Monday, December 31, 2018

Sunday, December 30, 2018

1 Christmas


Dec. 30, 2018


John 1.1-18

+ Today, this first Sunday of Christmas, is one of those somewhat forgotten Sundays. Nobody pays a whole lot attention to the first Sunday of Christmas. It’s somewhat of a “low” Sunday. It feels a bit anti-climactic, after Christmas Eve and Christmas day.

But I like this Sunday, maybe because it’s kind of a forgotten, neglected Sunday. I like is especially because it always reminds me of that beautiful hymn we sang today, “In the Bleak Midwinter.”

After all, we are in the bleak midwinter. This is it. And nobody knows the bleak midwinter better than us, here, in Fargo, North Dakota.

What a lot of people don’t know is that the words to that hymn were written by an incredible poet.

Christina Rossetti.

Rossetti was the sister of a Dante Gabriel Rossetti, who was much better known in his time as a leader of pre-Raphaelite literary movement in England. Christina was the forgotten one. The unmarried sister who quietly wrote poems at home, she was also the superior poet. She was a devout Anglo-Catholic Anglican and a bit of recluse.

Think of her as kind of Anglo-Catholic Emily Dickinson.

And although, during their lifetime, Dante Gabriel was more famous, 125 years after her death, it is Christina Rossetti’s hymn we are singing today.

She was also my mother’s favorite poet (well, hopefully after me) In fact my mother requested that Rossetti’s “When I am dead, my dearest” be printed in her funeral program.

When my mother died, 11 months ago last Friday, the poem and hymn “In the bleak midwinter” spoke strongly to me. I played a wonderful version of it by the Indie band Animal Collective over and over again in those weeks after she died.

Yes, I know that it is a Christmas hymn, and my mother did not die in the season of Christmas: But let’s face it. That opening stanza speaks loudly to us who live in the bleak midwinter for months on end:

In the bleak mid-winter
Frosty wind made moan;
Earth stood hard as iron,
Water like a stone;
Snow had fallen, snow on snow,
Snow on snow,
In the bleak mid-winter
Long ago

And let me tell you, it also speaks very loudly to anyone who is going through a mourning “hard as iron.” Grief is truly like a terrible bleak winter, no matter what season may be outside.  So forgive me if you see me tear up today when it’s sung.

The other reason I love this Sunday is that, for us Episcopalians, in our lectionary for today, we get this incredible reading from the first chapter of John.  I know. It’s hard at first to grasp our minds around this reading.

“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.”

Maybe we just don’t “get” it. And that’s all right. Like “In the bleak midwinter,” it too is a poem. And like a poem, we have to make it our own for it to really mean something to us where we are, right here and now.

For me, as you have heard me say many times, I don’t like beginnings. Whenever I get a new biography of someone, you will see me skip to the end, or the middle.  I never enjoy the beginnings very often. I realize that probably reveals way too much about me psychologically than I care to admit.

As this year runs down and the new year begins, our thoughts naturally turn to beginnings.  We think about that New Year and how important a new year is our lives. It heralds for us a sense of joy—and fear—of the future.  All of a sudden we are faced with the future. It lies there before us—a mystery.  Will this coming year bring us joy or will it bring us sadness?  Will it be a good year or a bad year?  And we step forward into the New Year without knowing what that year will hold for us.

But, the fact is, at the very beginning moment, we can’t do much more than just be here, right now.  We need to just experience this beginning.  And we can’t let anxiety about the future take hold.  We just need to be here, right now, and take part fully in this new beginning.

That’s what beginnings are all about, I guess. That one moment when we can say:

“Right now! This is it! We are alive and we are here! Now!”

And we all know that just as soon as we do, it’ll be past.

In our reading from John this morning, it’s also one of those moments.  In that moment, we get a glimpse of one of those “right now” moments.  It seems as though, for that moment, it’s all clear.  At least for John anyway.

We encounter, the “Word.”

God’s Word.

Now to be clear, the Word of God here is not the Bible. The Word of God is always Jesus.  And this is an appropriate way to begin the Gospel of John and to begin our new year as well.

It is a great beginning.  It sets the tone for us as followers of Jesus.  God’s Word was there in the beginning.  God spoke and creation happened.  

