December 18, 2018
“Repent and Rejoice” ~ Sermon for December 16, 2018
Our New Testament reading this morning tells the story of John the Baptist, son of Zechariah, cousin of Jesus, preparing the way for the messiah.
All four gospels introduce John as the prophet who announces the coming of Jesus.
Only Luke’s gospel provides specific acts that people must follow to put themselves in right relationship in God.
Here now a reading from the gospel of Luke 3: 7-18.
Here ends the readingof God’s holy word. May God add to our hearing and understanding, God’s blessing. Amen.
Please pray with me.
O God of exiles and the lost, you promise restoration and wholeness through the power of Jesus Christ.
Give us faith to live joyfully, sustained by your promises as we eagerly await the day when they will be fulfilled for all the world to see, through the coming of your Son, Jesus Christ.
May the words of my mouth and the meditations of my heart be acceptable to you, O Lord, my rock and my redeemer. Amen.
“With joy we await the coming of Christ, even as we struggle to make sense of living in a topsy turvy world.”
These words from our Advent Candle-lighting prayer speak volumes.
This is the foundation of our faith.
Regardless of what is going on in the world, we wait…for Christ to come.
During the Christmas season we pay perhaps a bit more attention to this waiting, because December 25 is a definitive end-point.
By celebrating the birth of Jesus, we are reminded of the waiting, but also reminded of the reward.
One blogger this week characterized the waiting this way:
“Advent is expectant and full of hope. There’s also a solemn quality to the waiting — not dour or dreary — something grounded and okay with a close stillness, a quality that honors the waiting itself as sacred.
It is a patient season. It asks us to be patient, too. Advent asks us to make peace with the lingering and reminds us that we can. It gently shows us again that there can be deep joy in that in-between place, that one-foot-in-front-of-the-other pace.”
Joy is ours for the making.
It is up to us to make choice about those things that bring us joy – as well as those things that do not.
For a week in April 2015, Archbishop Desmond Tutu visited His Holiness the Dalai Lama at his residence in exile in India.
Their dialogue and interactions, facilitated by Douglas Abrams, became The Book of Joy.
“Suffering is inevitable,” they said, “but how we respond to that suffering is our choice. Not even oppression or occupation can take away this freedom to choose our response.”
I want to share the eight pillars of joy that these prophets identified:
Four were qualities of the mind:
- Perspective: how you look at the world;
- Humility: how you look at yourself;
- Humor: the ability to not take yourself too seriously;
- Acceptance: Understanding that you don’t have total control over what happens in life.
The four additional pillars were qualities of the heart:
- Forgiveness: the ability to let go of grievances and past hurts;
- Gratitude: the ability to feel grateful, blessed for all that you have;
- Compassion: the gift of understanding how another person feels;
- Generosity: a willingness to share from your abundance.
Commenting on this book, Richard Rohr observes “When we practice a generosity of spirit, we are in many ways practicing all the other pillars of joy.”
In generosity, there is a wider perspective in which we see our connection to all others.
There is a humility that recognizes our place in the world and acknowledges that at another time we could be the one in need, whether that need is material, emotional, or spiritual.
There is a sense of humor and an ability to laugh at ourselves so that we do not take ourselves too seriously.
There is an acceptance of life, in which we do not force life to be other than what it is.
There is a forgiveness of others and a release of what otherwise might have been.
There is a gratitude for all that we have been given.
Finally, we see others with a deep compassion and a desire to help those who are in need.
And from this comes a generosity that recognizes helping others as helping ourselves.
As the Dalai Lama put it, “In fact, taking care of others, helping others, ultimately is the way to discover your own joy and to have a happy life.”
This is the same lesson John the Baptist preached to his followers.
In today’s passage John condemns those seeking redemption as ‘a brood of vipers.’
He believes that these folks flocking to hear him preach are really only interested in their own well-being.
He urges them to ‘bear fruits worthy of repentence.’
He instructs that they must share what they have: their coats, their food, their resources and their power.
John knows that the way to right relationship with God is through caring for others.
During this advent season I hope that you have had an opportunity to do something for someone else.
I hope that you are exploring your own heart to see what brings you joy.
The words of the prophets ring true.
I want to close with a blessing Archbishop Tutu offered at the close of his dialogue with the Dali Lama:
“Dear Child of God, you are loved with a love that nothing can shake, a love that loved you long before you were created, a love that will be there long after everything has disappeared. You are precious, with a preciousness that is totally quite immeasurable. And God wants you to be like God. Filled with life and goodness and laughter—and joy.
Let us pray.
Gracious and holy God we turn to you this day seeking the joy that knowing you brings us.
We want to be a joyful people, radiating your goodness into the world.
Help us, we pray to understand that it is through helping others that we might come to know you.
Grant us the grace, O God, to move out of our heads and into our hearts.
Let this season of advent be one that transforms us.
Hear our prayers this day for those whom we love.
For those who are sick, we pray for healing.
For those who mourn, we pray for comfort.
For those among us and in the world who have no cause for joy we pray that our prayers and love will transform their world.
O God, we are grateful for every blessing you have bestowed and we pray that we might be worthy of the ultimate gift of your son, Jesus Christ, for whom we wait.
Hear now our silent prayers as we turn our hearts to you.