Advent Reflection: Philippians 2:1–11

Then make my joy complete

There are themes to all our lives. People say others are all about, for example, integrity, friendship, helping others, travel or family. The apostle Paul was all about joy. His letter to the Philippians mentions joy or rejoice at least 14 times out of about 2400 words in the whole letter. Why? Because those in Philippi really needed to hear the message--they had lost their joy and don’t know where to find it. Paul uses joy to refer to their friendship, financial giving, resolving conflict by being humble toward each other. And Paul had experienced joy in surprising ways in his own life. Years before he was a self-righteous pharisee authorized to kill Christians and eliminate the message of Jesus. Who would have thought Paul would find joy in knowing Jesus?

We are left with a short letter that hits us hard with joy and challenges our deeply held beliefs about how and where we find joy.

One way of looking at the whole letter of Philippians is through the lens of conflict resolution between two women who have worked side by side with Paul. “I plead with Euodia and I plead with Syntyche to be of the same mind in the Lord… Rejoice in the Lord always.” (Phil 4:2) Euodia and Syntyche are in conflict Paul is asking the church in chapter two to do something to make his joy complete.

“To make my joy complete" means to fill or supply a complete amount of joy, but Eugene Peterson translates it simply: “do me a favor.”

And the joy-favor he asks of the Philippians connects to Jesus-joy. He asks them to walk the same road to joy that Jesus walked.  He asks them in relationship to each other to be

be like-minded
have the same love
be one in spirit and of one mind
do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit
have the same love
in humility value others above yourselves
not looking to your own interests
but each of you to the interests of the others

It connects to Jesus’ joy because he prayed for our unity—it’s the last prayer Jesus before his arrest.  For us. For the world. For the message of Christmas. “I in them and you in me—so that they may be brought to complete unity. Then the world will know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me.” (John 17:23) Jesus wanted his love for the Father to be shared with his followers so there was evidence of his coming to us in human flesh.  In incarnation was a road of joy through humility, obedience and ultimately his death on the cross.

Jesus made himself nothing
the very nature of a servant,
made in human likeness.
found in appearance as a man,
he humbled himself
becoming obedient to death— even death on a cross!
God exalted him to the highest place
the name that is above every name,
at the name of Jesus every knee should bow,
in heaven and on earth and under the earth,
every tongue acknowledge that Jesus Christ is Lord,
to the glory of God the Father.

The joy of Christmas is not primarily in cards, greetings or carols, not in services held one night, but in lives submitted to one another out of our love for Jesus, in the relationships among God’s people, lived out 365/24/7.

Same love, no selfish ambition, no vain conceit.

So, take “Hark the Heralds” and “Joy to the World” and “Silent Night” and sing in one voice. If not, the message of Jesus is drowned out. Because the words mean nothing if the singers don’t sing together. No one can hear the words when we are singing over one another. No one can hear the message of Jesus’ glory in the manger to glory in the heavens if we are singing different tunes or arguing about what song to sing (literally and figuratively). Tough message for twenty-twelve Christians.

Get along.
Submit to one another.
It’s all about Jesus.
It’s not about you.  

That’s how we find joy.


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