December 13, 2020
Grace Lutheran Church
Isaiah 61:1-4, 8-11
I Thessalonians 5: 16-24
John 1:6-8, 19-28
Grace to you and peace from God and from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, whose coming we await. Amen.
In the traditions of the church, this Sunday, the third Sunday of Advent, is called Gaudete Sunday. Gaudete is Latin for “joy,” the first word of the second reading in I Thessalonians – Rejoice always! It is followed by these additional exhortations – pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you. One commentator noted that these can sound like last minute instructions that we give to our children before dropping them off at a neighbor’s house for dinner – say please and thank you, let others go first, mind your manners. But to the church in Thessaloniki these words had much greater significance. These Christians were grappling with matters of great importance to them – the return of Jesus and how they should understand the fact that beloved ones have died before his return. There was confusion and concern and perhaps even a sense of despair. Into this Paul speaks words of encouragement and exhortation and hope – rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances.
And so it is that we sit in this season of Advent – this season in which days shorten, temperatures even here in Florida may cool a bit. A season in which we anticipate the coming Christmas and New Year celebrations – some of us await them with eagerness and for others of us the holidays may bring not happiness but disappointment or even sadness.
I sense a weariness this year as we are coming to the other side of 2020 with the pandemic surging, forest fires have raged out west, hurricanes and tropical storms have brought destruction to thousands, and much of society is at odds over any number of matters. We too may be shaking our heads and wondering how any or all of this may work out and how it will affect us personally and as a society.
And in the midst of all this we come to the third Sunday of Advent that the Church in its wisdom has called the “Joy Sunday.” Huh. Have you ever wondered what that word “joy” really means? Have you wondered how you would recognize joy? Have you wondered if you have felt joy? What I know for sure is that “joy” is not the same thing as “happiness” – I think there is a depth to joy that surpasses that of happiness. My sense of joy may be akin to my sense of blessedness. The Psalmist writes: “In your presence there is fullness of joy.” That is the key – being in the presence of God is the source and foundation of our joy.
As we await the coming of Jesus as a little baby and as we await his coming again at the end of the age, we take a moment to reflect upon the joy that is ours now, the joy that can sustain us through the challenges of the days in which we live, the joy that is not dependent upon news headlines or even Christmas decorations. Rather, it is the joy that takes root in our deepest being as beloved children of God. St. Augustine puts it this way: Thou hast made us for thyself, O Lord, and our heart is restless until it finds its rest in thee.
So, in these days of Advent, I encourage you to find rest in God, be drawn into God’s presence. Perhaps you have been observing a daily Advent practice – keep it up. Perhaps you have not yet done so – it’s not too late to begin. There are any number of devotionals available; I’m happy to assist you in finding one. Or perhaps you may want to begin a practice of prayer. It could be that a regular walk in God’s creation may help you be drawn into his presence. It is not the practice itself that is most critical; instead it is the intentionality of the practice. Our second reading for today provides a model – rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances. You may want to list the times during the day that you experienced even a glimmer of joy. You may want to write your prayers or adopt a favorite hymn as a form of prayer. Some people keep a notebook of things for which they give thanks. Or you may have other ideas that may draw you more fully into God’s presence where you heart will rest and you will experience joy.
May this be our Advent practice as we await Jesus’ coming. Amen.