Sunday, December 16, 2018

Advent 3C, 2018: Trust and adjust

Lectionary: Zephaniah 3:14-20; Canticle 9; Philippians 4:4-7; Luke 3:7-18

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En el nombre del Dios: Padre, Hijo, y Espiritu Santo. Amen.

Today is the third Sunday of Advent, known as Rose or Gaudete Sunday. The word 'gaudete' comes from the Latin and we translate it as “rejoice” but it means 'to welcome and to be filled with joy.' On this Sunday then, we make an intentional choice to welcome the joy God is waiting to give us – joy that anticipates the redeeming love of God; joy that trusts that nothing is impossible with God.

Our Collect today is an intriguing one. Let’s take a look at it again for a moment: Stir up your power, O Lord, and with great might come among us; and, because we are sorely hindered by our sins, let your bountiful grace and mercy speedily help and deliver us; through Jesus Christ our Lord, to whom, with you and the Holy Spirit, be honor and glory, now and for ever.

This prayer reminds us that sometimes we all need a hero; someone who has the power to make things different… better; to relieve us of fear or discomfort, or to restore justice where there is none. Sometimes we just need to know there is power out there that can set right whatever has gone wrong.

What intrigues me about this Collect is this phrase: …because we are sorely hindered by our sins, let your bountiful grace and mercy speedily help and deliver us… If sin is separation where there should be relationship, division where there should be union, disruption where there should unity; then the power of God that restores us is bountiful grace and mercy.

When we talk about God as Almighty, this is what it means. We may use metaphors of earthly power, as Zephaniah did, calling God a “warrior who gives victory” but let’s not overlook how God then describes what that victory. Speaking through the prophet God promises to rejoice over us with gladness, renew us in God’s love, exult over us with singing, redeem disaster, deal with our oppressors, save the lame, gather the outcast, and change our shame to praise. This is what victory looks like, and it is cause to rejoice.

Paul affirms this in his letter to the Philippians saying, Rejoice. Rejoice because “the Lord is near.” Paul reminds us that we need not worry about anything. When we stay in relationship with God, which we do through prayer, we are assured that all will be well, as Dame Julian of Norwich says, and our assurance feels like peace – peace in our bodies, our minds, and our spirits. Peace that makes no sense, because it is a peace that trusts completely in God, whose power of abundance grace and mercy leads us to victory, the victory we just heard described in Zephaniah.

So, we rejoice. We welcome God’s joy and let it fill us to overflowing whereupon it spills into the world.

What, then, do we make of the Gospel reading from Luke? How does this story fit the Gaudete imperative to rejoice? How did his followers hear John the Baptist’s words as good news? How do we?

John’s essential message was: change the way you’re thinking, acting, and believing because the Messiah of God is coming – and it won’t be what you think. In fact, it turned out it wasn’t what John the Baptist thought either, as we hear later when he hesitates to baptize Jesus and then even later, when he sends a messenger to ask Jesus, “are you the one we’ve been waiting for or should we wait for another.”

That’s the way it is with faith. We can’t be certain in any moment, but we can trust the big picture and adjust ourselves to it as it is revealed.

John the Baptist know that the long-awaited Messiah was coming. He knew that he was the herald of that Messiah. He knew that God’s people needed to repent, to change the way they lived, thought, and believed because the Messiah was bringing the Spirit’s renewing fire. But even he didn’t know how radically different God’s plan was going to be from his own expectations.

None of us does – something to keep in mind as we journey together through this interim time. Here’s what we do know though, and it is reason to rejoice: We know that God rejoices over us with gladness, renews us in divine love, exults over us with singing, redeems every single disaster we confront, and deals with our oppressors (so we don’t have to). We know that God heals the lame, gathers in all who are outcast, and changes our shame to praise.

Thomas Merton once said: “You do not need to know precisely what is happening, or exactly where it is all going. What you need is to recognize the possibilities and challenges offered by the present moment, and to embrace them with courage, faith and hope.”

The way we measure our faithfulness in this endeavor is to honestly observe: Is there separation among us where there should be relationship? Division where there should be union? Disruption where there should unity?

Do we experience the peace that surpasses all understanding? If not, then we might let this Gaudete Sunday be our opportunity to choose to rejoice – to welcome the joy of God and let it fill us to overflowing. Think of the pool of joy this community of faith might be standing in if we all chose to do this together… today.



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