And God’s Word is here, now, in our beginning.  And in God, we experience a beginning that doesn’t seem to end. God’s Word comes forward and becomes present among us in a way we could never possibly imagine.

God appears to us in the Gospels not as God in the Old Testament, cloaked behind pillars of fire or thunderstorms or wind.

Instead, God’s word, God’s wisdom, God’s essence became flesh.  God’s voice was no longer a booming voice from the sky, demanding sacrifices. God voice is now the Word spoken to us gently.  God’s Word spoken to us in this beginning moment, is a word of Love.

The commandment this Word of God tells us of is a commandment to love.  Love God and love one another as you love yourselves.

This might actually be one of the few times when I actually enjoy the beginning of a story.  Maybe the true message of Jesus is that, in God’s Kingdom, that beginning keeps on and on, without end.

In God’s Kingdom there is constant renewal.  In God’s Kingdom it is always like New Year’s Day—always fresh, always full of hope for a future that does not end or disappoint.

As we prepare to celebrate 2019, this is a great way to live this beginning moment.  In this beginning moment, let us think about beginnings and how important they are for us personally and for our spiritual lives.  And let us do what we can to be the bringers of new beginnings not only in our own lives, but in the lives of others.  With this encounter with the Word, we, like John, are also saying in this moment, this one moment is holy.  

This moment is special.  This moment is unique and beautiful, because God is reaching out to us. In our grasping of it, let’s make sure it doesn’t wiggle away from us. Let’s not let it fall through our fingers like sand. Or snow.

This holy beginning moment should stay with us.

Always new.

Always fresh.

Always being renewed.

We’re here.

Right now.

We’re alive!

It’s the future.

The Word, God’s Word, has come to us.  It’s incredible, really!  This moment is a glorious and holy one.

So, let us, in this holy moment, be joyful.  Let us in this holy moment rejoice.  And let us, in this holy moment, look forward to what awaits us with courage and confidence. Amen.






Friday, December 28, 2018



11 long months since I last saw this marvelous face.

Tuesday, December 25, 2018

Christmas

December 25, 2018

John 1.1-14

+ I know I say this every year on Christmas Day.  But one of my greatest pleasures
in life is doing the Christmas morning Mass.

Yes, I know. Christmas Eve is beautiful. Really beautiful.

But Christmas morning.  I don’t know. It’s just just…something special.  I think that is what Christmas Day is all about.  This sense of it all being just…a bit more holy and complete.

The great Trappist monk and poet, Thomas Merton, once wrote this poem. I love it:



Make ready
for the Christ
whose smile,
like lightning
sets free
the Song
of everlasting
glory
that now sleeps
in your paper
flesh like
Dynamite.

For me, that captures perfectly this strange feeling I have experiencing this morning how I LOVE a Christmas Day mass

And now—this morning— Christmas is here. This morning, we celebrate the Light of God. And we celebrate the Word of God (as we heard in our Gospel reading for this morning).  We celebrate the Light that has come to us in our collective and personal darkness.  We celebrate the Light that has come to us in our despair and our fear, in our sadness and in our frustration, even in our deepest grief. And we celebrate this Word that has been spoken to us—this Word of hope.

This Word of God is actually present among us in Christ
“whose smile,
like lightning
sets free
the Song
of everlasting
glory

When we think long and hard about this day, when we ponder it and let it take hold in our lives, what we realized happened on that day when Jesus was born was not just some mythical story.  

It was not just the birth of a child under dire circumstances, in some distant, exotic land.  

What happened on that day was a joining together—a joining of us and God.  God met us half-way by sending us the very Son of God.  God came to us in our darkness, in our blindness, in our fear—and cast a light that destroyed that darkness, that blindness, that fear.

 God didn’t have to do what God did.  God didn’t have to send the Son of God—the Word of God, the Messiah, the Anointed One—to us.  But by doing so, God showed us a remarkable intimacy.

I love this great quote from the great Dominican theologian, Meister Ekhart:

“What good is it  if Mary gave birth to the Son of God [two thousand years ago]? I too must give birth to the Son of God in my time, here and now. We are all meant to be the mothers of God. God is always needing to be born.”

