Isaiah 61: 1-4, 8-11 Psalm 126 1 Thess 5:16-24
John 1:6-8, 19-28
“Rejoice in the Lord always; again, I say, rejoice! The Lord is near (Phil 4:4-5).” Those words used to be used as an “introit,” entrance, as the priest approached the altar at the beginning of the Mass on this day. The third Sunday of Advent became known as “Gaudete Sunday” from the word rejoice and this introit anthem. We light a pink candle to help us mark the day with joy. The word “rejoice” is an imperative, a command. Rejoice!
We look around and the promise of freedom, comfort, restoration – seem far off. There is much rebuilding to do. The tensions among the people are great. Some days we see only destruction. We do not have to look far to find that all is not well in the world.
We are the people of the time of the book of Isaiah, probably those exiled who have returned to Jerusalem. We haven’t gotten very far, have we? The words of comfort, freedom, and restoration come from our prophet Isaiah. They sound just as true today, don’t they? “Again, I say rejoice!”
What is there to rejoice about? Has anyone watched the news lately? There are a few reports about “holiday spirit” and “paying it forward,” but most of the news is about murder, theft, injustice, and grand scale catastrophes. We seem never to be too far removed from another school shooting, another protest, another sign of a world gone awry. Closer to home and to our daily routines, have you been shopping lately? The lines are long, the merchandise cheap or way out of our budgets, the people harried. Many of us plod through our tasks and hurry home. I am fortunate to have gone home to a heated house, an “Advent tree” with pretty lights and with ornaments that tell stories from almost my whole life. For me, home is a place of renewal and hope; for that gift, I am thankful.
I know that we are called to remember Advent. Advent is a time of preparation for Jesus and Jesus the Christ to come into our lives. I am not sure if I could ever be completely prepared for that event. And while home might be a place of presents and preparing in another way, church reminds me that we are not in the Christmas season. We are still preparing, still called to make time for quiet, still called to prepare. I cannot imagine that Mary and Joseph found a quiet Bethlehem in which to bear the Christ child. Perhaps we have always been in a state of motion, of chaos, of answering to the demands that “the world” makes upon our lives.
It is Paul in the first letter to the Thessalonians who continues our call to “rejoice.” Now there is a little bit more: “Rejoice Pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances.” Paul writes this with the idea that the people of Thessalonia are, in fact, doing these things: rejoicing, praying, giving thanks in all things.
So … “rejoice! In all things, rejoice” In the midst of being hurried in the world, too busy at work and school and with far too many schedules and responsibilities, rejoice in our church’s celebration of Advent. It is here that we can relax; here that we can say “rejoice!” and mean it, here that we can catch our breath and see that the world points not to things in a shopping cart or on a table, but to the One, the Light, the Word for whom we long. Here is our reprieve, our rest, and our hope.
It is hope that sets us apart from “the world” at this time of year. Our pink candle points to a joy that we choose; a joy that says there is someone coming who saves us from everything, even from the “end” of death. New life is coming. New life awaits. In that context alone can we follow the command to rejoice.
Advent is about waiting, yes, but Advent is not about waiting in uncertainty. Advent is about waiting in the hope that He who came will come again, as a baby and as our Savior; as an infant, and as our Lord. It is counter cultural to wait in this hope and knowledge, counter cultural to be so brave as to find joy in all things: in long lines and weary faces, in a holiday rushed and in respite that is hard to find. It is counter cultural to come here to wait and to worship. It is also life-giving, life-saving, hope-giving in an immeasurable way.
This is not the hope that says our football team will win, or our hockey team will make a goal, or that whatever we want will be given to us.
This is hope that says that
The One who is coming, will come.
We will choose to find joy in all things, in all times, and in all places.
We can wait
Because our Lord will come again.
Come, Lord Jesus!