Advent 3 – Final Sunday
December 13th, 2020
Isaiah 64:1-4-8-11, 1 Thessalonians 5:16-24, John 1:6-8, 19-28
I can’t quite believe that this is my final Sunday in Langley! When I started in July 2016, I could not even begin to imagine it ending. Somewhere in the middle I began to think, ‘will this ever end?!’; and now as I have come to the end, I can’t quite believe it still. This is one of those sour-sweet days.
Sour to be leaving you and the parish.
Sweet because today is Gaudete Sunday – one of my favourite days on the church calendar – rose Sunday! Rejoice!
The first sermon I ever preached in the parish was on July 3, 2016 which was St Mary’s Patronal Festival. I had been ordained deacon the day before and was overwhelmed! I re-read that sermon this past week. I preached on Luke 1, Mary’s visit to Elizabeth whilst they were both pregnant. John the Baptist leapt in his mother’s womb at the presence of Mary and the in-utero Jesus. I asked the question – when was the last time that your heart leapt for joy?
I know that I have asked lots of questions in my sermons over the last 4 plus years – but this was my first. I think it is fitting that it will be the last one I ask you too.
When was the last time that your heart leapt for joy? Now I am not unaware of Covid, Brexit (we had just cast our votes the week before that first sermon), the general malaise and misery of 2020, etc. But really – think about the answer to my question. When was the last time your heart leapt for joy?
I used to ask my palliative care patients about when the last time was, they truly felt well? Many found it to be a useful exercise in remembering and recovering what had been lost. Remembering that there had been health and better times in the past. It is important to remember that our hearts can still leap for joy and not just at Christmas. Joy surpasses our circumstances; it has a deeper quality to it. True joy is not superficial or temporary. It is stronger and more resilient than happiness; joy is less dependent on our moods and emotions.
On Gaudete Sunday, we are called to rejoice. 1 Thessalonians says to: ‘rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.’ This Sunday is also a reminder that Advent is quickly passing, and that the Lord’s coming is near. The focus is turning more to the second coming than the first; there is a heightened sense of intense joy, gladness and expectation.
We need to rejoice in what is true, what is good. Listen to the right voices. Find our comfort in the right places. I have been marvelling at Tesco’s Christmas advert for this year with their claim that there is no naughty list. It is catchy and bright but does nothing more than highlight the selfishness of the world. It pans around the country with snippets of people confessing to all the things they have and haven’t done this year. Good and bad, virtuous and shameful. The main message is basically, it’s okay – the good you did will outweigh the bad. So treat yourself! Overbuy on gifts and decadent food – you deserve it! Ah! There is no real or lasting comfort in this. At best it offers distraction, but what about in January when the bills come in and cupboards are bare? Are you going to be rejoicing then?
The Gospel readings for this Sunday always revolve around John the Baptist as the thrust of John’s ministry is the announcement that the Lord’s coming is near – in fact – nearer than you think. I was looking back over the lectionary to see which stories of John the Baptist are used on this Sunday. Year A sets John in prison awaiting his fate. Year B (today) has set John giving his testimony to the priests and Levites sent by the Jews to check him out. Year C has set John chastising the ‘brood of vipers’ and calling for them to repent. On the face of it, none of these events provide obvious reasons to rejoice!
The Kingdom of God – the true kingdom is coming. Herod (the king at the time) wasn’t the real king; God would replace him. Unlike the kingship of Herod, Jesus the King is quite different. This is what we are to rejoice over today – that Jesus the King is coming – despite our circumstances and the events of the world.
The beautiful words of Isaiah 61 are the reminder that I think we need of the kingship, the joy and the comfort of Jesus.
He (God) has sent me to bring good news to the oppressed. To bind up the broken-hearted – anybody this morning?
To proclaim liberty to the captives. To release the prisoners – this isn’t exclusive to those in jail. Anyone who is captive to illness or addiction.
To proclaim the year of the Lord’s favour – anybody want a better 2021?
To comfort and provide for those who mourn – anyone?
To give them a garland instead of ashes – flowers to celebrate rather than ashes of repentance.
The mantle of praise instead of a faint spirit – anyone a bit faint of spirit this morning?
The planting of the Lord! I want to be planted and be called an oak of righteousness that is not moved or swayed when the wind comes, and the tide rises.
Jesus the King speaks of mercy, healing and rejoicing. More than anything, I want you to know the love, mercy, healing and rejoicing over you from Jesus the King. At the staff meeting this week, there was some laughing over what wisdom I would impart to you.
This is it. If you know the love, mercy, healing and rejoicing over you more now than you did in July 2016 – I leave here satisfied. If I have challenged you, pushed you, helped you in any way to experience or know the love of God more deeply – I can go from here with a leaping heart.
God bless you. I will continue to pray for the parish and for you. Thank you for the love and support you have shown me. May your hearts continue to leap for joy.