The Pas Advent 3
17 December 2017
Isaiah 61:1-4, 8-11
Canticle 18a (Lk 1:47-53) pg 86
1 Thessalonians 5:16-24
John 1:6-8, 19-28
God of light, who sent the Baptist to offer hope and to face the world’s scorn: open our ears to hear the cries from the margins, exposing our fears, sharpening our vision and calling us to faith; through Jesus Christ, the one who is to come. Amen.
Today, I want to look at what Paul is telling the Thessalonians. After all, we’re now a week away from Christmas, and we have the additional societal stress of having Christmas Eve fall on the 4th Sunday of Advent.
At the same time, for some reason, this year, I’ve encountered more cases of “the Christmas blah’s” than I’ve seen in some decades.
So, here we are, a week from Christmas, and we’re celebrating the season of Advent. We’re preparing for the arrival of the Christ child, we’re recounting Mary’s experiences because of the angel’s announcement, and because she knows the societal expectations for the Messiah.
Expectations that she sees, that we see lived out throughout the rest of her life, through our reading of the gospels, that describe to us the events of Jesus’ life.
So, Mary rejoices because she knows, she experiences God’s will coming to pass, not just in her lifetime, but in the details of her life. Paul, probably about the same age as Jesus, carries Jesus message of love, of joy, of God’s love for all of humanity to the wider world, to the world as he knows it, in his lifetime.
And although we’re seeing a generations difference between the messages, they’re really saying the same thing.
Between Mary and Paul, we’re told to Rejoice. We’re told to pray continually. We’re told to give thank in all circumstances.
And, at this time of the year when we’re trying to cram more hours into a day than God has planned, when we’re trying to ‘do it all and smile, as well’, this may be as hard, for us, or even harder than Jesus injunction to “love your neighbour as you love yourself”, I think.
This week, when I was working, I put on Christmas carols. At the same time, I remembered some of the rather more comedic action movies I had watched recently.
And I remembered that we’re always at our best when we’re able to rejoice, when we’re able to give thanks for the blessings in our lives.
Did you know that when we laugh, when we’re able to laugh, our blood pressure goes down? When we laugh we release endorphins into our bloodstream that helps us to deal with stress, and with the sudden changes of the season all around us.
And I wondered if, in the press and rush, and the obligations of the season that this is something that we often forget in the press of the world on our spirits, on our souls, on our lives. To rejoice, to find the joy in life, to find the joy in Jesus love for us, in God’s love for us that we are able to express to the world around us as joy.
And, yeah, sure, there is always something that can be complained about. After all, I did my regular check up with the doctor and was able to relay the litany of minor complaints to her that are catalogued for future follow up.
The next day, I was chatting with a gentleman who has received a diagnosis that will, in the end cost him his life, yet, to have such a diagnosis is only a lament if we allow it to be. Paul tells us to Rejoice, to find the joy, and to live into the joy of the expectation of Christ in our lives
At the same time, at this time of the year, we are preparing for Christmas. We’re preparing to celebrate the birth of the Christ child into our lives, into our hearts, into our reality. And we celebrate this with the inevitable lists of gifts and things that the young, and the old, in our midst ‘want’ instead of what is needed, instead.
So, perhaps Paul’s words, and Mary’s song of joy are needed more than we can say.
A reminder, a prompt, perhaps of where it is that we need to place our focus? A prompt that we are more than the sum of our ‘Santa lists,’ more than the desires to decorate for the Season, and so much more than the demands of those who wish to see and sample the product of our baking efforts, in this next week?
After all, the season of Christmas begins on Christmas Day and extends to Epiphany (Little Christmas). There is time to celebrate.
Today, Paul reminds us, as he reminds the people of Thessalonica “16 Rejoice always, 17 pray continually, 18 give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.
19 Do not quench the Spirit. 20 Do not treat prophecies with contempt21 but test them all; hold on to what is good, 22 reject every kind of evil.” (1 Thess 5:16-22)
And what I find most interesting, most precious about this passage is the way that the verses are broken up. Each thought, each directive, is its own verse. A complete thought, a directive from one who only wishes us to live entirely in the love and wisdom of God found in Christ Jesus.
So, we’re told in these short, yet complete thoughts to rejoice. To, not necessarily be giddy happy, but to be able to find the joy in life, in our circumstances, in the world around us.
And we are able to rejoice every day, even if it’s just the beauty of the hoar frost on the branches, the glow of the world in purples and whites in twilight, the realization that soon, Christ is reborn in our lives, in our hearts, in our liturgy, and we are able to celebrate that love, every day.
We’re told to pray continually. To bring our needs, our fears, our thanks, our faults and our errors before God. We’re told to leave our concerns with God every day, and when we do that, we don’t just pray for our selves, we are able to pray for those whom we know, whom we love, and perhaps even pray for those whom we don’t know or love because they need God’s loving guidance in their lives, as we need it in our lives every day.
We’re able to pray for the loves of our lives, and for the challenges, we’re able to grow when we give our prayer concerns to God, because God’s wisdom will help us find the answers.
At the same time, Paul tell us to give thanks. And we can see this as a function of our prayers, but perhaps we can do this more? Especially at this time of year? We can give thanks that we, or family members travelled safely and reached destinations with no troubles.
We can give thanks that the season has come together, perhaps not how we envisioned it, on this side of Christmas, but perhaps as God has envisioned.
We can give thanks that we have another day to rejoice and to pray, and to adhere to every good gift from God. We can give thanks that we have given our burdens into God’s keeping and that we grow when God answers our prayers, even when those prayers aren’t answered in ways we would naturally expect.
We are able to give thanks for all those in our lives, from those we love unconditionally, to those who get under our skins, because they help us to grow, and to rely upon Christ for our daily needs.
I’m not saying we need a ‘Griswold’s family Christmas’ experience to remind us of how joy comes into our lives, even if its through the back door, but at the same time, we can seek out the joy in the same way we choose the spices and ingredients with which we cook or bake.
We can choose the positive, we can choose the laughter, we can choose to rejoice in the same way we choose the ginger, and the allspice, the cloves and the cinnamon for the baking.
We can choose the thyme, the sage, the oregano for the soups and stews.
We can create the old family recipes that bring a smile of memory to our faces, as our hearts remember those who contributed those recipes at family gatherings in the past.
The point is we can choose. Both Paul and Mary, today, show us joy in our lives, and encourage us to emulate that in our day to day actions. But it is a choice that we make, every day.
I remember one person who, for a year, made the commitment to be happy, every day. In her life, every day, she committed herself to being happy, to showing joy in the world around us, and for the year of that experiment, a habit that she chose to use to define her life, she has become a happier individual, fulfilling all that Paul tells us today.
But in all of this we are fulfilling what Paul has directed us to do in his letter to the Thessalonians. We’re fulfilling Mary’s song in the canticle that is read today, in preparation for the arrival of the Christ child in our lives, in our hearts, in our reality.
So, we have the choice. We are able to follow Paul’s instructions, Paul’s directive, and do it with more joy than a parent telling us, unrepentant miscreants to apologize to an equally unrepentant sibling, making this a command that is difficult to fulfill and wrenching to our hearts and lives.
Or we can follow Paul’s instructions, Paul’s directive and embrace his words, his teachings. We can see where they mesh with Jesus love, teachings, words, and we can grow in our understanding of the depths of God’s love for all of humanity when Jesus comes into the world to teach us to love, to teach us to live in the grace that comes from God, and has the ability to change our lives, our hearts, not just at this harried time of year, but every day of our lives.