Advent 3 – December 16, 2018

Rev. Lyle McKenzie            Lutheran Church of the Cross of Victoria      

Zephaniah 3:14-20 / Isaiah 12:2-6 / Philippians 4:4-7 / Luke 3:7-18

Rejoice in God always; again I will say, rejoice. That’s what this third Sunday of Advent is about. Rejoicing. Joy. It is why there was/is a tradition of a pink candle on the Advent wreath for this Sunday. And I read this week, also pink vestments. Who knew? I’ve missed out, we’ve missed out on wearing pink all this time. That would’ve been a sign for rejoicing! A swath of pink across the wall and pink clothes! Another colour change. Oh joy!

           But words today may be sign enough. The prophet Zephaniah invites, even commands us to sing! And shout! And rejoice and exult with all our hearts over all that God will do in the midst of Jerusalem and with all God’s people. Sing, shout, rejoice together!

          The song from Isaiah proclaims trust in God’s salvation and strength, inviting joy and thanksgiving, to sing praises, to sing and shout for joy, for great in our midst is the Holy One. Give thanks, sing, shout for joy together.

Paul writes to the Philippian community, Rejoice in God always; again I will say, rejoice. In gentleness, without worry, making known our requests to God, that the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, guard our hearts and our minds in Christ Jesus. That’s cause for, that’s a way of rejoicing together in God near us always! Rejoice.

The Gospel, that’s more challenging, a lot less joyful. It’s John the Baptizer. Not known for joy, more for name calling, harsh judgments, warnings, and commands to faithfulness. And yet, people respond, coming out to be baptized by John and filled with expectation. And the Gospel writer concludes, John proclaimed the “good news”to the people. Cause for rejoicing?  Baptisms, justice, hope, cause for joy?    

          And how’s your joy, your reason for rejoicing on this Advent joy Sunday? I know its not universal just because we call it a Sunday for joy. It may be too frantic and frenetic a season to simply be joyful. And I also know for some this time and life circumstances make joy not easy to find. Joy may be illusive, inappropriate,absent for some of us. No pink. No rejoicing.

And that may not be so disconnected with the words on this Advent joy Sunday as we might think.

The book of Zephaniah prior to today’s reading condemns the failings of God’s people in Judah and Jerusalem. The prophet nearing despair, concludes in one instance that God will have to destroy all creation. The result will be a terrible day of judgement, a“bitter” day “of distress and anguish,” “of ruin and devastation,” of darkness and gloom,” “of clouds and thick darkness,” “of trumpet blast and battle cry!”Not much cause for wearing pink here, no rejoicing.

          It is that much more astonishing that the book of Zephaniah concludes with today’s words not of despair but of hope and joy. Less likely original to the prophet, but written later to both affirm the prophet’s warning of devastation, and proclaim God’s gracious response in the midst of God’s people, taking away judgement,fear, disaster, shame; and gathering, restoring and bringing home God’s people.And so the prophet’s invitation, sing, shout, rejoice with all your heart because God is in our midst, rejoicing over us with gladness, renewing us in God’s love, even in the midst of despair.

          The reading from Isaiah concludes the first 12 chapters of the book, that include both God’s judgement of the people’s failings and hopeful waiting for God’s salvation, including in the promised Messiah. And again, the prophet’s words are a song of joy, giving thanks, singing, shouting that God is among us and in this world, to restore, to save. And so wait with hope.

          Paul writes likely from a prison in Rome, Ephesus or Caesarea to the Philippian community likely experiencing persecution of their own. The invitation to rejoice is not some unrealistic optimism, but a deeper trust in God who is near, rejoicing in God always, letting our gentleness be known, not worrying about anything but with thanksgiving letting our requests be made known to God, receiving the peace that surpasses understanding to guard our hearts and minds in Christ Jesus that God graciously gives, in the times of trial.

          What is particularly significant are the words, God is near. These can be heard as either or both temporal and spacial. What is meant by that is the promise of God being near can mean, soon here. Arriving soon. This is our Advent promise.

God in Christ arriving in our world in the flesh of a child soon to be born again for all the world to rejoice. And God arriving at any and all times, and at the end of time in Christ Jesus, gracious judge and saviour of the living and of the dead. God is near, meaning soon to arrive in any and every circumstance of this world and our lives, to save, free, redeem, give strength, hope, life again, even joy to us and all the world.

          And God is near, as in close by, never far away, like St. Patrick’s blessing, Christ before and behind, beneath and above, on the right and left, when I lie down and when I rise, Christ with me, Christ in me…God near, this close, always in proximity to us, like the breath that is in us, like our hearts beating, God in flesh, God in breath/Spirit, in every circumstance of our lives and this world,God is near.

          We need the strength of both, God being near, close in proximity, like in-the-flesh holding of a child, not just over face time, and God near, soon here, to save, transform this world, our lives by breaking into time, like once in the birth of the Godchild, and at any moment and for all time, in the reign of Christ Jesus over so called super powers and petty presidents in God’s justice and peace for all the world.

          A person experiencing a particularly challenging time wrote this week: “Thank you for your words of encouragement. I trust that I will see this through with a little help from the Almighty. What would I do without God! Just every now and then I need to have signed support in writing.”

God near like this, is cause for rejoicing, in every circumstance of our lives and this world, in times of challenge and change, struggle and pain, oppression and violence, illness and grief, loss and sadness, despair; God is ever near, close by and always soon to break into broken worlds. So rejoice!

          John the Baptizer, name calling, judging, John; ruthlessly calling for repentance to prepare the way, prepare lives for the nearness of God; making it crystal clear for everyone, including religious types, tax collectors and soldiers – What must they and we do? Share with others, don’t take more than you need, don’t make money at the expense of others. John’s unflinching invitation is to share in a fruit bearing, joy yielding, grace filled relationship with God and one another, because God is near!

And that’s good news!As much as John demands faithfulness from us because of the nearness/advent of God, the advent/nearness of God assures us of God’s redeeming, renewing,restoring, realigning, recreating, presence to repent – meaning turn us and this world around for God’s good purpose.

God is near. So we hear and proclaim in the songs we sing and prayers we cry or shout this morning. So we hear and share in the peace of Christ as close as an outstretched hand or loving embrace. So we hear and remember together at the table, with Christ Jesus as close as bread we eat and wine we drink. So we hear and trust in the blessing and sending of God into a world of hurt with the hope of God near, and the calling and promise of God to make a difference, to bring change, to make justice and peace and care for the earth possible.

So rejoice. Wear pink the rest of this week if you feel so moved. In the midst of the too often sadness of this world, and I know the sadness of many of our lives, rejoice in God, and again I will say, rejoice. Let your gentleness be made known to everyone. God is near. Do not worry about anything, but in everything, by prayer and supplication make your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.

Rejoice, in all our relations, let it be so. Amen.