Sunday, December 16, 2012
December 16, 2012
Philippians 4.4-7; Luke 3.7-18
+ I know you all so well. I sometimes think I may be able to read your collective mind. As I stand before you this morning, I know what you’re thinking. You’re thinking, “Is he wearing pink?” Already, I can tell I am going to get some questions—and comments—after the Mass today.
Yes, I am wearing pink today. Actually, it’s rose. And yes, this IS an option for us Episcopalians on this Sunday. It’s right there on our liturgical calendar that the color rose may be used today. And so it is.
It is Gaudete Sunday. It’s called Gaudete because in our reading from Paul’s letter to the Philippians, we hear “Rejoice in the Lord always; I will say rejoice” or in Latin: Gaudete in Domino simperinterum dico, gaudete.
Gaudete means Rejoice. Rejoice is our word for the day today. I don’t think we think about what that word really means.
As we draw closer and closer to commemorating Jesus’ birth, we find ourselves with that strange, wonderful emotion in our hearts—joy. It is a time to rejoice. It is a time to be anxious (in a positive way) and excited over the fact that, in just a little over a week, we will celebrating God’s coming among, God’s being with us.
Or as Paul says today, ”the Lord is near” Or, in Latin (since we’re on kind of a Latin bent this Gaudete Sunday) Dominus propus est.
Actually, preaching about joy today—on this day—is not easy to do. From where we stand—here and now—it might not be so easy to find joy in our hearts. I think most of us have been deeply affected by the events on Friday of the Sandy Hook Elementary School in Connecticut. Yes, there have been worse mass shootings. Yes, there are terrible things happening all the time—murders, and bombings, and general destruction. But this one resonates and will continue to resonate with us for a long time to come. For me, it didn’t really hit home until I saw some of the photos of the children. That’s when it hit me hard.
But, yet, today might be the day when we need something different. We need a break from our Sarum Blue. What I many people don’t realize is that Advent, with all its hopefulness, is actually, like Lent, a penitential time. It is a time for us to slow down, to ponder, to think. And to wait. It is a time to be introspective, as well—to think about who are and where we are in our lives.
So, in the midst of pondering and waiting and introspection, we also find ourselves pondering the effects of this mass murder, Yes, maybe it is time for a little joy in the midst of all this pain.
It is important, as followers of Jesus, that, in the wake of these things, we do not despair. We do not lose heart. Even in the midst of a penitential time such as Advent, it is important that we also find joy.
That is why we are decorated in rose this morning. That is why, in our pondering, we are pondering joy—even joy in the midst of suffering and pain. That is why, even despite all that happened and will happen, we can still rejoice.
In our pondering and in our moment of rejoicing, we are also given a dose of sobering finger-shaking. We find, in our Gospel reading, that formidable figure of John the Baptist, saying to us,
“Even now the ax is lying at the root of the trees; every tree therefore that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire.”
These words speak loud and clear to us even now—in this moment of joy. We can hear those words and know, even now, in whatever pains we have at this moment, what the source of our joy is John is essentially saying to us, Jesus is near. And because Jesus is near, let’s keep doing good. Let us bear fruit.
We—Christians—bear fruit when we are joyful in our God. We bear fruit when we are joyful and rejoicing, even in the midst of darkness and pain. How can’t we? That joy that we carry within us fertilizes the good things we do. It motivates us. It compels us. It gives us purpose and meaning in our lives.
This is what Gaudete Sunday is all about—rejoicing. Living in joy. Letting joy reign supreme in us. Letting joy win out over the pain.
There is a personal reason why I introduced rose-colored vestments here at St. Stephen’s. This Sunday—Gaudete Sunday—has always been a meaningful Sunday to me. And the reason it has been so meaningful is because of a book I read several years ago. The book was about Fr. Alfred Delp. If you do not know about Fr. Delp, I encourage you to. He was truly one of the world’s heroes. I can never let Gaudete Sunday pass without referencing Fr. Delp in some way.
Delp was a German Jesuit priest who, in February, 1945, was killed by the Nazis. On Gaudete Sunday, 1944, while he was in prison awaiting his uncertain future, Fr. Delp wrote these words about a Christian full of joy (and remember as you hear these words—they were written by a priest in prison who is about the executed for standing up to the evil he saw in his world):
"Only a person like this will be capable of breathing deeply, and life and the world will not refuse him. They will give all that they rightly have to give, because it is demanded with the sovereign goods of divine jurisdiction, which have been put at his disposal. He will feel the eternal brilliance of creation again, regarding it reverently and protectively…. his mind and heart, his hands and works, have the creative gift and strength to pass the test. And such a person becomes one of great joy—the great joy that he lives and experiences, as well as gives and enkindles in others. Gaudete!”
Fr. Delp is telling us essentially that what our job as followers of Jesus, one of our many jobs, is not just to rejoice with our lips today. Rather, he is saying to us that we must embody rejoicing. We must embody joy. We must live joy in all we do and say and are. Even when life throws horrible things at us, we must still embody joy. Even in the pain we feel over these shootings, even in whatever difficulties we’re facing in our own lives, at this time of the year, we too can still, in all honesty, proclaim:
And live that Gaudete out in our very existence.
So, let Gaudete be more than just what we say or we do one Sunday a year. Let it be our way of life as we await Jesus’ presence coming to us. St. Paul are both right:
The Lord is near!
The Lord is near even in this darkness we might be in at this time. The Lord is near even as we reel from violence and death around us. The Lord is near!
Let our joy flow up from within us and burn in our lives with a radiant flame. And when we do we will find that we too have “the creative gift and strength to past the test.” We too, as embodied joy, will be bearing good fruits