Project Canterbury

Locust Street Letters

By Frank Lawrence Vernon

Philadelphia: St. Mark's Church, Locust Street.




The Epistle for today prepares us for the joy of Christmas. It gives the reason for the joy. It gives us the secret of possessing it. It gives us a detailed instruction in the art of cultivating and keeping it. It makes it quite clear that the joy of Christmas is an interior joy. Interior joy is the only real joy because it does not depend upon external circumstances. Rather it masters external circumstances so thoroughly that it is capable of turning sorrow into joy.

It ought not to be rare. But it is. We are living in a pleasure-seeking age. It is not a joyful age. There are plenty of pleasure-sated faces. But they are all so sad. When we do see a joyful face, we turn to look at it again. “That person,” we say, “is really happy.” Radiant is the word. What is the secret?

I am going to make an assertion now. I don’t much care whether it is contradicted or not, because I know that the assertion is based upon fact. The convincing joy that I have just spoken of is only to be observed in the faces of persons who have attained to a well developed and finely balanced spiritual life. They are not always smiling. Sometimes they are arrestingly grave. But always they are radiant. Something shines through them. They illuminate the dark spots in life. They stand the tests that shrivel merely nervous, fictitious gaiety. When every other light goes out, their light remains. Every one is impressed by it. Every one admires it. Every one desires it. Every one really is interested to know more about it. Well, as I say, we must go to the Saints to learn.

Today the Church sends us to Saint Paul. He makes use of short sentences and gives simple directions.

“Rejoice,” he writes, “rejoice in the Lord alway: and again I say rejoice.”

“In the Lord.” This is the secret. The fulness of joy is to be found in the presence of Our Lord. Find Him and you find joy. It is a purely personal matter of a purely personal relation. We cannot explain the mysteries of personal relationships. They just happen. That is all. Our Lord said, “These things I have spoken unto you, that my joy might remain in you, and that your joy might be full. Your joy no man taketh from you.” Now the point is that Our Lord does just that for us.

The next direction is, “Let your moderation be known unto all men.” The New Testament word means a little more than our word “moderation” means to us. It also means “equitable, fair, reasonable, gentle.” This quality is the second requisite. It must not be reserved for special friends; it must be known to all men. It is the glass through which joy radiates. Without it even joy that started as real joy would become self-contained. That moment it would die. Joy must be shared to be kept. Not necessarily boisterously or hilariously, but through the medium of being evenly equitable and fair and reasonable and gentle and kind to everybody.

The next direction is, “Be careful, be anxious for nothing.” We are bidden to avoid anxiety. But can any one do that? Ought anyone to do that? Is anxiety a sin? Isn’t it often a duty? The answer to that is found in the rest of the sentence: “In everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known unto God.” We must share our anxieties with God. We must share our joys with each other. We must keep our anxieties for God. This combination is a hard thing to manage. But it can be done. But it can’t be done in a day or a year or in any fixed time. It requires unlimited endurance, until it becomes habitual endurance, gained through hard working prayer and steel-ribbed trust.

Then comes the promise. “The peace of God, which passes all understanding, shall keep your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus.” Here we have Saint Paul’s sermon on a Merry Christmas.

Affectionately in Our Lord,

Project Canterbury