Wednesday, December 20

Sermon: Third Sunday of Advent

Surely God is my salvation; I will trust, and will not be afraid, for the LORD GOD is my strength and my might; he has become my salvation.12:3 With joy you will draw water from the wells of salvation.12:4 And you will say in that day: Give thanks to the LORD, call on his name; make known his deeds among the nations; proclaim that his name is exalted.12:5 Sing praises to the LORD, for he has done gloriously; let this be known in all the earth.12:6 Shout aloud and sing for joy, O royal Zion, for great in your midst is the Holy One of Israel. (Lectionary)

I don’t want to beat a dead horse here, but I have been thinking of Joy lately. A couple of Sundays ago, I shared a song from U2 with you, Peace on Earth. In it, Bono wrestles with the “reason for the season” and the terror of violence in Ireland.

Sometimes, we have to confess, that grief is real…and that Christmas is not always so very Merry. Some of us simply get blue around the holidays.

Larry spoke about the place of Joy in his sermon last Sunday. He spoke of the tension in “celebrating the terrible day of the Lord.” We are in the midst of such tension now…perhaps today more than others…

It is Gaudete Sunday. Some of us don’t come from traditions that have this observance. Gaudete! Gaudete Cristus est natus ex Maria Virgine. Gaudete. Rejoice. This is the Sunday of Rejoicing…the Joyous Sunday. Rejoice. Rejoice, Christ is born of the Virgin Mary! Rejoice! It is not Christmas yet…but hold on. It is only a week away. We are tottering on the edge of being in the presence of the divine born among us.

I would like to think that the committee who put together the lectionary had this in mind. Today, though it is the Gospel, only one of our readings is about judgment and the coming of trials and tribulations…of winnowing hooks, axes and fire. But even this verse is helpful. “What shall we do?” Well…and we are given answers...the veil is a little less thick, the smoke of the Judgment Fires seem to be clearing away.

Thus, in the End, we are asked to be joyful. This is not the saccharine-laden joy of a TV commercial…where we teach the world to sing in perfect harmony…or the utopian vision of Moore. This is not the laughter of denial. No. This is the joy that comes from doing the work that John asks us to do, that comes when we somehow burn away the chaff in our own lives and finally see what God is doing in the world.

We too may find ourselves crying out with Isaiah…”Make God’s known among the people!” Somehow, as Christ approaches, the scales begin to fall, loves burns away what imprisons us, or at the very least love casts such light that what is not of God stands in stark relief next to what is from God. Isaiah says that then we are to shout and sing. We are to be joyful. It is the natural response to witnessing God’s saving work in the world…not fear or trembling, but joy as God’s hand reaches out to our own in love..

If you ever see a sad hermit…then he is no hermit at all. The most joyous persons in Russia are the ones who have the eyes of a child at seventy and who are filled with the joy of the Lord, for they who have entered the silence of God are filled with God’s joy. Yes, the life of the [hermit] should be truly joyous with the quiet joy of the Lord and this will be visible. He will have the eyes of a child even if his face is old. You cannot fool people as to such things as the presence of love and joy in a human being…

It is striking to me that the writings where I discover the clearest articulation of this kind of joy are from contemplatives, people who devote their lives to practicing the presence of God. We have the lives of the Russian hermits in their paustinas or hermitages to guide us. These are men and women who devote their lives to being alone with God…and take what wisdom they learn and return it to the community.

Joy is the fruit of wrestling with God.

Brother Roger of Taize also speaks of joy.

You are called to freedom. Your past is buried in the heart of Christ, and God has already taken care of your future.

Do not be afraid of suffering. In the very depths of the abyss, a perfection of joy can be found in communion with Christ Jesus. Dare to rejoice in what God is accomplishing through you and around you. Then all forms of pessimism about yourself and about others, which are waging war on your soul, will melt away.

If you forget the gifts of the Holy Spirit in your, and if you lost the last traces of self-esteem, then what a risk of losing your balance...! The void attracts, fascinates.

With joy comes a sense of wonder. Such joy needs nothing less than our whole being in order to shine forth. It lies in the transparent openness of peaceful love. (p. 63 The Sources of Taize)

I like to think of Brother Roger as always positive, always speaking to us in superlatives, in light of progress and attraction to the Gospel and never about lack or negativity...and then he surprises me. He also speaks of what happens when joy is missing.

If joy were to vanish

If the spirit of festivity were to fade away...

If we were to wake up, one fine morning, in a society that was functional, technologically advanced, but where all inner life had vanished...

Science and technology are indispensable for making the earth fit to live in. But if we forgot the trust of faith and the intelligence of the heart, so vital in building the future of the human family...

Where could we find an overflowing inner life, in the spirit of joy vanished from that unique communion which is the Body of Christ, his Church, and if the Church's motherly love were replaced by moralistic lectures?

If we were to lose childlike trust in the Eucharist and in the Word of God...

If the prayers of Christians were expressed in a language heavy with boredom, leaving no room for intuition, for poetry, for the adorable presence of the Risen Christ...

Here is the cataclysm which we fear. This is the end that we await in horror.

You see, joy is real…and not some whitewash veneer over our suffering. Joy and suffering are equally real. One comes from the admission of the other.

The lack of joy has real consequences…our spiritual death, because such a thing would be a sign of oblivion.

Sometimes I wonder if the end times does not actually mean an end to time…but the beginning of real love and life and joy. But when love and life and joy are gone, then all things come to an end and all we are left with is an oblivion of our own making, an idol to ourselves.

Christian joy is not the escaping of life, it is not hiding out in the pews hoping that God will not find you…or hiding behind a smile, praying that your neighbor (The one who is called by God to love you, I’d like to point out.) does not see your pain.

No…we need joyous prophets like Zechariah, Isaiah and John…ones who call us to task.

Have you not known? They say.
Have you not heard? They wonder.
Has it not been told you from the beginning? They frighten us with such promise…
You shall have a song, and gladness of heart.

This is the season of Advent...when the stories that have shaped us are told anew. Stories of angels and prophets and the coming of a child, of shepherds and God's grace outpoured.

Shout aloud and sing for joy, O royal Zion, for great in your midst is the Holy One of Israel!