Do Not Worry

Phil. 4.4-7

In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

St. Paul, writing to the Philippians said this: “The Lord is near. Do not worry about anything, but by prayer and supplication let your requests be made known to God.”

What was that again? “Do not worry about anything?”

Many of us would find this admonition hard to put into action. Very hard.

To most of us, worry is a familiar companion. On our best days, we still find something to fret about. However faithful we feel, the perils of the fallen world around us make us anxious.

But the Bible passage itself implies that we aren’t the first Christians to find ourselves worrying. The only reason you tell someone, “Don’t worry” is if they are already anxious.

The Philippian Christians – to whom Paul was writing – had seen their share of persecution. Now they feared the imminent loss of Paul himself.

(Remember too that St. Paul was himself at that moment in prison, under the threat of a death sentence!)

But we can understand Paul’s message if we observe that it wasn’t only, “Don’t worry.” He wasn’t simply trying to cheer up his devoted friends.

For Paul also says, “the Lord is near.” For him, That’s the key. Because God is near to us, we don’t have to worry.

Here again, though, we may wonder at Paul’s words. Does he have to say this? Isn’t it obvious that God, if he exists, is “near?” That seems to be part of the definition of the word “God.”

Philosophers claim that one of the characteristics of the divine is “omnipresence.” That means that God is everywhere; he is present in all parts of his universe.

During this season of Advent, as part of our preparation for Christmas, we have looked at issues of time such as the final judgment at the end of time.

Today, we look at space: the relation between God’s presence in the universe and our personal human “space.”

This subject literally is a “large one!” For just as modern physics has expanded our understanding of time and the age of the universe, it has also revealed astounding dimensions of creation. We are now aware of a vastly greater universe than our ancestors imagined.

Yet the growth in our knowledge of space has coincided with an apparent decline in our knowledge of God. Whatever the philosophers say, modern people don’t seem to realize that “The Lord is near…”

This ignorance may have begun at the dawn of the scientific age, in the period of history called the enlightenment.

For most of us, the best-known effect of Enlightenment thinking was the American Revolution. Many of the Founding Fathers of the Revolution showed this influence by their belief in what was called deism.

Deists thought that God created the universe and then left it running. God was like a “watchmaker” who wound up the universal clock and then withdrew to contemplate the course of history.

Those influenced by the enlightenment still technically “believed in God.” But they didn’t believe that God was able to participate in the on-going life of the world.

The deist God wasn’t omnipresent. He wasn’t “near.”

And therefore the God of the Enlightenment couldn’t be relied upon to do anything to help human beings; it was up to them to run the world.

And, at the same time, most of the deists thought this was a good thing! They didn’t feel they were missing anything: They wanted to be in charge!

Today, though, we know better. We recognize that we human beings can’t run things on our own.

We might pretend we can govern the world. We can certainly do something to improve the world.

But we human beings can’t do it all. And while human life has always included “problems,” there seems to be more anxiety now. Our age of anxiety suggests that with all our modern technological accomplishments, we still need a God who is near…

But, there are exceptions to our general worry about the distance of God. One of these exceptions is Christmas time.

Why do people have religious stirrings at Christmas time? Why do they value spiritual qualities like peace and generosity and unselfishness more during this season than at others?

No doubt, Christmas music and decorations have an appeal to the most skeptical heart.

But surely one reason for the blossoming of spiritual values at Christmas is the central belief which this holiday is meant to celebrate. The belief for which our own parish is happily named: Incarnation.

Incarnation. God-made-flesh. God with us. God who is near…

Now there is one important difference between a spiritual approach to time and a spiritual approach to space. The extent of universal time leads us in our imaginations to the eternity of God beyond our time. We are led outside ourselves.

But, a spiritual, incarnate view of space doesn’t always work that way. If we start with the extent of our earth, and if we contemplate the size of our solar system and our galaxy, we do get a sense of the majesty of creation.

Yet God is near, not far. So near in fact that Jesus actually told his disciples, “the Kingdom of God is within you!”

To find the nearness of God, then, we look not to outer space but to inner space. God is as close as he can be: He is within us.

William Johnston, a well-known writer on mysticism, talks about the spiritual process of looking within; he suggests that we look into our souls to find what Johnston calls “the still point.”

He writes: “the mind goes silently down into its own center revealing cavernous depths which are untouched by the flow of images and concepts that pass across the surface of the mind.”

We find the nearness of God when we sense his Spirit at work within us. Deep within us – in the “cavernous depths.” We find that there is more to ourselves than what goes on a resume. We see that there is even more going on in our hearts than we are aware of.

And we discover that God is faithful whatever happens.

Because God is within us, there is nothing that can happen that will shut him out.

God is near – nearer even than the anxiety that seems always to be hovering in the background. No wonder we think about peace at Christmas. We sense that the relief from worry is the peace of God within us.

As St. Paul knew so well. He wrote: “Do not worry about anything but by prayer and supplication let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.”

And now unto God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit be ascribed as is most justly due all might, majesty, power, dominion and praise, now and forever. Amen.

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