I love that quote and I think it’s very true.  

God is needing to be born! 

We need to be the people through whom the Son of God is born again and again in this world. We need to bring God into reality in this world again and again.

Why?

Because God is a God of love.  Because we are loved by God. Because we are accepted by God. Because we are—each of us—important to God.  We are, each of us, broken and imperfect as we may be some times, very important to God. Each of us.

And because we are, we must love others. We must give birth to our God so others can know this amazing love as well.

Knowing this amazing love of God changes everything.  When we realize that God knows us as individuals.  That God loves us and accepts each of us for who we are, we are joyful. We are hopeful of our future with that God. And we want to share this love and this God with others.

That is what we are celebrating this morning. Our hope and joy is in a God who comes and accepts us and loves us for who we are and what we are—a God who understands what it means to live this sometimes frightening uncertain life we live.  This is the real reason why we are joyful and hopeful on this beautiful morning.  This is why we are feeling within us a strange sense of longing. 

God is here.

God is in our midst today.

God is so near, our very bodies and souls are rejoicing. And God loves us.

Last night at Christmas Eve Mass I quoted the great Anglican poet Christina Rosetti (my mother’s favorite poet) put it more eloquently:

 Love came down at Christmas,
love, all lovely, love divine;
love was born at Christmas:
star and angels gave the sign.

That is what we are experiencing this day.

Love came down.

Love became flesh and blood.

God’s Love for us became human.

And in the face of that realization, we are rejoicing today.  We are rejoicing in that love personified.  We are rejoicing in each other.   We are rejoicing in the glorious beauty of this one holy moment in time.

See, it really is a glorious morning!

Monday, December 24, 2018

Christmas Eve


December 24, 2018


+Once, a long time ago, when I was brand new priest, I had a parishioner at another congregation come up to me and critique one of my sermons. This is common thing that happens when you’re a clergy person.

Now that I’m older and crustier and less patient about such things, whenever anyone makes a critique I listen politely and then, I very gently direct them toward the pulpit and say, “Next Sunday the pulpit is yours. I’m sure you’ll preach much better sermon than I ever could.”

Back then, though, I wasn’t the savvy, with-it, together priest who stands before you tonight.  Back then, this parishioner came up and said, “You preach way too much about love.”

I was a bit shocked by that statement. I was, uncharacteristically, speechless, actually.

“Excuse me?” I asked.

“All you do is preach about love. Love, love, love.”

I didn’t know how to respond then. But if I was going to respond, knowing what I know now, I would ask, “What should I be preaching about? Hate?”

I very unapologetically preach about love. Even to this day, I will preach about love.  I will, hopefully, with my dying breath, preach about love.

I’m a poet after all.

And love, after all,  is a good thing. A very good thing.

Now, I‘m not talking about sweet, Valentine’s Day love with hearts and cupids. I am talking about real love. Solid, strong, oftentimes messy love.

And I can tell you this: love is what Christmas is about.

A love from God to us.

A love very unlike any other kind of love.

When we think long and hard about this night, when we ponder it and let it take hold in our lives, what we realized happened on that night when Jesus was born was not just some mythical story.  It was not just the birth of a child under dire circumstances, in some distant, exotic land.  What happened on that night was a joining together—a joining of us and God.

God met us half-way.

God loves us enough that God sent this Child to us—God’s very own Son.

God’s Son—this very embodiment of God’s love—came to us in our darkness, in our blindness, in our fear—and cast a light that destroyed that darkness, that blindness, that fear.

On this glorious evening, we celebrate Light and love.  We celebrate the Light that has come to us in our collective and personal darkness. We celebrate the Light that has come to us in our despair and our fear, in our sadness and in our frustration.  And as it does, we realize—there is an intimacy—a love—to that action on God’s part.

God loves us!

God loves each of us.

God didn’t have to do what God did.

God didn’t have to send Jesus to us.

God didn’t have to show us a love that had a face and a name, a love that looked very much like a newborn baby.   But by doing so, God showed us a remarkable love.

