Sermon – 12-15-19 – Advent III – Joy – Cycle A
Scriptures: Isaiah 35:1-10; Luke 1:46b-55; James 5:7-10; Matthew 11:2-11
Sermon Title: “Joy: It’s a Matter of Vision”
The wilderness and the dry land shall be glad, the desert shall rejoice and blossom; like the crocus it shall blossom abundantly, and rejoice with joy and singing. Isaiah is announcing God’s declaration of joy as his people come home from captivity in Babylonia and they would be accompanied by nature having a field day of rejoicing.
You see, joy always existed. This I believe. Before God ever separated the waters from the land, there was joy. The Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit were full of joy – so much in fact that they needed to share it. So gradually there was light and land and sea, and plants, and creatures, and humans! Joy bouncing sometimes mildly and contemplative; sometimes in a wild frenzy when those ocean waves had to be coaxed to stay; something like asking a happy, healthy, galloping giraffe to calm down. The joy of the waves, the joy of the giraffe being excited with the feeling of freedom.
So you see, joy was already; and joy is now; and more joy is yet to happen. Not just to people and animals but to all of creation. The earth rejoicing? The Bible has many images of nature rejoicing. Trees clapping their hands! Mountains doing something, maybe dancing!
But . . . volcanoes erupting. Earthquakes cracking the earth! In recent days we had these two outbursts of nature at the same time in the same world. There is not much joy there! Rather pain, suffering, severe disruption of lives, death. Many of us have relatives in severe pain and dysfunction. Where is the joy? Is this judgment instead? John the Baptist expected this Jesus to judge when he arrived on the scene.
John the Baptist is thrown into prison – long story – sometime after he baptizes Jesus. He is waiting for news that Jesus is ranting and raving in judgment on the people. Is this not the real Messiah, the one he has baptized? Was it all a hoax? Has he baptized the wrong person?
John sends a messenger to Jesus to ask “Are you not the Messiah? How come you are not judging the sinners?” Jesus replies, “Go and tell John what I am doing instead of judging. You have seen me heal people; you have seen the lowly lifted and the hungry filled; you have seen how the poor receive good news. Go tell John; tell him that I am the long-awaited Messiah.”
Not only does Jesus send that message to John in prison, but Jesus praises John to the crowds. Yes, indeed, John was born to announce the coming of Jesus. He was born to baptize Jesus, sort of like making Jesus’ appearance and ministry on earth official and blessed by the Father who declared, “This is my beloved son. In him I am well pleased.”
Even though John does not appear to exude joy, there is joy bursting forth from this particular event. When John is in prison, there does not appear to be joy until Jesus says, “Look! There is healing, there is new life; I am lifting the downtrodden, I am seeing that the hungry are fed!” He may as well have been declaring, “Don’t miss this joy! This is why I came. I came to be a model. I came to show the way to the joy of the Lord.”
But it is very natural for us to be vocal about the seeming contradiction. “Wait Jesus!” Isn’t joy for all people or at least for all believers? Where is the joy in suffering? Where is the joy in cruel treatment of people and animals not to mention the earth?”
Could it be that God is asking us to take a look at all of this from a different angle? Are we the ones who are causing the earth to become dysfunctional? Are we the ones who look the other way as the prisons are bursting and joy is totally buried under the hard cement in the prison cell? Oh, Lord, is it impossible for humans to control joy? Don’t we have any influence with this essence, this phenomenon that can’t be captured and held so it won’t escape.
Ah, here we are. Joy must be something like love. If we try to capture it, we will stifle it. But I still don’t know why bad things happen to good people and there is supposed to be joy somehow. James, the brother of Jesus, and the supposed author of the book of James near the end of the New Testament, tells us that we need to be patient, that we need to wait.
Using Jesus as our model, while our loved ones are suffering; while we wait in hope; while people, we don’t even know but whom we pity, experience earthquakes and sudden eruptions of volcanoes Jesus commands us to minister to them, to provide for them, to pray for them from afar or close-up. Some of us are natured to physically care for ill loved ones; some of us are natured to pray and provide companionship; some of us are good with administration – taking care of legal matters and other paperwork. Are we to use our gifts with sour faces and grumpy manner? Here is where God is saying, “Do you feel this spark of joy just now? Do your words click with the mind of the other? Do you come with just the right gift? Do you bring water when water is needed? Do you help to remove water where water is not wanted?”
One day I met a person named Beth Anne who was missed when joy was distributed or so it seems. She complains about this and about that. There is not a drop of joy noticeable. One day a co-worker named Joyce just lets it slip. Joyce finds herself saying to Beth Anne, “Beth Anne, do you know there is something called joy in this world?” Beth Anne stops complaining and actually thinks about this question. She says, “How does joy look? Where or how can I get joy? Is it expensive? Is it a pill? If I start taking it, how long will it take to work?”
Joyce smiles with joy. “Great questions.” she says to Beth Anne. “It usually does not cost anything. It is free. You just need to use your eyes a bit differently.” My eyes,” said Beth Anne, “Like getting different glasses?” “You could say that or just wear your glasses backwards, like inside out, always looking at the other side of things, the good side. There is usually a good side to every situation. Sometimes it takes patience to find the good side. Or we just need to look from a different angle. Jesus can help us and will help us if we ask. Just swallow the complaining and see what happens. See if your feet will start dancing. See if the people around you just got nicer. See if your work gets easier. Then you will know that you have found the joy that is like the ripples in the brook; the sky that is a perfect blue with pretty clouds. Even when the electric goes off, or the copy machine is jammed, or the computer has been compromised, there will be a spark of joy if you look hard enough. When there is a traffic jam, you will notice things you never noticed when you are flying past; some pretty yards and houses, some awful houses; a business for which you have actually been seeking. Even if you are ill for years, there will be a spark of joy waiting for you to find. God will help. All joy is a gift from God. Let us give thanks, Beth Anne,” says Joyce!
Let us rejoice, congregation of Zion UCC in Womelsdorf! In these days of uncertainty, let us find the joy and share it” Let us welcome Emmanuel with joy!