Gaudete Sunday

Where Does Joy Belong?

Isaiah 35:1-10, James 5:7-11, Matthew 11:2-11

 

Peace and grace to you all from our Lord and Savior Jesus the Christ,

 

Today is the third Sunday of Advent. This Sunday stands out from the other Sundays, it has its own differently colored candle, and many churches will even change the paraments to a pink or rose color in the midst of the blue or purple season of Advent.  It is even the only Sunday in advent that has its own name.  Gaudete Sunday, from the Latin word meaning rejoice, this is the Sunday in Advent that joy is the focus.

Now as the modern church has shied away from concepts like repentance, confession, and even sin in general terms we have embraced a more joyful tone around all of advent and Gaudete Sunday has lost it very special place in the season. More often than not the solitary pink candle is the last evidence of this day’s special significance in the season of Advent. The existence of Gaudete Sunday in the bigger season of Advent should remind us that joy isn’t something that exists by itself removed from the more difficult aspects of life. But that it rightly belongs in the midst of it all.

            You see the world that Jesus is born into is a world where violence and oppression are commonplace, where those who were in position to better the world and care for others often care only for themselves, and the world is divided into us and them, have and have-nots, insiders and outsiders. The sad thing is that despite all our talk about progress much of what ailed the world 2000 years ago still ails it today.  In a world where our evening news reports on global wars overseas and school shootings in this country and where people we know and love need to choose between food on the table or gifts under the tree we still need to know about God’s promised messiah who brings peace, hope, and joy brings those things in the midst of it all. That is what the readings of Gaudete Sunday attest to.  Hear again the words of the Prophet Isaiah.

The wilderness and the dry land shall be glad,
    the desert shall rejoice and blossom;
like the crocus it shall blossom abundantly,
    and rejoice with joy and singing.
The glory of Lebanon shall be given to it,
    the majesty of Carmel and Sharon.
They shall see the glory of the Lord,
    the majesty of our God.

 

This prophetic oracle was first heard by a people in exile, people driven out of their homes and forced to live as strangers in a foreign land. The promise that God spoke through the prophet was a promise of ended exile, but not necessarily a return home. The focus here is not about any specific destination, even though a return home and restored temple are in the cards for future generations; that isn’t all that this reading is about. What this prophecy is about however is a God who promises to be present in even the most unexpected places.

Brothers and sisters that is exactly what the incarnation is about. God becoming a human being, a real flesh and blood man and being born in this difficult world and in the harshest of circumstances. Much like God’s son comes to us through the complexities of life, joy exists in the midst of many other feelings, many of them not good. Much like the desert that God promises will blossom we find joy and hope in God’s presence in the midst of our parched deserts.

·         In my ministry I have had conversations with people who either have deserted their faith or hesitate to embrace Christianity because it seems fake or unrealistic. That their one obstacle to embracing Jesus is that all too prevalent notion that the having Jesus in your life means everything will go right and be easy. Or that if only you prayer hard enough and believed rightly all your problems will disappear.  The irony brothers and sisters is that I probably know more people who think that Christians believe that than I do Christians who believe that. Somewhere down the road we have created the image of a church that is escapist by denying the realities and complexities of life. The beauty of the Advent and Christmas season is that baby Jesus is born to us in the midst of the ugliness. Hear me again joy is not absence of pain and struggle; just as peace is not the absence of violence and strife if they were we would definitely have to wait for the world to come. Instead peace and joy go together in God’s incarnation because they are the acknowledgement of God’s redeeming and saving presence in middle of all of it. God doesn’t come to take away pain and problems; he comes to accompany us as we walk through it. And only a God who is willing to do that is worthy of our praise and worship. So let’s rejoice for God is coming in the promised arrival of his messiah. Please pray with me. Lord God, we thank you for your amazing promise to be present in even the most unexpected places. Please help us to see you and feel your saving love in even the darkest and coldest places in our lives for that is where true joy comes from. We pray in the precious and holy name of Jesus Christ whose birth we await this season. Amen

 

   November 2018   
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