“Rejoice, But Why?”

Sermon – 12-16-18 – Advent III – Joy – Cycle C
Scriptures: Zephaniah 3:14-20; Isaiah 12:2-6; Philippians 4:4-7; Luke 3:7-18
Sermon Title: “Rejoice, But Why?”

Paul is in prison. Paul is rejoicing! How can this be? Our Epistle Lesson today is a short letter which Paul wrote to the people in Philippi. They are called Philippians. Paul had started a church there on one of his journeys. But now he finds himself in prison because he would not stop telling people about Jesus and the followers of Jesus called Christians.

Listen. Paul says, “Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, Rejoice. Let your gentleness be known to everyone. The Lord is near. Do not worry about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.”

We shall rejoice and the peace of Christ will be our reward.

I have often wondered why Christians who are in danger of persecution don’t just remain quiet about their faith. Wouldn’t you hide your faith if your life and the lives of your family are in danger? What is it about religion that invites persecution? Why do people without joy feel an obligation and a passion to hurt people who do exude joy?

I think I have just made an assumption. Do all religious people have joy? I can picture people who are so zealous about their faith that joy seems to get lost by the wayside. Have you met anyone like that? Does God want us to be zealous without joy?

I like to think of the Luke 10 passage in which Jesus is sending 70 disciples into the highways and byways to invite people to become followers of this mystery man “Jesus.” Jesus instructs these people, who are working in partners of two, to tell the good news. If a household receives them kindly, these twosomes shall accept the hospitality and share the story. However, if households do not accept these early missionaries, the disciples shall shake the dust of that place from their sandals and move on. Jesus does not say to stay there and try to convince the townspeople that they need Jesus in their lives.

No, Jesus says, walk on. Well, this band of seventy did walk on in pairs of two. And guess how it ended if ended is a good word when we are still part of the process two-thousand years later. The seventy returned with joy, saying, “Lord, in your name even the demons submit to us!”

Jesus said to them, “I watched Satan fall from heaven like a flash of lightning. . . . Nevertheless, do not rejoice at this, that the spirits submit to you, but rejoice that your names are written in heaven.” Then as Luke tells the account, “At that same hour Jesus rejoiced in the Holy Spirit and said “I thank you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because you have hidden these things from the wise and the intelligent and have revealed them to infants; yes, Father, for such was your gracious will.”

So the source of our joy shall be that our names are written in heaven. But, did you catch the part that these things are not revealed to the wise and the intelligent but to infants. O-O! Problem! We need to disown our intelligence and our wisdom and we need to think of ourselves as infants. How displeasing? Where is the joy in this?

Real joy comes in humbleness. Real joy happens when we rejoice in the success of other people. Momentary explosions of happiness in our own accomplishments are probably okay with God. After all, God gave us our abilities and he surely rejoices when we use them well. But staying on the pedestal of success does not make for long-lasting joy.

Long-lasting joy comes from the assurance that our names are written in heaven – heaven! Maybe like a banner pulled in the wind by a small airplane. Or maybe the clouds have formed our names. Look up! Look up into the heavens!

Jesus came to earth as a lovely, tiny baby. Jesus served as a model for us on earth. Jesus’ greatest deed ever is so sad, so terrifying, that I can’t allow myself to think too deeply about it and yet I find myself at the foot of the cross with the mother of Jesus, Mary, and John the disciple who claims that Jesus loves him the most of all the disciples. I find myself taking Mary’s mantle of pain on myself. I hear Jesus say, John, behold your mother. Mother, behold your son. Jesus is arranging for his mother’s welfare but can he heal her heart? Can he?

As I picture the characters in heaven, I see Mary being reunited with her Son, never again to know that piercing pain. There is the joy! Look closely, can you see your name written over the heads of Jesus and Mary? Keep looking until you see it! It is our reservation. It is our special place – waiting for us. Gone will be the trials and temptations, the weariness and the fear. Gone will be the sadness and the burdens. Pure joy! The joy of the Lord!

Need we wait? Dwelling on the scene of the future, we find some of our worry lifted, gone. A good feeling moves in. Peace moves in. We soon find ourselves singing, “I have the joy, joy, joy, joy, down in my heart. Down in my heart. Down in my heart. I have the joy, joy, joy, joy, down in my heart. Down in my heart to stay.”

And, the peace that passes understanding . . .

I have the peace that passes understanding down in my heart, down in my heart, down in my heart. I have the peace that passes understanding down in my heart. Down in my heart to stay.

Thank you and Amen.

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