bet Paul’s difficult and stressful backgrounds were much more numerous and extreme than any of ours:
- Flogged 5 times
- Beaten with rods 3 times
- Shipwrecked 3 times
- Stoned once
- And even now, as he writes this letter, he’s not on a beach or a quaint bed and breakfast…he’s in prison, under house arrest…not sure if he’ll get released or sentenced to more prison or worse.
Yet he says, rejoice. In fact, as a point of emphasis he says, “I will say it again, rejoice.”
- Rejoice because it’s Christmas time and you can almost feel the positive spirit in the air and all the family will be all together and there will be fires in the fireplace and presents under the tree?
- But also rejoice if you’re going home to an empty house this Christmas or maybe these special holiday-cheer days heighten your recent loss or if your near-empty wallet means few, if any presents under the tree.
- Rejoice because we just celebrated our wedding anniversary and things couldn’t be going better?
- But also rejoice even though your marriage may be going through a rocky spell.
- Rejoice because everybody’s health is good?
- But rejoice even though you’re taking five different medications and that dull pain makes it impossible to get a good night’s sleep.
In other words, Paul says, “Rejoice in the Lord always.” You see, even the godless…the hardened atheist can look at his clean bill of health and his full cupboards of food and his garage with the nice car and his job promotion and feel happy about his good fortune. But Paul suggests we can have a deeper joy…a joy that goes beyond having nice stuff and having nice things happen to us. A joy that is ever-present. A joy that dwells in our heart even though it might have to share space with other emotions like sadness and loneliness and heart-break…joy is still there. Because this joy is rooted not in the ever-changing backdrops and circumstances of life but in Jesus. Rejoice in the Lord always.
Here’s one reason why: The Lord is near, Paul says. Some translations say, the Lord is at hand. He is close. Always right there. One form of the word actually means guarantor. A guarantor is the person who backs you up when you take out a loan. He’s close. He’s right by your side. If you can’t pay your loan, he pays it for you. So, rejoice….
- There was a very special time in history when the Lord came near…took on flesh…was born in a manger.
- There was a very special time in history when the Lord came near…took the debt you could not satisfy, and he paid it.
- But that’s not all. The Lord still is near…he is close at hand to his believers. So every moment of every day the Lord is near to you. You may not feel it. Life circumstances may try to convince you otherwise. The devil will be sure to chime in, hoping you’ll see your problems as overwhelming and God as distant and disinterested. But that’s not the reality. Here’s what’s real: “This is what the LORD says…he who created you…he who formed you…fear not, for I have redeemed you; I have summoned you by name; you are mine…when you pass through the waters…I will be with you” (Isaiah 43:1-3).
For this reason, since the Lord is near, there’s no need for you and me to be anxious or to worry. Plus, worrying doesn’t help. Remember what Jesus said, Who of you by worrying can add a single hour to his life? Well, then, what are we supposed to do? It’s hard to just sit still. I want to be active and do something that can help and be productive. Awesome. Then Paul has just the thing. Instead of being anxious…instead of worrying…in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving present your requests to God. For there is nothing too great for his power to handle and there is nothing too small for his Fatherly care and concern.
Does the name Corrie Ten Boom mean anything to you? She was a Dutch Christian woman – she and her father hid Jews in their home so they could escape the Nazi holocaust during WWII. She was caught and sent to a concentration camp. There was a particularly down moment she had when she and her friend, Betsie, were jammed into an over-crowded living quarters. It smelled horrible. And it was infested with fleas. It took some convincing, but Betsie urged Corrie to pray and to rejoice and to give thanks. Afterall,
- We are in the camp together – so we have each other. Let’s give thanks for that!
- We have pages of a smuggled Bible – so we can read God’s Word every day.
- It’s crowded in here…cramped – but see how many other people we can touch with God’s Word!
- And even the fleas…these horrible fleas – the fleas are keeping the Nazi guards from carefully inspecting our barracks…and so we can read our Bibles ad even have quiet worship services.
- And so they prayed…with thanksgiving…they even rejoiced. They weren’t magically transported away from that concentration camp, but they knew the Lord Jesus was near. And so they had a joy, so deeply rooted in Jesus, that fleas and Nazi soldiers could not extinguish.
For Paul, floggings and shipwrecks and a stoning could not remove his joy in Jesus. You also have a joy that cannot be extinguished no matter what your backdrop is right now or what any of your circumstances in life have ever been. Nothing in your life…
- can go back in history and keep Jesus the Son of God from being born in Bethlehem.
- can undo or erase what Christ accomplished on Calvary’s cross.
- Can plunge into the depths of the sea and retrieve your sins which have been buried there.
- Nothing in your life can keep Jesus in the tomb or keep him from declaring, “Because I live, you too shall live” or keep him from returning on the Last Day to gather his sheep in his arms.
- No backdrop can remove Jesus…for the Lord is near. Amen.