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The Source of True Joy – An Advent 3 Reflection

December 22, 2012

The third Sunday of Advent is the Sunday of joy, but I struggled with how to possibly preach a sermon on joy after the terrible events on December 14 in Newtown, Connecticut scarred all our hearts. As I continued to think and pray, however, I came to see that this is exactly what I should be preaching on today.

The reason all revolves around the answer to the question, “What is joy? What is its source?”

The answer, I am convinced, is that joy is what is in our hearts from loving. So, today, I’d like to reflect on love that gives joy – and in doing this, I’ll have two areas of focus: joy from our relationship of love with God, and joy from our relationship of love with one another.

First, we have joy from our love relationship with God. We have joy from having a God who loves us, and is with us in the greatest darkness as our light.

Our Old Testament passage today, Zephaniah 3:14-20, says:

Sing aloud, O daughter Zion; shout, O Israel! Rejoice and exult with all your heart, O daughter Jerusalem! …The king of Israel, the Lord, is in your midst; you shall fear disaster no more. … Do not fear, O Zion; do not let your hands grow weak. The Lord, your God, is in your midst … he will rejoice over you with gladness, he will renew you in his love; he will exult over you with loud singingas on a day of festival … I will bring you home.

It’s imagery reminiscent of John 14 – that of a bridegroom delighting in being with his bride. This is the kind of relationship of love we have with our God – one in which God delights in being with us, and we with God.

In the Magnificat, which we read together today, Mary’s heart sings out:

My soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord,
my spirit rejoices in God my Saviour;
for he has looked with favour on his lowly servant.
From this day all generations will call me blessed:
the Almighty has done great things for me, and holy is his name.

Every one of us can say this! “The Almighty has done great things for us, and holy is his name.”

We know the joy that Jesus’ birth brings – the joy of Jesus’ Presence.

Like Mary, Our Lord is born in us – in our hearts – and truly we are blessed.

We know joy, not from necessarily being well, not from necessarily living a long life. As we have been so tragically reminded, life is precious, very fragile. We have only the gift of today. But we have the joy of going through today with God – going through all of life together with Jesus.

And when we go through life’s darkest valleys, as go we all shall, he does not call to us from the peaks, “It’s bright and sunny up here; just follow My voice, and you’ll be able to come up to where I am.” Instead, he goes down with us into the valley, and walks beside us in the darkness to lead us safely home.

The words of our Epistle, Philippians 4:5, are ever true: “The Lord is near.” Jesus, our Emmanuel, is our God with us – and he will never leave us, nor forsake us – not ever in this life, or for all eternity.

We have the joy of this relationship of love with Our Lord.  We also have the joy of being his handservant, used to spread love and light.

Mary’s Magnificat continues:

He has shown the strength of his arm,
he has scattered the proud in their conceit.
He has cast down the mighty from their thrones,
and has lifted up the lowly.
He has filled the hungry with good things,
and the rich he has sent away empty.

These are words of justice, reminiscent of our Old Testament passage from Zephaniah.

Mary rejoices in the privilege of being part of all this.

Our Epistle brings this out, too, when Paul writes, “Let your gentleness be known to everyone.” 

But the reading today that especially focuses on this dimension of joy is our Gospel.

The last verse of this passage, Luke 3:18, says, “So, with many other exhortations, he proclaimed the good news to the people.” Looking up at the passage we’ve just read, we might be excused for thinking, “If that’s preaching the Good News to them, I’d hate to hear the bad news!” It’s strong stuff! But it is like a person who comes up alongside a train heading towards a bridge that is out, and yelling, “Turn around, you’re going to destruction!” It is disturbing to hear. Ignorance may have been bliss. But it is definitely GOOD NEWS to learn about this in time to avert disaster! John’s message was, “You’re going in the wrong direction! You need to turn around!” And he said what the right way was. It may come as a surprise, but John’s message was that the right way was, simply, sharing

“Bear fruits worthy of repentance,” he said, and to every person who questioned him about what they were to do, he gave practical, down-to-earth examples of how they could share love with others.

Rick Morley sees this point in John’s use of tree and wheat imagery:

Trees that bear fruit share. Trees that fail to bear fruit don’t.

Wheat shares. Chaff doesn’t.

The Good News is that a King is coming—and He’s coming to inaugurate a Kingdom. And in this Kingdom people attest to the glory, and the power, and the majesty of God…by sharing what they have.

As we live this way, we know the joy of loving others.

And, paradoxically, the joy of loving others will always include pain.

C. S. Lewis wisely wrote:

To love at all is to be vulnerable. Love anything and your heart will be wrung and possibly broken. If you want to make sure of keeping it intact you must give it to no one, not even an animal. Wrap it carefully round with hobbies and little luxuries; avoid all entanglements. Lock it up safe in the casket or coffin of your selfishness. But in that casket, safe, dark, motionless, airless, it will change. It will not be broken; it will become unbreakable, impenetrable, irredeemable.

The choice to love is the choice to have your heart walking around outside your body.

It is so precious to have children alive, the joy of being with, sharing life with the ones is so wonderful. But we all know that this means the agony of heartbreak when something happens to them and takes them from us. Indeed, this perceived (though not in the deepest sense, actual) absence of presence is a part of all our love relationships – with God as well as with one another. 

Like Mary, today let’s choose to say Yes to Jesus being born in us, touching the world with his love, loving the world, through us. Let’s say Yes to love, to being vulnerable, to the pain of love, having hearts that CAN and WILL be broken.

Embedded below is a video of the song “Breath of Heaven,” in which the songwriter imagines Mary struggling with the greatness of the darkness, feeling so small, inadequate as she ponders her calling to be part of God’s plan.

Perhaps, as you ponder the darkness in our world, you share Mary’s struggle. Perhaps you too feel totally inadequate to live out this calling to have the world experience the Good News of the love of Jesus in and through us.

But the deep mystery is that in the midst of our brokenness, we can reflect the light of Our Lord’s love and be agents of healing. The world doesn’t need, and can’t afford to wait for, “adequate” people. What the world needs is inadequate people – people who are doubting, afraid, struggling, and yet choose to love anyway, not in their own strength, but in the strength of the One on whom they are relying to get through the day, and sometimes the next moment – and walk together the Calvary road of suffering love to the joy of Easter life that no power of hate or death can ever destroy!

I invite us to reflect on this call to live out the source of true joy – our relationship of love with God and our (God’s and our) relationship of love with others – in our broken, hurting world, as we listen to “Breath of Heaven,” performed by Amy Grant.

Amen.

(This is adapted from the sermon at our December 16 Services.)

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Advent 3

Last year’s Advent 3 postings can be accessed by clicking on the links below:

https://pastorfergus.wordpress.com/2011/12/15/the-eternal-joy-of-our-love-relationship-with-our-lord/
“The Joy of Eternal Love with Our Lord” (December 15, 2011);

https://pastorfergus.wordpress.com/2011/12/15/the-joy-of-jesus-sharing-and-shining/
“The Joy of Sharing and Shining” (December 15, 2011).

You are also invited to go to https://docs.google.com/#all, and type in as your email address stpaulscalgary, and as your password God’s Grace, to access to the following three Advent reflections:
– “0026. Advent 3 Reflection”;
– “0027. Advent 3 Reflection (2011)”; and
– “0028. Advent Musings 3”.

An Advent 3C reflection by Rick Morley can be accessed by clicking here.

An Advent 3C reflection by Jan Richardson can be accessed by clicking here.

Advent 3 printed material is also available on the Advent Resources table in the Hall.

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