14th December – Advent 3
May I the words of my mouth and the meditation of all our hearts be acceptable to you our Creator, Redeemer and Sustainer. Amen.
Well, here we are on the third Sunday of advent, rapidly approaching Christmas. Yesterday was the Designer Fair and tonight we have the Santa Lucia dinner. If I can just say, as it was the first Designer Fair I have ever been at here, I had an amazing time and thoroughly enjoyed watching another transformation of the church and being a part of the community coming together to support such a great event. Tonight is the first Santa Lucia dinner I will ever experience and I am sure that my report on tonight’s festivities will be as glowing as mine from the fair yesterday.
We continue on with services, hosting an evening of the cold weather shelter, and now we look forward to Mark dressing up in a Santa Claus outfit, Tuesday, to deliver our credit union application forms to London Mutual Credit Union. On top of what is going on here in our community, schools are starting to break up, some people may even be packing for their holiday travels, whether they are staying close to home or heading out of country. Perhaps food is being ordered for that big Christmas feast, or lists for presents are being rechecked. Or maybe you are going through the mental aerobics of wondering how and when you will find the time to bring it all together for one more year. The Advent season is racing ahead.
We find ourselves in the midst of this continued movement of life pausing to light our third advent candle; a candle that symbolises John the Baptist and joy. I found out that this Sunday is often called Gaudete Sunday and is one of the few times of the year when rose coloured vestments can be worn. Something for Mark and I to think about next year, a liturgical chance to wear pink…I mean rose! Gaudete Sunday takes its name from the opening word of the traditional latin mass which begins with, you guessed it, ‘Gaudete’, which simply means rejoice. This framing of the service by one word is significant for us as we think about our Biblical passages today.
As we look at the texts of Scripture, which we have heard today, I would like you to be thinking about three simple questions: Where is the joy? What is the message? And, where are the connections for me?
Our first reading, another great advent reading from Isaiah, is filled with references about joy and to situations that will bring joy to those who journey through them. God says he will ‘give unto them…the oil of joy for mourning.’ The prophet proclaims, ‘I will greatly rejoice in the Lord, my soul shall be joyful in the Lord.’ But before these words the passage begins with – words which are picked up by Jesus himself in Luke 4:18-19 – ‘The Spirit of the Lord God is upon me; because the Lord hath anointed me to preach good tidings unto the meek: he hath sent me to bind up to brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives and the opening of the prison to them that are bound…to comfort all that mourn…to give them beauty for ashes…the garment of praise for the spirit of heaviness.’ Why does that prophet say these things are happening? They are happening ‘that [the Lord] might be glorified.’ Joy, here is found, in the lived out proclamation of God’s kingdom – care for the oppressed, vulnerable and needy – and the message is clear, the Lord is to be glorified and ‘will cause righteousness and praise to spring forth before all the nations.’
We heard the choir sing Psalm 126, another text full of praise and the promise of joy for those who walk with the Lord God. Joy in this passage is shown not simply in the fulfilment of promise but also in the remembrance of what has been done. ‘Then they said to the heathen: the Lord hath done great things for them. Yea, the Lord hath done great things for us already: whereof we rejoice.’ The message we hear is that God has done great things for his people, even if now they find themselves in captivity. Though they may not be free now, the promise of liberation causes rejoicing and hope, for ‘they that sow in tears: shall reap in joy. [They] that now goeth on [their] way weeping, and bearing good seed: shall doubtless come again with joy…’
Our second reading, from 1 Thessalonians, begins, ‘Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances…’ It continues, ‘test everything; hold fast to what is good; abstain from every form of evil. May the God of peace himself sanctify you entirely; and may your spirit and soul and body be kept sound and blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ.’ Joy is found in here in all places, at all times and in all things. We are challenged to ‘pray without ceasing, [and] give thanks in all circumstances…’ This is held in balance with the work of the God of peace, to sustain us and to make us holy. Joy is proclaimed in all areas of life, testifying to the work of God in us.
Our final reading, another famous passage from the John, tells us of the ministry of John the Baptist. We hear of a man who ‘came as a witness to testify to the light…crying out in the wilderness, “Make straight the way of the Lord”…’ No one can accuse John of not having a clear message. He was always very black and white about what he was saying, who he was speaking to, and who the people should turn to as a response to his call. But, unlike our other three passages, we have no specific reference to joy. What we have, instead, is a proclamation of light. This reference to the one who is Light, is a direct continuation of the beginning hymn we find in John 1:1-5, ‘In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things came into being through him, and without him not one thing came into being. What has come into being in him was life, and the life was the light of all people. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it.’ John’s gospel begins with a theological assertion of the nature and person of Jesus, the Word, and it is in this context that John the Baptist proclaims the one who is to come.
Even without the use of the word ‘joy’, our previous texts have already shown us that the lived out proclamation of God and his kingdom, is the very message that is both rooted in and active in bringing joy. In just over a week, we will celebrate the clearest example of this in the incarnation of Jesus Christ. John’s message is a message both bringing and expressing joy – the Light is coming and we must ‘make straight the way of the Lord.’
I am not sure about you, but I find it easy to ‘do the right thing’ when others are doing it too. Helping the homeless and being charitable is much easier when it is a part of the ethos and culture of the church. I love St Mary’s because its identity is rooted in that important intersection of existence where we see our call to care for those who need it. Whether that is through youth and children’s work, care for the elderly and housebound, or now looking to be a part of the empowerment of a financial system that helps those who have need but have no where to turn. Our history here, and the life we continue to live as a community, is marked by such action – and I pray it continues for many more years to come. But, is there joy? What is the message we are proclaiming?
There is joy in care for humanity and this world, regardless of personal belief or motivation. We must always encourage others, and ourselves, to live for the good of all creation. But, we do not do this for ourselves, or for the hope of some utopian global village, we do this that we may all know God, that we all may see Christ and that we all may participate in the Spirit’s work of new life. We prepare to celebrate the birth of Christ not for what he does for us, but for the chance to know him. For the Light who is coming has said, ‘The Spirit of the Lord God is upon me; because the Lord hath anointed me to preach good tidings unto the meek: he hath sent me to bind up to brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives and the opening of the prison to them that are bound…to comfort all that mourn…to give them beauty for ashes…the garment of praise for the spirit of heaviness.’ And I am not sure about you, but our world could use this message and joy, I could use this reality.
Gaudete, let us make straight the way of the Lord, for Christ is coming. Amen.