Joy. Joy is defined as “a deep feeling of or ecstatic expression of happiness”. As we enter into the third Sunday of Advent, the theme is Joy. On your home Advent wreaths, you should be lighting the pink candle, also known as the Joy candle.
Advent is about patiently waiting the coming of the Kingdom of God. It is about hope and expectation. It is a time of reflecting on the way things have been, and deeply desiring the in-breaking of God. It is a time of looking forward to the incarnation of God in Christ. Our readings for the past two weeks have reflected those hopes and expectations, and this Sunday’s readings celebrate the joy of the relationship we share with our incarnate God.
The reading from the prophet Zephaniah (3:14-20) is filled with joy. The prophet tells us to sing, shout and rejoice for the restored relationship we have with God. The prophet tells us that not only do we sing and rejoice in this relationship, but that God rejoices in it too. In this passage, we have very incarnational theology happening…God rejoices in us, God gathers us up—even the oppressed, the lame and the outcast; no one is left out, God makes right those systems of injustice, God is present in our challenges and in our healing. In my mind’s eye I imagined the first people hearing this prophet speak and shaking tambourines and beating drums with joy and hope! If only we celebrated and reveled in the incarnation the way that Zephaniah instructs those first listeners. Where are our tambourines and drums? Where are our shouts of joy?
Then in our second reading, Canticle 9—or The First Song of Isaiah—we have more rejoicing. It’s almost as if it were written as a response to Zephaniah’s call to rejoice and sing: “Therefore you shall draw water with rejoicing from the springs of salvation…Give thanks to the Lord and call upon God’s Name…Sing the praises of the Lord…Cry aloud…ring out your joy”. And what is the cause of all this joy? That we can trust in God and that God is in our midst. Our joy is in the incarnation. Where are our shouts of joy? Where are our tambourines and drums?
Our third reading from Philippians (4:4-7) continues this theme of rejoicing. “Rejoice…the Lord is near…give thanksgiving”. . There is to be no more worry and anxiety. The incarnation is the source of our joy. Where are our tambourines and drums? Where are our shouts of joy?
Even in the Gospel of Luke, there is joy to be found. I used up my “brood of vipers” chance last week when I preached parts of this Gospel. Oh well…vipers aren’t joyous anyway. But even in John’s scathing response to those who had gathered around him, he presents them an opportunity to rejoice because the One who is coming, the incarnate God in Christ, is going to baptize with the Holy Spirit…Jesus will purify us, gather us up, right all wrongs, and be present with us in our challenges and in our healing. This is the good news that John proclaimed. So where were their tambourines and drums? Where were their shouts of joy?
In the 10th century, an anonymous poet wrote these words about the season of Advent, the good news of the incarnation, and the call to rejoice:
Eternal Health, unfailing Life of the world, everlasting Light, and truly our Redemption. For grief that the ages of humankind should perish by the work of the tempter’s agents, without leaving the heights of heaven, you have entered the depths of the world with your clemency. Then by your own free grace taking on all that is human, you have rescued all the earthly things that had been lost, bringing joy to the world. Our souls and bodies, Christ, restore to God that you may have us as your light-filled dwelling places. By your first advent, claim us as just and faithful; by your second, liberate us. So that when you judge all deeds in the bright light, we, clothed in unblemished garments, may follow your footsteps then wherever we find them.
If I had to venture a guess, even though we hear this good news of prophets and poets, even though we know the end of the Advent story (we’re only two weeks from Christmas), sometimes, like those gathered around John in the wilderness, we scratch our heads and say “And what should we do”. Part of our calling as Christians is to rejoice, sing, and shout with joy the good news that God is with us…to be the “light-filled dwelling places” of God. And we can do that, and in fact, many of us do that, in a variety of ways… the way we treat a stranger, a simple smile or hug, giving of our time, talent or treasure to FISH, The Next Door, and the Warming Shelter, providing food for the hungry, and clothes for the cold. But sometimes, we really do need to just rejoice, sing and shout! Sometimes we have to shake ourselves out of comfort zone and follow Christ’s footsteps wherever they are, and speak of our gratitude and unleash our joy!
And so this Christmas, I invite you to stop worrying. Stop worrying about gifts and holiday dinners and travel plans. Stop complaining about lines in the grocery store. Stop being anxious about the burdens that you carry around. Instead, rejoice, sing out, and shout that God is with us, and we are being rejoiced in by God.
I don't know what the future of the church is, but I know that we will continue to be a place of sanctuary and hope, working towards healing in the world.