Or, as the great Anglican poet Christina Rosetti (my mother’s favorite poet) put more eloquently:

Love came down at Christmas,
love, all lovely, love divine;
love was born at Christmas:
star and angels gave the sign.

We will never fully understand how or why God send us this little holy child—this embodiment of God’s love for us—but it has happened and, because it happened, we are a different people. We realize that we are a people loved by our God.  All of us—no matter who we are, or what we are, or what we’ve done.

We are loved.

And the proof of that love happened on this night.  And that love is all powerful.  It is all encompassing. It is all accepting.  It is radical. And it breaks down barriers.

This night is all about the love that descends into the wars of our own lives.   Our lives are different because of that love that descended into our lives. This baby—this love personified—has taken away, by the love he encompasses, everything we feared and dreaded.

When we look at it from that perspective, suddenly we find our emotions heightened.  We find ourselves expressing our intimacy back to God.

But the love and intimacy we feel between ourselves and God is a very real one tonight—in this very holy moment.  We find that this love we feel—for God and for each other and for those we maybe don’t always love, or find difficult to love—that radical love is more tangible—more real—than anything we have ever thought possible.  And that is what we are experiencing this night.

Love came down.

Love became flesh and blood.

Love became human.

And in the face of that realization, we are rejoicing today.  We are rejoicing in that love personified.  We are rejoicing in each other.  We are rejoicing in the glorious beauty of this one holy moment in time.  And we are rejoicing in that almighty and incredible God who would come to us, not on some celestial cloud with a sword in his hand and armies of angels flying about him.

We are rejoicing in a God who sent us this innocent child, born to a humble teenager in a dusty third world land.  We rejoice in a God who sends a Love to us that we can actually see and feel—a Love that has a face like our face and flesh like our flesh—a love who is born, like we are born—of a human mother—and who dies like we all must die.  We rejoice in a God who accepts us and loves us for who we are and what we are—a God who understands what it means to live this sometimes frightening uncertain life we live.

If that isn’t love, I don’t know what is.

See, now you know why I love to preach about love.  

This beautiful night, let us each cling to this love that we are experiencing tonight and let us hope that it will not fade from us when this night is over.  Let us cling to this holy moment and make sure that it will continue to live on and be renewed again and again.

Love is here.

Love is in our very midst tonight.

Love is so near, we can feel its presence in our very bodies and souls.

So, let us share this love in any way we can and let us especially welcome this love— love, all lovely, love divine—this love made human into the shelter of our hearts.



Sunday, December 23, 2018

4 Advent


Dec. 23, 2018

Luke 1:39-49 (50-56)

+ As most of you know, I sent out my Christmas letter yesterday. And I have to admit, it was a bit of a sad Christmas letter.  I shared in it that I felt I just could not get myself to send out Christmas cards with the letter this year—this of course being the first Christmas without my mother.

In typical St. Stephen’s fashion, I received many messages from people letting me know of their love and prayers.

So, because of the sad nature of that letter, I realized I really needed to end the season of Advent on a much lighter note. I wanted to end Advent as Advent should be ended. With HOPE.

Certainly, in our Gospel reading for today, we also catch a glimpse of hope and joy. We find Mary and Elizabeth rejoicing in the ways in which God was working their lives.  Mary, carrying within her flesh God’s very Son—the Messiah made flesh—and Elizabeth, carrying within her flesh John, who would later be the Baptist calling to us from the Jordan River, meet and there is a spark of energy that fires up between them.

Or more importantly, there is a spark of energy that comes up between the babies they are carrying within them.

What I have always loved about this story from scripture is that neither Mary nor Elizabeth probably fully understand what is going on within them. They both know that something strange and wonderful has happened.

Mary, the young virgin, has conceived under mysterious and certainly scandalous circumstances and is about to give birth. And Elizabeth, the barren elderly woman, also is about to give birth.

These sort of things don’t happen in ordinary life.  Have they happened in your life? Has anything even remotely like this happened in your life? If so, please let me know!  Certainly nothing even remotely like this happened in the lives of these two  Jewish women.

But now, here they were, greeting each other, both of them pregnant with children that came to them by miraculous means. And, although they might not fully understand why or how, they feel real hope and joy at what has happened to them.

