Sunday, December 11, 2016

3 Advent

(Gaudete Sunday)
December 11, 2016

Isaiah 35.1-10; James 5.7-10; Matthew 11.2-11

+ Today, of course, is special Sunday. Only twice in the Church year do we get to “go rose.” Today is Gaudete Sunday.  Today we light our pink candle on the Advent wreath. And we wear these rose vestments because it’s an important day.   

Today, in the midst of the blue season of Advent, we get to rejoice—or rather rejoice a little louder than usual.  Gaudete means “Rejoice.” We also get to “go rose” in Lent in Laetare Sunday. I love these Rose Sundays!

But for now, we are here, on this Sunday.  And it’s very appropriate that we are rejoicing on this Sunday. As we draw closer and closer to 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 good way) and excited over the fact that, in just a few week’s time, we will be celebrating God coming to us.

Or, as St. James says in our Epistle reading this morning: “Be patient, therefore, beloved, until the coming of the Lord,” and then goes on to explain how farmers wait patiently for their precious crops.

We are like farmers waiting patiently for the seeds of our faith to grow and blossom.

“Strengthen your hearts, for the coming of the Lord is near.”

Certainly, so far in the season of Advent, we have been doing just that. We have been waiting. We have been praying.

Two weeks ago in my sermon, I mentioned that when we pray that prayer, “Lord Jesus, come quickly” what we are praying for is that Jesus will actually come to us.  That has been our prayer and continues to be our prayer in Advent.

However…I hate to be this person.  On the surface, doesn’t all of this seem kind of…dare I say? Fluffy and precious? I mean, here we are on this Sunday, with our pink paraments, lighting a pink candle, praying a seemingly sweet and precious and overly simple prayer?

Appearances are important, after all. On the surface, it seems we are not really embodying the spirit of what we experience in our Gospel reading for today.  There we find Jesus discussing John the Baptist.  There is nothing fluffy or frivolous about John the Baptist.  He seems to me kind of like a wild man, out there in the desert in his clothes made from animal hides (that man was no vegan!), shouting about the coming of the Kingdom.  If he was here this morning, at St. Stephen’s, my reaction would be: He is not going to like all these rose vestments.

So, when Jesus asks the crowds, “What did you go out in the wilderness to look at?”

Did they go out to see a reed shaken by the wind?  Or someone dressed in soft robes? Did they go out to see something soft and frivolous?  No, they went out to see a prophet.

So, are we, this morning, not living to our ideals as prophets of God by decking ourselves in these rose vestments?  Are we proving to our critics that we are just flash and no substance?  Awww, that’s what I love about Gaudete Sunday.

Let me tell you, appearances can be deceiving.  Here, at St. Stephen’s, we find something else on this Gaudete Sunday.  Yes, it may see all pink and rosy this morning. But what we see is exactly what those crowds in our Gospel reading were looking for.

We, this morning, are a community of prophets. We are proclaiming the coming of the Lord.

One year ago, on our last Gaudete Sunday, we met as a congregation. And we voted unanimously on that Sunday to seek Delegated Episcopal Pastoral Oversight. Yes, it was one year ago. And that decision was not an easy one for us. It certainly has not always been an easy year after doing so.

There is a feeling among us at times as though we have been shunned a bit, as though people may have chosen to step away from us as we journey forward. We have felt neglected at times and ignored for making the stand we made.  Whether that is intentional or not is not our place to say. I do know that being in such a position is a hard one.

But, I will repeat to you what Jesus asked the crowd:

“What did you expect?”

What did anyone expect when we did what we did one year ago? After all, we are not reeds shaken by the wind. Being prophets, proclaiming the way of the Lord, is hard. I said that then.  I repeat it this morning.

It’s hard. But it’s not impossible.  We are safe on this journey, because, I can tell you, that while others may choose to turn away, or to distance themselves from us, while some may choose to ignore or neglect us, we know that our pathway is safe.

Those images we find in our reading today from Isaiah speak loud and clear to where we have been and where we are going as we follow the path we started one year ago.

“A highway shall be there,” we hear Isaiah say,
“And it shall be called the Holy Way…
It shall be for God’s people…
No traveler, not even fools, shall go astray.”

This path we walk is the right path for us. We have had one year on this path to show us that reality.

It has been a hard year, yes. But it has been a very good year as well. While the world went on in its ways, we have remained committed to our path and to our vocation as prophets, even when it all seems overwhelming. But, we have found that our weak hands have been strengthened and our feeble knees have been made firm. When our hearts have been fearful this year, you have it heard proclaimed within these walls, again and again,

“Be strong, do not fear!”

We know that our God will come with vengeance, with “terrible recompense.”  Our God, we know as prophets, will come and save us.  And our pathway will be made straight.

This is why we rejoice on this Gaudete Sunday. Whenever we have doubted the path on which we walk, whenever we are tempted to stray from the road, our God who is coming to us nudges us forward toward the goal.  That is why we rejoice on this beautiful rose-colored Sunday!

So…rejoice today. I say it,  Rejoice! We are following the right path. We are doing the right thing. The decisions we made a year ago and continue to make have made a difference in people’s lives, and will continue to do so. That is why we are out here in the wilderness, proclaiming God’s coming among us.

Let us continue forward. Let us set our sights on our goals. And let us move forward. And let us know, as we journey, that “everlasting joy” will be on our heads. We shall obtain joy and gladness in our lives. And we will rejoice—we will REJOICE!—because sorrow and sighing shall flee away.

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