Sunday, December 11, 2011

3 Advent

Gaudete Sunday

December 11, 2011

Isaiah 61.1-4, 8-11;1 Thes. 5.16-24

+ Some of you might remember November 28, 1966. Well, it was on that evening, at the posh Plaza Hotel in New York City, that author Truman Capote hosted the legendary (and infamous) masked black and white ball, which has been called “the party of the century.” Capote hosted this party to celebrate the end of many several, hard years working on his biggest and most popular book, In Cold Blood. Well, not that I can ever compare myself to Truman Capote, but in these past two weeks I have hosted two parties, and before this season is over, I will have hosted three more.

There’s a reason I am doing this year. As most of you know, this past year was a horrible year for me, following my father’ death. And the last thing in the world I wanted to do last year was go to a party much less host one. Also, as you’ve heard me say many times, I am not actually not a big fan of the modern, secular Christmas season.

In fact, I really don’t like it at all. If I wasn’t priest and a Christian, I would be a true curmudgeonly Scrooge. But this year I decided to break out of the mourning hold. I thought I would overcome my frustration with the season and just go with it for a while. So, parties, parties, parties.

What I’ve discovered is that I have felt myself truly emerge from that mourning cocoon to a large extent. And one of the added pluses for me is hearing people say to me, “I love your parties! You are so hospitable. You really do go all out for your guests.” And I guess do. And I love doing it. Because doing it makes me happy.

And so I can say, on this Third Sunday in Advent, that I am feeling a sense of joy that I certainly was not feeling last year. Joy at being able to emerge fromt hat awful dark cloud of mourning and sadness and to celebrate the future. And I think it is especially appropriate today.

Today is Gaudete Sunday. Traditionally, on Gaudete Sunday, we light the pink candle on the Advent wreath. This pink candle is a sign to us that the shift has happened. Now there are more candles lit than are unlit on the wreath. The light has won out and the darkness, we are realizing, is not an eternal darkens.

Gaudete means “rejoice” and that’s exactly what we should be doing on this Sunday. We should rejoice in the light that is winning out. We should rejoice in the fact that darkness has no lasting power over us.

This Sunday sets a tone different than the one we’ve had so-far in Advent. We find that word—rejoice—ringing out throughout our scriptural readings today. It is the theme of the day. It is the emotion that permeates everything we hear in the Liturgy of the Word on this Sunday.

In our reading from the Hebrew Bible, in Isaiah, we hear

I will greatly rejoice in the Lord,
my whole being shall exult in my God;

In our Epistle, we find even Paul—who seems a bit, shall we say, dour at times— rejoicing. “Rejoice always,” he writes to the church at Thessalonika

This emotion of joy is something we oftentimes take for granted. Let’s face it, joy doesn’t happen often enough in our lives. It is a rare occurrence for the most part. And maybe it should be. It is certainly not something we want to take for granted. When joy comes to us, we want to let it flow through us. We want it to guide us and overwhelm us. But we often don’t think about how essential joy is to us. Joy is essential to all of us as Christians. It is one of those marks that make us who we are as Christians.

But, as we all know, there are moments. There are moments when we cannot muster joy. No matter how many parties we might plan or host or go to, no matter how much we try to break the hold the hard, difficult things of life have placed on us, it is hard sometimes to feel joy. Cultivating joy in the midst of overwhelming sorrow or pain or loneliness or depression can seems overwhelming and impossible. That’s why joy really is a discipline.

When things like sorrow or pain or loneliness or depression descend upon—and they descend upon us all—we need, in those moments, to realize that joy might not be with us in that moment, but joy always returns. We need to search deep within us for that joy that we have as Christians. And when we search for it, we can find it.

That joy often comes when we put our pains into perspective. That joy comes when we recognize that these dark moments that happen in our lives are not eternal. They will not last forever.

That, I think, is where we sometimes fail. When we are in the midst of those negative emotions in our lives, we often feel as though they will never end. We often feel as though we will always be lonely, we always be sad, we will always mourn.

When my father died, I had a sinking realization very soon afterward, that life would never be the same again—and I despaired over that. I couldn’t imagine what life would be like from that time on. But, with time, I saw that life might be changed but it is not destroyed.

As Christians, we can’t allow ourselves to be boxed in by despair. As Christians, we are forced, again and again, to look at the larger picture. We are forced to see that joy is always there, just beyond our grasp, awaiting us.

Joy is there when we realize that in the midst of our darkness, there is always light just beyond our reach. And when it comes back into our lives, it truly is wonderful… It’s not always something one is able to identify in a person. Joy doesn’t mean walking around smiling all the time. It doesn’t mean that we have force ourselves to be happy at all times in the face of every bad thing. If we do that, we become nothing more than a programmed robot or a trained puppy.

True joy come bubbling up from within us. It is a true grace—it is a gift we are given that we simply don’t ask for. It comes from a deep place and it permeates our whole being, no matter what else is going on in our lives or in the world around us. It is a joy that comes from deep within our very essence—from that place of our true selves.

Advent is, essentially, a penitential season. It is a time for us to recognize that we are slugging through the muck of our lives—a muck we are at least, in part, responsible for. But Advent is also a time for us to be able to rejoice even in the midst of that muck. It is a time for us realize that we will not be in that muck for ever. The muck doesn’t win out. The joy we carry deep within us wins out.

So, as we gather together this morning, and as we leave here this morning, let us remember the joy we feel at seeing this pink candle lit. We have made it this far. The tide has shifted. The light is winning out. The dawn is about to break upon our long dark night.

As you ponder this, as you meditate on this, as you take this with you in your hearts, pay special attention to the emotion this causes within you. Embrace that welling up of joy from deep within. And let it proclaim on your lips the words you, along the prophet Isaiah, long to say:

I will greatly rejoice in the Lord,
my whole being shall exult in my God;

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