The Lord is Near
The Bible contains many controversial sayings.
While many people think that in 2010, the worst of the financial crisis has passed,
God tells us that the world is passing away.
The worst is yet to come.
Closing Your Eyes?
While sadness in the world is overwhelming, we read the call to always be joyful.
While many developments in church and society can fill us with great concern, we are simply being told in Philippians 4:4-7, to “not be anxious about anything”.
You rub your eyes, is this really what it says?
I remember there were members in the congregation who were very conservative, who reacted negatively to this word from God. “We are concerned, gravely concerned” is what they told me. It was being claimed as a right. Could I not see the deterioration in various ways then?
Where would that lead to?
But I ignore that criticism. Those are not my words.
Does God ask us to be blind for what is happening around us?
The threats in the world are increasing. The predominance of the West, which always felt safe, is slowly dissipating. Extremist groups are emerging, they cannot be reasoned with; they are out of control. Even ships are being hijacked on one of the most important trade routes that the shipping world knows.
Economic developments are far from rosy. Not all companies will survive this recession.
Add to this the many personal situations. People’s incomes are affected, and their jobs. What to do with their debts? Caring for people becomes hard to afford. Energy becomes scarce.
How will we find solutions for all this? And then the contradictions in society, the rising feeling of “what difference does it make anyway, let them just go ahead”. The moral vacuum that is being created by this. Who will set the tone in the coming years in our country?
Does God ask us to be blind for what is happening around us?
Believe in God
Not at all!
You can be sure that God can see much better than we can. That he is better in analyzing the developments than the most experienced commentator is.
That is why this word is so remarkable.
“Do not be anxious about anything”. We do well to not take this with a grain of salt.
For it is about indicating the reality. It is perfectly formulated as: “The Lord is near”.
Four words that say it all.
The Lord is asking us to take his presence seriously. Christmas is past, the special dishes have been enjoyed, and we are all back at work again.
But the reality is now that the Son of God has entered this world. Not a creature, for the misery is too great for that. The ruins are incalculable, but in between that stands a crib, his crib, and even more so: his cross. Whoever sees him, and faithfully draws near, is never alone anymore.
That is the secret.
Being concerned is prompted by the question: “how do I save myself?” Or: “how can we be saved?” God’s answer is: “you are saved, believe in Me”.
So, this is not “a bandage solution”, and even less a misplaced exercise in positive thinking.
No, the question is “how do you believe?” How serious are you taking God’s nearness in this world and in your personal existence? How real is it to you that Jesus Christ gathers his church, protects, and defends it? Or is it in practice still primarily the work of men by which the church of God is carried?
Walking with God
That is what this is about. It is an exercise in believing.
Difficult? When it comes down to it, this is what it is all about. When Jesus comes, will he find faith or not? Or will he find people who are primarily occupied with their own world, to keep it all safe? And to remain king over their own “castle”?
Someone said that being concerned is a form of pride. Because it originates when a person trusts himself more than God. Whoever is alert to this, will see that God also calls it this way.
In our Reformed tradition, we have developed the almost indelible tripartite of misery, salvation, and thankfulness.
It is, according to me, questionable to what extent “the thankfulness” has been a good choice.
Sure, in the Bible we read calls to be thankful, to thankfully use what God gives us.
And yet, when the people of Israel are on their journey from Egypt to Canaan, and repeatedly rebel against the Lord, not once is the accusation raised of “not being a thankful people”.
You do not find that word (thankful).
But what God does ask, is “faith!” When you have witnessed what I did to the Egyptians, and how I have led you with a strong hand and an outstretched arm, do you then dare to come along with Me to the promised land? That was the main point. When the journey through the desert is extended with 40 more years, then the reason for this is not a lack of thankfulness.
But it is a lack of faith; “because of unbelief” we read in Hebrews 3:19. Their lack of faith was fed by an unhealthy dose of concern. The giants that had been seen were deemed to be greater than the God of heaven and earth. That is why the question arose: “how can we ever beat them?”
And The Secret Is…
Concern is portrayed as unbelief, pride, stubbornness. To always look more to people and rely on what people can do. The result is that your calculations never add up.
Rejoice in the Lord
“Do not be anxious about anything” is therefore a very serious command, which touches the heart of the gospel and your relationship with God. It touches everything in society and in church. Not that everything goes so smoothly. Continue to make an effort as per your gifts.
But always look up to God, rely upon him and build on him. We do not have the promise that we can hold on to everything that we have started. But he promises that he is faithful in what he has started.
People who can surrender their concerns, receive space in their thinking. They do not get lost in their concerns, they do not become sour, but receive time and space to think about other things and to pay attention to their neighbours. After all, they also need to be saved. “Let everyone know you as being hospitable” is not a loose comment but is connected directly to the peace that God gives you. Peace which also gives you joy. You do not have to be joyful about everything; that is not possible. There is great sorrow and lingering sadness. But rejoice in the Lord who is with you in these circumstances, who descended for you in his Son. He himself came, and he is there himself as he sees “with his own eyes” that your struggles are great (Zech. 9:8).
No creature can solve this. But he is there. Rejoice in the Lord always, everywhere. It says it repeatedly (Phil 4:4), as if Paul knew “now I have to get this through to them”. And he knew it.
In summary: it is about clarifying the reality of God, no more or less. We may live in that realization. Whoever experiences that reality will think, talk, and write differently. To the point, but not caught up in negative patterns. While there is always hope, as what is heavenly, lights up whatever happens on earth.
Time is Short
However, there still is a surprise in this Word. A surprise that comes to light when you read the whole letter to the Philippians. From chapter 1 it is time and again about the day of Christ which is coming. In chapter 3 we read about our citizenship in heaven, from where we expect Jesus Christ. Much can be said about this. But the red thread is clear: we expect Jesus Christ!
Or perhaps better said: we learn to expect him. That motive permeates this letter, that is the content. That is why this comment “The Lord is near” has been interpreted by the Christian church as temporal. This text was for years the preferred text to preach about, on the 4th Sunday of Advent. The Lord is near in time!
Peace Which Also Gives You Joy
If that is so (and it is), what are you then still concerned about? What is then needed to do or to say? How will you meet him? How is this possible? We cannot figure it out, though we may lay awake for hours. The only answer to this is that the Lord will have everything with him, or rather: he has in him what is needed for us, to appear before him. Here we are lost for words.
Everything that we may be concerned about pales in the light of this meeting.
The Lord who comes, occupies the time that is yet to come. When he is almost there, what are we talking about then? What needs to be said then? To be written?
What needs to be brought to the light?
Let us ponder that question.
The time is short, so use it well.
The Lord is near.
Let each person know this.