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This Sunday was the third Sunday in Advent. We lit the pink candle because the theme of the day is JOY. During our “time with children”, one of the youth noted that hope was mentioned a lot in our texts as well.
Hope (the first candle) is important and goes hand in hand with this concept of joy. Hope is different than being optimistic. Being optimistic is the notion that tomorrow will be better. It is the Scarlett O’Hara affect, countless times she says “I’ll think about that tomorrow, [for] tomorrow is another day”. It is the sense that between now and tomorrow the solution will show up or the problems will melt away. True hope is rooted in a promise that there is a better day, there will be ‘merciful reversal’ where justice will be the norm, where no one will be in need or want. Hope is that one day this will come true while understanding that it probably is not tomorrow.
Similar to our misconceptions about hope, we have misconceptions about joy. I will get to this notion of true joy in a moment, but the book of James chapter 5 today gives us an important reminder for the holiday season. [It] is amusing for a Lutheran to be preaching on it since Martin Luther hated the book of James. He feared it had too much emphasis on good works, while others suggest James is encouraging us to nurture our spiritual gifts. The text we had today we hear “be patient”, which is a spiritual gift, “do not grumble against one another”.
I don’t know about you but it is 2 weeks away from Christmas. Are your decorations up? Is your Christmas shopping done? Are the presents wrapped and placed under the tree? What about your holiday baking? It is easy this time of year to be over-whelmed with our things-to-do list. When mine over-whelms me I become impatient, I get cranky, and I may grumble against other people or situations. It steals our joy from us and when we pair this notion with our gospel text from Matthew it makes more sense.
John the Baptist is in prison. He will not be leaving there alive. His followers are sent to Jesus in order to ask ‘Jesus, are you the one that we have been hopeful will come?’ Jesus says ‘report back to John what you see and what you hear. The blind can see. The deaf can hear. The lame can walk. The dead are being raised. You come to your own conclusion’. I understand this sort of as Jesus saying ‘John, yes I am the one but I am doing it in my way. Be patient.’
Jesus’ way is one of reconciliation, of restoration, of renewal, of wholeness, which is a vision we see in our Isaiah 35 text; the whole creation is being renewed and restored. That is where our true joy lies. We tend to think that joy is the face that children have on Christmas morning, when we get the number one gift on our wish list, [and] the good food and family and friends during this holiday season. Although all those things bring us joy, that is not where our true joy is meant to be rooted. Our true joy is meant to be rooted in Christ, like our hope that this promise of restoration, renewal, and wholeness will come; that we are, we have been, and we will continue to be restored, renewed, brought back into wholeness. That is where we find our true joy.
I invite you to ponder in the weeks to come “where is my joy rooted? where is my true joy rooted?”
My prayer is that our true joy is rooted in Christ, but if it is not that we can find ways to nurture it in order that hope and our joy can be firmly and deeply rooted where it belongs in Christ. Amen.
The scriptures were Isaiah 35:1-10; James 5:7-10; and Matthew 11:2-11.
It was originally preached on 11 December 2016.