Advent Sunday of Joy
We heard for the very first time today our newly donated Baldwin 9' Grand Piano. Sadly, technological gremlins were also at work and we were unable to broadcast our Service via Zoom, and accordingly, we have no recording to share either. We are looking forward to sharing this beautiful instrument with all of you next Sunday.
Here is the text from this Sunday's sermon;
“May the words of my mouth and the meditation of our hearts be acceptable to you, O Lord, our rock and our redeemer.” (Ps 19:14)
As many of you know, it’s not always easy for Sharon who has to live with me day in and day out. There are times when I’ll yell down to her at our house saying, “We have a problem.” And even though I do this more often than I should, Sharon always seems to ask what’s wrong. And each time I’ll yell back down to her, “I just got dressed and I’m too darn good looking.”
Other times I’ll say, “Well, I hope you’re happy.” And she’ll reply, “What’s the matter now?” To which I answer, “Nothing. I’m just being nice. I hope you’re happy.” It’s all in how you say it. Saying “I hope you’re happy” with a bit of a sneer is not at all the same as saying “I hope you’re happy” with your voice rising a bit at the end.
This dual nature, this split personality of “I hope you’re happy” can also appear in Advent’s message of coming joy, and the divide can grow even wider when we finally reach Christmas. This time of the year is marked by so much hype, and expectations are set as high as Santa’s sleigh. It is a truly wondrous season of joy, but sometimes that message of joy can make sorrow, grief, lonliness or disappointment stand out even more starkly in some people’s lives.
Advent joy can really be felt as either “I hope you’re happy” or as “I hope you’re happy.”
A friend shared this poem of an unknown author: “If Christmas is hard, if you’ve lost someone dear, just look in your heart, and you’ll know they’re still here. The star in the sky, the light falling snow, the cardinal outside, it seems like they know. If this is a time, when you’re struggling through, just do what you can, for what matters, is you. There’s no need to be merry. There’s no need to be bright. Just do what you can, and it will all be alright.”
You see our third candle of the Advent wreath? It’s a lighter shade of purple. Purple is this season’s colour in the church because Advent is a time of preparation. We are waiting for the advent, the coming, of the Holy Child, but He has not yet arrived. There’s excitement, but not yet fulfillment. And this is represented by the colour purple.
But we all know that even in this season of anticipation, the joy that comes on Christmas cannot be completely postponed. The promise of joy, is just too compelling. But again, you see our third candle, the candle of joy? It is lighter than the other candles. It is a brighter purple. It is joy, but it remains anticipated joy. The purple of Advent is there, but it’s lighter because of joy.
Maybe this can be a reminder to us. Maybe it can tell us again that joy doesn’t mean that everything must be candy-canes and tinsel. Maybe it’s the stronger message that joy is real even when things are less than perfect, that joy is there to help us through the difficult times. It’s amazing when joy is unabashed, but don’t count joy out of the story when it’s hard, if not impossible, to be merry.
Mattie read for us from the prophet Zephaniah, and the particular verses are what’s called his “Song of Joy.” This is God’s prophet in ecstasy. He sees an idyllic future and it causes him to rejoice, and he shares this vision with the people of Jerusalem and Judah. Within one generation of Zephaniah, however, Judah will no longer exist as a nation, Jerusalem will be laid a wasteland, its Temple violated and destroyed, and her citizens sent into forced exile.
When the Hebrew Bible is formally compiled centuries later, they included Zephaniah as one of the inspired writings. When this formal decision was made, the teachers looked back to Zephaniah through the hard memories of Jerusalem’s fall, they recalled the 70 long years in Babylonian exile, and they were still experiencing their subjugation and humiliation as a conquered nation. And yet, they read Zephaniah’s “Song of Joy” as an inspiration, not as a false, unfulfilled prophecy.
We Christians continue to read Zephaniah as an authentic prophet of God, but still we Christians face determined enemies, fear and disasters, which are the very disturbances that Zephaniah foretold as removed.
We see his expectations of joy as nonetheless pointing to the coming of Jesus. We read his “Song of Joy” on this Advent Sunday of joy because just like the candle is a lighter colour of purple so we hear in Zephaniah’s words the lighter message that joy is not stamped out by life’s trials, that joy can stand up to and endure the pain and the sorrow that too often accompany human life, that joy persists even if it’s hard to be merry.
Today we again meet up with John the Baptist. On this Advent Sunday of joy, does it sound a bit strange to hear the Gospel open with: “‘You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come?’” But John’s outrage stirred something up in those who were listening. They asked him, “‘What then should we do?’” And the first thing out of John’s mouth in reply is to say, “‘Whoever has two coats must share with anyone who has none.’”
In other words, cultivate empathy. If you have been blessed with much, share with those who have little or nothing. See yourself as if in the place of your neighbour. If this empathy could take hold among more and more of us, if it would infect larger and larger segments of the human population, then joy would not be a prophet’s dream, it would be made real. It would be God working through us.
Joy is a wondrous gift, and joy is also one tough son of a gun that can make us tough too. Joy can hang-out with Merry Christmas just as well as with the hard Christmas of the poem. Zephaniah celebrates the joy that will be, and John the Baptist directs us toward the generosity and empathy that can bring joy into the world right now.
Let us pray that Advent’s gift of joy may be shared widely, indiscriminately and extravagantly for the coming of the Christ Child is cause to rejoice in any and all of life’s circumstances. In Jesus’ name we pray. Amen.
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