Sunday, December 12, 2021

3 Advent, 2021-C: Welcoming joy

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

En el nombre del Dios que es Trinidad en unidad. Amen. 

The Third Sunday of Advent is known as Rose or Gaudete Sunday, hence the pink vestments. It’s one of my great joys that while the church pushed women out for centuries, it kept pink as a liturgical color. So, now we get to see the girl color, recognize the value of the feminine and associate it with joy! Pink means something different for us than it did for them - but I’ll bet the church fathers didn’t see that coming!

The word 'gaudete' comes from the Latin and while we translate it as “rejoice,” it literally means 'to welcome and to be filled with joy.' On this Sunday, 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.

We rejoice that we have been redeemed by the forgiveness of our sins, so anticipating our promised reconciliation, we commit during Advent, to honestly discover where we have gone astray in our lives, our faith community, and our world. We can’t repent, that is, change our minds or our direction, if we don’t know where we’ve sinned.

A great tool for this is the Rite of Reconciliation of a Penitent, what some call “Confession” as an Advent practice. I’m happy to talk about this with anyone who wants to know more about it or make an appointment.

So, let’s talk about sin for a minute. When people come to me to “confess” their sins, they often tell me what they’ve done that is wrong. That isn’t the sin, I tell them. That’s the evidence of sin.

Sin is separation where there should be relationship, disruption where there should be union, and opposition where there should be harmony and it happens deep within us, in our hearts. Sin disrupts our relationships with God, one another, and ourselves. The evidence of our sin is the behavior that results from that disruption, behavior that is self-centered, harmful, or disrespectful.

In our Rite of Reconciliation, we look deeply within and see where this disruption has happened, and where the reconciliation Jesus promised us needs to happen again, remembering that it is by the power of God’s bountiful grace and mercy that we are restored. The words of absolution, spoken out loud, initiate that restoration, and it’s a powerful experience.

Sin is part of our lives, and sometimes, when we allow ourselves, we realize just how messed up things are. For instance, how do we faithfully and justly deal with the racism, sexism, homophobia, and other sins built into our systems? I was chatting with a deacon friend recently who does this work and she tells me that finding an unhoused person shelter for the night right now can be a frustrating endeavor – and she knows the system! Imagine how impossible it must be for someone without a knowledgeable advocate!

Our Collect today reminds us that sometimes we need a hero; someone who has the power to make things different… better; to restore justice where there is none. Sometimes we just need to know there is power out there that can set right what has gone wrong.

Zephaniah talks about God as a “warrior who gives victory” but let’s not overlook how that victory is described. Speaking through the prophet God promises to rejoice over us with gladness, to renew us in God’s love, and to exult over us with singing. God promises to 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 truly cause to rejoice.

Paul affirms this in his letter to the Philippians saying, rejoice because “the Lord is near.” We don’t need to worry about anything. Pray and give thanks, he says, because we are assured that all will be well, 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 abundant grace and mercy leads us to the victory Zephaniah described.

So, today, we welcome God’s joy and let it fill us to overflowing whereupon it will spill into the world.

What, then, do we make of this Gospel reading? The first thing John the Baptist says is, “You brood of vipers! Who warned you of the wrath to come?” It feels kind of like Scriptural whiplash, doesn’t it? But it does make sense and it is good news.

John’s essential message was: change the way you’re thinking, believing, and acting because the Messiah is coming – and it won’t be like what you think. In fact, as it turned out, Jesus’ Messiahship wasn’t what John the Baptist thought either. Jesus didn’t bring salvation just to his own people, but to all people for all time, and he brought it by the forgiveness of sins, that is, Jesus restores relationships that have been separated, unity where there is division, and harmony where there is discord. 

John the Baptist knew that he was chosen by God to herald the coming of the long-awaited Messiah. He knew that God’s people needed to repent 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 Advent into the next chapter of our life as a faith community. 

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…” and I would add – with joy!

On this Gaudete Sunday, we welcome all that God is waiting to give, knowing that God’s plan for us and for the whole world is a plan of love, full of bountiful grace and mercy - and that we have been chosen by God to proclaim that Good News to the world.

How can we be anything else but filled with joy? Gaudete! Rejoice! 


(Image of John the Baptist, by El Greco)

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