Advent 3, Year C
Take time to imagine God delighting in you, rejoicing over you! He renews you in his love. It is wonderful to be in a good mood – to be happy, cheerful, joyful. We don’t live in a joy fest – the world is corrupt and has been damaged by sin and injustice, selfishness, death + loss. We are not joyful because of circumstance, but because of our hope in God’s promises.
Once released from slavery in Egypt, the first thing Israelites do is sing and dance for joy. Joy in the wilderness – defined not be struggles but hope in future destiny.
While waiting, we can choose Joy in anticipation. Even when persecuted, Christians can choose to rejoice in God. This is a gift of God’s spirit in the midst of hardship. Love has overcome death itself. Grief is still a reality – missing friends and loved ones. Still okay to express this. “Being full of sorrow and yet rejoicing.” 2 Cor 6:10. Making a choice to live that with Jesus. A profound decision in the Christian life.
Now, if you don’t know the background to our first reading today from the Prophet Zephaniah, you might think that this guy is just always on this happy trip. He’s just in this midst of this joy fest. You know, this declaration of such joy and wonder. This reading is kind of significant for me, because it brings to mind lots of stories of when I was a kid back down in Bega. We had a charismatic priest, actually a couple of charismatic priests, and they introduced a whole bunch of new music into the parish. A lot of them were these very joyful, happy-clappy kinds of songs that, as you know, as a teenager at that time, they they seemed quite fun and quite quite lovely, and one of them, of course, is based on this text (And the Father will dance, by Carey Landry).
But actually when you read the rest of the chapter of the book and it’s only three chapters – quite short. You see that no, this section that we read from tonight is is quite different from the rest, as Zephaniah was writing at a time just before the exile. So it’s probably during the reign of King Josiah (around 622 BCE). There the Kingdom of Judah and Josiah was essentially a good person, a good man. He he tried his very best and he was very convicted to try and restore the the people of Israel back to the faithful worship of God. But they’ve gone too far. They were way too corrupted and they weren’t able. He wasn’t able with all of his leadership.
All these calls to repentance to return to the covenant, to be faithful to God. Once again he did lots of things, but it wasn’t enough, and only less than a generation later, the whole of the city of Jerusalem was was utterly destroyed. So Zephaniah has every reason to be a, you know, a gloomy sort of character just to continue to deride Jerusalem for all of its failures. And that’s what the rest of the book is about, and so it’s quite strange that this turn here, as he’s giving this final address to Jerusalem, and this is almost the the complete conclusion to his prophecies.
To be so caught up in joy. In a similar way, our second reading tonight from Paul writing to the Philippians – again, a very short letter and able to be read quite quickly – you think, yes, Paul must have been, experiencing just this absolute abundance, as he’s writing these things. But in fact he’s writing – as he tells us at the start of letter – in chains. He is in prison. He is deprived of being able to visit, being able to connect with people, being able to see the people that he loves. So that sense of loss and grief about not being able to do the things that he loves going around. Sharing the good news of Jesus. All of that had been prevented from him. And yet he’s able to experience this profound joy. So what’s their secret? What’s the trick that they’re able to embody into to live that they’re able to experience this amazing joy and share it with us? I think the first thing is that they don’t find joy simply in. The particular circumstances that they find themselves in when we do that, if we’re just trying to find joy in whatever happens around us. We’re always going to be disappointed. We’re always going to be distracted ’cause the weather will be rubbish a lot of the time. It’ll be rainy and horrible when you’re thinking this is supposed to be summer. What that is going on right now, or just the whole situation of Covid this year, the whole situation not being able to go and be with friends or to visit the people that we love to that sense of being disconnected from those that we want to be a part of in their lives is not being able to sing, having to wear silly face masks. Just we gather for for Eucharist and things like that.
But both of these writers? Both of these authors discover something that can point the way for us, because what they are understanding is that it’s in the fidelity of God. It’s the fact that God is true. The God is faithful. They can have hope in God. They can have joy and experience. This wonder in this profound sense of of this gift of God’s love. Because they know the character in the nature of God. They have through their prayer and through their relationship with God, being able to discover and experience that presence of God and so even when the present situation and circumstances point in no way to that experience of joy, they’re able through that Grayson through that gift of relationship. With God to route, to be able to go deeper within that experience and be able to point to this hope and point to the trust that they have discovered in God. And that is the source of their joy. It’s the source that John the Baptist is is also aware of when he’s able to to share and to proclaim this message of the presence of God. I’m not the one he says. I’m not the one that you need to look too. I am not the Christ. I’m not the Messiah, not the one that you’ve been waiting for. But there is one who is coming. I baptise you with water. But he will baptise you with much more amazing and precious gifts with the Holy Spirit and with fire those gifts that will breakthrough the whatever is is troubling us. In our present situation and allow us to find that free.
How does he respond? Do the practical things. If you have two cloaks, give one away. If you have any excess of food, give what you have away to the poor. The social justice requirements are absolute and essential to this whole understanding of joy. Where do we find our joy? Where do we find our contentment? It’s in the hope. That we find in God the God, he challenges us. The God calls us to life, the God who allows us to find that freedom and that experience of being with God. During this season of Advent now as we get to the halfway point. We’re again challenged to find our joy, to renew our trust in God, to hoping him to let his love and his message call us entirely. How do we do that? By recognising one another as worthy of sharing in that life. In that love, knowing that if I just build this little bunker and just continue to have this little sense of me in Jesus, it’s not going to fulfil us in an ultimate way to find true joy is first in discovering that life in Jesus.
But second, we need to overflow that love into the presence of others to love our neighbours, to love those around us, to care for the most vulnerable in our community. And finally ourselves. It’s only in that order, putting Jesus others you so happens to spell the word joy. Of course, that we find that joy that we find that. Life that were able to experience that freedom that we’re able to experience and encountering God, so we’re challenged to find life to find joy in. To let his hope to let that relationship continue to guide us into that experience of freedom that we find when we give of ourselves. When we serve one another. When we care for the most vulnerable.