Luke 1:46b-55 (alternate);
Matthew 11:2-11 (Blue)
Many of you may remember Pastor Brett mentioning last week that the 3rd Sunday of Advent is sometimes known as Gaudete Sunday. This comes from the Latin word meaning rejoice. The first two Sundays of Advent have given us readings that were anything but joyful. week 1 of Advent we dealt with some pretty intense end time readings. Last week we heard John the Baptist’s exhortation to repent and turn away from our sinful ways. This week however we experience a little shift from the stark and uncomfortable to the exciting and joyous. After two weeks of being reminded that the world we know is perishing and we ourselves are far from perfect we get to focus on God’s coming and what that’ll do for the world. Our reading from Isaiah provides us with two images that have stayed with me this week, a crocus blossoming in the desert, a beautiful vibrant flower breaking through the parched desert ground gives us quite an image of what God’s presence brings us. The second image in our first reading that struck me was that of a highway in the wilderness, a path where there was no way before.
One thing that I think is important and seen in today’s readings is that Christian joy isn’t an escape from things like shame, suffering, or mortality but it happens in the midst of those things. Similarly Gaudete Sunday doesn’t happen at the end of the repentant season of advent as if its an end to our need of repentance or a false acknowledgement that everything will magically be better now, no brothers and seasons joy happens in the midst of all those things, and our repentance is a necessary part of that joy. As if to drive that point home today’s readings speak of joy in the midst of some pretty scary tings. The reading from Isaiah 35 is sandwiched by Isaiah’s oracles against the nations and the sacking of Judah by King Sannechrib and the Assyrians. And John the Baptist recognizes the fulfillment of God’s promises from where? Prison nonetheless. Even the prayer that gives Gaudete Sunday its name comes from Paul’s letter to the Philippians, a letter written from where? Prison. Rejoice in the lord always again I say rejoice.
I think that is why both Isaiah’s images rang so true for me. They both point to the truth that God’s coming doesn’t mean that at the drop of a hat, or the snap of the fingers sin and earthly problems dissipate. I think sometimes we Christians assume that is what it means to be God’s children. And then when we realize that we as Christians will face things like struggle and illness we assume that we’re just not faithful enough and our troubles are compounded by self hate and despair. Or perhaps even worse we decide since discipleship doesn’t really eliminate our problems it may not be worth the effort so we walk away from the faith or replace it with a pseudo faith that doesn’t go any deeper than the surface. When faith in God doesn’t lead us to an escape from this world’s problems we all too often assume it isn’t doing anything. This fails to acknowledge that the promise of God isn’t that we’ll never hurt again but that God knows our hurts and hurts with us. I am reminded of a quote by British theologian John Stott.
He entered our world of flesh and blood, tears and death. He suffered for us. Our sufferings become more manageable in the light of his. There is still a question mark against human suffering, but over it we boldly stamp another mark, the cross that symbolizes divine suffering. ”The cross of Christ . . . is God’s only self-justification in such a world” The other gods were strong; but thou wast weak; they rode, but thou didst stumble to a throne; But to our wounds only God’s wounds can speak.”
Christian joy isn’t a statement of the condition of the world around us, nor is it even a result of some superior personality trait. It is acknowledging God’s presence in all our struggles and despite our failings. This is why we rejoice on this 3rd Sunday of Advent because we remember that God is coming as he promised and that his coming is truly a great thing for a fallen world, a world in desperate need of a God who suffers.
Whether we are talking about God’s presence being made real in the birth of a baby to a virgin girl, Jesus’ second coming to make the world new, or in the bread and wine of the Eucharist the result is the same. Before the world is transformed our perspective is transformed. The desert looks a little more welcoming because of one beautiful flower; our thirst all of a sudden isn’t so unquenchable. Brothers and sisters yes we will hurt, and we will hurt others we will crave things that bring nothing but death and decay, but rejoice for the God who loves us enough to become flesh and blood, to live and die for our sakes, to defeat the power of death is here in our midst; lifting us up, holding us tight, and calling us his. Please pray with me.
Dear God, you know that our hearts long for the joy and gladness promised by life with you. Help us to remember that you are with us always, and that our hearts will rest only when they rest with you.