Christmas since Victorian times has developed into a prolonged, frenetic period of the year. Folk seem to reach a state of perpetual motion, rushing through shopping arcades to buy seasonal gifts. Sure, some have solved that problem by ordering online. But there are still the many social occasions to attend, demanding one’s undivided attention to long-lost friends and family. Yet the heavenly angels celebrating Jesus’ birth had rejoiced at the prospect of ‘peace on earth’.
Celestial peace defies analysis. According to Paul, the Lord’s servant, it is a ‘peace that passes understanding’ (Philippians 4:7).Years before he recorded that phrase, he and Silas had been sitting awkwardly,imprisoned in a dismal dungeon under the jailhouse of the Greek city of Philippi, enduring the discomfort of stocks clamped around their ankles. Aching too much to be able to sleep (due to wounds on their backs from vicious Roman lashes) they sang praises to God at midnight at such full volume that no other prisoners could get any sleep either. The Empire might boast of its universal ‘pax Romana’ (Roman peace) but this riotous pair now committed the additional petty crime of ‘breach of the peace’. Yet, in fact, they were pouring forth their exuberant praises from hearts at perfect peace.
Suddenly, the whole prison shook with a mighty upheaval of the earth’s crust that flung off every prisoner’s shackles and swung open all the jail’s doors due to broken locks. That was hardly a scene of ‘peace on earth’! But no-one tried to escape because, in fact, heaven’s peace reigned supreme!
Their suicidal jailor was so grateful not to lose his job or even his life that he yielded himself unreservedly to ‘the Lord Jesus Christ’, as did his whole family and his entire household staff, so that a church of Christ was born in that city when they all expressed their faith as ‘he and everyone in his household were immediately baptised’ before breakfast, ‘and he and his entire household rejoiced because they all believed in God’ (see Acts 16:22-34).
This letter that Paul now sent to them glows with gladness (just count the many references to ‘joy’,’rejoicing’ and ‘contentment’). It also contains some unique Pauline phrases, such as his: ‘Rejoice in the Lord always. I say it again – rejoice’;nor would he apologise for thus repeating himself (see Philippians 3:1). As here aches the pinnacle of his message, he tells them that they must take hold of this supernatural peace that is on offer. Whereas the Old Testament message simply called the believer to: ‘Be still, and know [=recognise] that I am God’ (Psalm 46:10) – a passive exhortation – now Paul issues his readers in Philippi some active commands.
How to exchange anxiety for peace
‘Always be full of joy in the Lord. I say it again –rejoice! Let everyone see that you are considerate in all you do. Remember, the Lord is coming soon. Don’t worry about anything; instead, pray about everything. Tell God what you need, and thank him for all he has done. Then you will experience God’s peace, which exceeds anything we can understand. His peace will guard your hearts and minds as you live in Christ Jesus’ (Philippians 4:4-7, New Living Translation).
Paul gave five commands:
(a) Be joyful in the Lord
(b) Be considerate in all that you do.
(c) Be carefree – Don’t be anxious about anything;
(d) Be prayerful – instead, pray about everything;
(e) Be thankful for all things.
Then he promised a peaceful outcome:
(f) ‘Then God’s peace, beyond understanding, will stand guard to protect your heart and mind, as you live in Christ Jesus.’
So, Christ’s followers cannot make such excuses as: I can’t help it. My mother was aworrier, so it’s in my D.N.A. Let’s carefully unpack this reassuring message.
The nature of anxiety
The term for ‘anxious’[Greek = merimnate] carries a sense of ‘pulling in different directions’ – being distracted. The corresponding verb is used for:
 first degree ‘cares’,such as concerns about everyday needs for food and clothing (Matthew 6:25, ‘Be not anxious’; and verse 28, ‘why be anxious? English/Greek New Testament).
 It is also used about striving to get the good opinion of others (e.g. Martha’s ‘anxious and distracted’concerns about impressing everyone with her extravagant cooking skills, Luke 10:41);
 or worrying about giving a competently planned defence in a court case (Luke 12:11).
What to do with your anxiety
- Quit being anxious in yourself. Give your worries to God (1 Peter 5:7).
- Be considerate to others. (Greek = epieikes) – literally, let everyone see that you are very reasonable.
- Be thankful to God for everything.
As a result you will be:
‘Guarded’ by a garrison of angels [Greek = phrounesei, a military term for a garrison]. Jesus in Gethsemane could have summoned a‘legion’ of them to deliver him!
 You too can praise God at the top of your lungs when you feel imprisoned and in situations as dark as midnight!