This week, a child died in custody of the United States Government.
This week, 15,000 children have been detained at our borders.
This week, marked the 6th anniversary of Sandy Hook.
This week, brought us an evacuation of Sandy Hook elementary school due to threats.
If hatred and bigotry were a bingo game, you could fill the card with the morning news.
Racism, anti-semitism, transphobia, homophobia, xenophobia, gun violence.
This week… this week…this week…
Day by day.
We fend off long nights with strands of light. We will light three candles and sing.
Singing Gloria at the top of our lungs and placing another gift under the tree.
Smiling at the sweetness, laughing at the jokes.
Celebrating this day.
This day, with a candle we mark joy, on the Sunday we call “rekoice”.
How dare we speak of joy. How dare we!
We dare, we dare, we dare—because joy is not the fulfillment of our desires. Joy is not a result of the right now.
This is a joy grounded in the future. It is rejoicing because of what might be—not because of what is.
It is the yearning, for the promise, while mourning the present, and believing that this is not all that is or all that will be.
And, so today, we give thanks to God that this is not it.
That the second coming of Christ, the final in-breaking of the kingdom in all its glory—will give truth to the love that God envisions for all creation
Today we herald that creation, a new creation, in which the lies of the now will pass away.
This is what it means that sorrow will turn to laughter. This is what it means that those who mourn will find themselves dancing.
This is not it.
The empire, as we have created, it is not how God has envisioned it.
And, so we rejoice.
On this Advent Sunday of rejoicing
Knowing that the present evils of this world will indeed pass away.
That the kings of this world—whether they be presidential, or corporate, elected or dictated--that they will be overthrown by the in-breaking of a kingdom in which power is leveraged not through any act of violence but an act of love.
Gaudete, rejoice! For this is the day that the Lord has made!
A day in which oppression meets the promise of liberation.
A day in which suffering is intermingled with our hope.
And it is on this day that the prophet, utilizing the tradition of women’s songs of triumph, cries out “Sing aloud, O daughter Zion; shout, O Israel! Rejoice and exult with all your heart!”.
Joyful words, celebratory words! But, take note, these words from the prophet Zephaniah have been removed from their context--a context in which the prophet juxtaposes judgment, impending destruction, and current suffering, with this climatic call to rejoicing.
Islamic scholar, Professor Omid Safi writes that it is suffering that paves “the way for joy.
Suffering was the Jesus that had to kick over the tables of the moneychangers,
Before the Spirit of God could come rushing in to the Temple of my heart.”
Suffering paves the way for joy—rejoicing in the promise of what might be that will overthrow the evils of what is right now.
Our joy confronts the evils of this world. Our joy defies the death dealers and the doom sayers! Our joy is found today amongst the prophets who confront the persecutors—all the while proclaiming God’s promise to the persecuted!
The power of this call to rejoicing is all the stronger when we recognize the fears of those to whom it was proclaimed.
This is a rejoicing, for those who live in fear. Rejoicing, for those who live in exile. Rejoicing, for those who thirst. Rejoicing, for those who hunger. Rejoicing, for those imprisoned. Rejoicing, for those facing government sanctioned persecution. Rejoicing, for the impoverished.
“The LORD has taken away the judgements against you, he has turned away your enemies. The king of Israel the LORD is in your midst; you shall fear disaster no more.”
You shall fear disaster no more. Can you imagine? In this world rife with fear, can you imagine what it would mean to fear disaster no more?
And, the people march to freedom. Their feet move on in hope.
The poor, the fearful, the hungry, the exiled…rejoicing! Rejoicing, because Advent isn’t simply about celebrating the baby that was, it is about celebrating the future which has been promised, “one who is more powerful than I is coming!”
I write these words from an undeniable context of comfort and relative security, which gives me pause.
And, I wonder.
I wonder, what those of us with power and privilege need to find in the words we hear proclaimed today. I wonder what fears we must release. I wonder where we, the people of St. Clement’s, are in this promise.
And, this is where I encounter the epistle and Gospel lessons appointed for today…
For it is in these passages that we hear the promise proclaimed in the midst of those who live in comfort—and who risk losing that comfort when they choose to follow Christ. These are people who are asking, from positions of privilege, the question, “What then should WE do?”
John the Baptist addresses a crowd that includes people with material resources, those who have more than they need. The crowd includes soldiers and tax collectors who serve the will of the emperor.
Paul, in his letter to the early Christians in Philippi, is writing to a community which included Greek and Roman citizens from the upper crust of society, people who enjoyed all the privileges of citizenship. We know this in part because of his closing words of encouragement in this letter—in which Paul extends greetings from fellow Christians serving in Caesar’s household!
Roman citizens, soldiers, and tax collectors were part of the early Christian church--these were individuals who had privilege and power, individuals who struggled with relinquishment of the same when confronted with the Good News of God in Christ.
And, I think, many of us can empathize with their struggle. We empathize because our culture confuses physical comfort and wealth with joy. We empathize because we recognize that we ourselves benefit from the very same systems that deprive and deny others. We empathize, because we want more.
We want more than our comfort, more than our wealth, more than the world that is.
So, on this Sunday we rejoice for the world that might be.
A world in which all of God’s people can thrive. A world in which the hungry are fed. A world in which thirsty children are given water abundant. A world as envisioned by God.
This is not that world, yet. But we rejoice knowing that we can act to assist in the promised in-breaking of that world. A world into which Jesus came, a world into which Jesus shall come.