Good morning and welcome to the third Sunday of Advent. We are just about one week away from the big day. Next Sunday, Advent four and Christmas eve will collide, and liturgical heads will spin.
Every year during this final stretch of Advent, I always love to imagine how Mary must have felt as the birth of her baby boy drew near. I’m sure Mary was filled with all sorts of emotions. I mean imagine for nine months carrying the son of God in your belly and feeling baby Jesus kick inside of you. Imagine for nine months going to bed every night knowing the savior of mankind was growing inside you.
Above all else, I imagine Mary feeling a sort of humble joy. Joy. Not just happiness, not just gratitude, not just relief, but joy. Joy and all the good that comes with it.
Traditionally on this third Sunday of Advent, we celebrate joy. You may have already noticed that our Advent wreath magically grew some roses last night at first evensong. Those roses are our reminder, in the midst of Advent, in the midst of a busy holiday season, to stop and appreciate the simple beauty of creation, to pause and give thanks and feel the simple joys of the season.
Now personally my favorite part of our Advent wreath is not the roses or the wreath itself, my favorite part is what’s below it, our Advent wreath stand. You might not be able to tell by looking at it, but that thing is heavy. Trust me. For the first few years I was here at SSJE, somehow for some reason I was always assigned to carry the stand both into the chapel when Advent started and back to our sacristy when we took down the decorations. Every year when these light, fluffy roses magically appear on top of this deceptively heavy, burdensome, and incredibly awkward to carry stand, I can’t help but laugh at the joyful miracle of it all.
Now I know that celebrating joy right now might not seem appropriate. If we were to judge the mood of humanity right now solely on the headlines, joy would be lacking. In short, the current state of world affairs is not great.
Trust me, we Brothers feel it too. We know this year it felt like it got dark especially early. We know wars are raging all across the world and even close to where Jesus himself walked. We know that this planet is in danger. We know 2024 will be dominated by yet another divisive election. Yet, here we are, gathered, together, celebrating joy.
So why do such a thing? Why celebrate joy at a time like this?
We celebrate joy because we follow in the footsteps of the prophet Isaiah. We celebrate joy because the spirit of the Lord is upon us. We celebrate joy to bring good news to the oppressed. We celebrate joy to bind up the brokenhearted. We celebrate joy to provide for those who mourn. We celebrate joy to help repair the ruined cities and to heal the devastations of many generations.
To be joyful in a time like this is not an act of delusion. To be joyful in a time like this is an act of confidence. To be joyful in a time like this takes courage.
We take heart with all those around us who suffer. We know their pain and we feel their pain. Our joy is not a dismissal of all the hardships the world is going through right now. Our joy springs from acknowledging how bad things can get while remembering how great things can be.
We celebrate joy today because as the Psalmist says, “The Lord has done great things for us, and we are glad indeed.” How many times in your life has something terrible happened to you and you’ve lashed out at God, asking why God, why? Then years later, been able to look back with more wrinkled eyes and said, oh thank God? That is why we are glad indeed, that is why we celebrate joy.
We are joyful not because we are running away from our problems, we are joyful because we are facing our problems head on with the help of God and one another. We are joyful because we follow the words of Saint Paul who tells us to “rejoice always, pray without ceasing, (and) give thanks in all circumstances.”
Now if these words of Saint Paul feel hollow this morning, I get it. I’ve been there. I’ve had plenty of Sunday mornings when I don’t want to rejoice always, when I don’t want to pray without ceasing, and when I don’t want to give thanks in any circumstance. I’ve had plenty of mornings that when the alarm goes off, I just want to say no, not today.
If your experience is anything like mine, when you think back on those dark times when prayer felt impossible or just not even worthwhile, the surprising outcome is that our relationship with God and one another somehow actually deepens in that darkness. God’s love for us is so powerful, that we somehow end up getting closer to God even when we try to pull away from God. That is the mystery of faith.
John the Baptist knew that dark mystery of faith very well. Try to imagine how he must felt, day after day, with countless waves of people coming to be baptized by John in the river Jordan. John knew in his heart of hearts that something awesome was coming. Someone, some face in that crowd of people was going to be it, the Messiah, finally arriving to save humanity.
This was just so awesome that even John himself struggled to describe it, but what he could do was get people ready for it. John the Baptist said that he was the “voice of one crying out in the wilderness, ‘Make straight the way of the Lord,’”.
What a joy it must have been for John to finally see Jesus face to face. We here today have the opportunity to do the same. In the midst of all the suffering of the world, we still have Jesus on our hearts, in our minds, and in our prayers. As we turn this final joyful corner to Christmas, remember all of the good things you have in your life and all the good things God has done for us.
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