The full expression of this hope and joy finds it voice in the words of Mary’s song—

“My soul glorifies the LORD
and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior.”

In a sense, when we find ourselves relating to any of the people we meet in this Gospel reading, we may find ourselves relating more to Elizabeth. As Mary and the baby she carries draws near, there is a sense of joy and hope that comes not from some external place for Elizabeth, but from a place deep within her. It is a joy and hope that leaps up from her very womb—from the very center and core of her body and soul.

And so it should be with us also as we enter the Christmas season.  As we come forward today, like Elizabeth, to meet with joy and hope this mystery that we are about to remember and commemorate and make ours tomorrow evening, we too should find ourselves feeling these emotions at our very core. But we can also find ourselves relating to Mary.

Like Mary, we are called to carry within us Jesus. Wherever we go, we should bear Jesus within us. God’s own gift to us dwells within us.  God’s very Word dwells within us!  And like Mary, we should be able to rejoice as well, at this fact that Jesus dwells within us. We too should sing to God, in joy and hope:

“My soul glorifies the LORD
and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior.”

Now, we have been hearing the Magnificat quite a bit this morning, as we should.  This “Song of Mary” is one of my beautiful scriptures we have.

But before we think this is some nice little song to God from innocent teenage girl, I would like you to remember how radical it really is.  And how political it is.

Oh, you didn’t catch Mary’s political jab? It’s right there:

“…[God] has scattered the proud in their conceit.
[God] has cast down the mighty from their thrones, *
and has lifted up the lowly.

For her, living there, in that time, it says a lot. And it’s echoing pretty loudly for us here and now.

God, we realize from this Song of Mary, does not let their “proud” in their conceit last long in that place. We know that God has no problem casting down the mighty from their thrones.

Mary’s song of defiance is our song of defiance today as well.  And that, even in our defiance, we are full of hope in a God truly does do these things.

Like both Mary and Elizabeth, this hope and joy we will be experiencing tomorrow night should be coming up from our very centers.  This is really how we should approach the miracle that we commemorate tomorrow evening.

Like Mary and Elizabeth, we will never fully understand how or why Jesus—God’s very Son made flesh—has come to us as this little child in a dark stable in the Middle East, but it has happened and, because it happened, we are a different people. Our lives are different because of what happened that evening.  This baby has taken away, by his very life and eventual death, everything we have feared and dreaded.

That is how God works.  God loves us enough that everything we have feared will be taken from us.  When we look at it from that perspective, suddenly we find our emotions heightened.  We find that our joy is a joy like few other joys we’ve had. We find that our hope is more tangible—more real—that anything we have ever hoped in before. And that is what we are rejoicing in, along with Mary and Elizabeth, this morning.

Our true hope and joy is not in brightly colored lights and a pile of presents until a decorated tree.  Our true hope and joy is not found in the malls or the stores. Our true hope and joy does not come to us with things that will, a week from now, be a fading memory. Our hope and joy is in that Baby who, as he draws near, causes us to leap up with joy at his very presence.  Our hope and joy is in that almighty and incredible God has send us the Messiah, the anointed One, the One promised in the prophecies of scripture,
in this innocent child, born to a humble teenager in a dusty third world land.  Our hope and joy is in a God who send us this amazing gift—who has sent us LOVE—real and abiding LOVE--with a face like our face and flesh like our flesh.

LOVE embodied.

This is the real reason why we are joyful and hopeful on this beautiful winter morning.  This is why we are feeling within us a strange leaping. This is why we rushing toward God’s very Messiah who has come to visit us in what we once thought was our barrenness.

Let the hope we feel today as Jesus draws close to us stay with us now and always. Let the joy we feel today as Jesus our Friend comes to us in love be the motivating force in how we live our lives throughout this coming year.

God’s Presence is so near our very bodies and souls are rejoicing. Let us greet God’s chosen One with all that we have within us and let us welcome him into the shelter of our hearts. And, with Mary, let us sing to the God who sends Jesus to us with all our hearts,

“My soul glorifies in you, O Lord,
and my spirit truly rejoices in you, O God, my Savior.”

Amen.




Saturday, December 22, 2018

My Christmas letter


December 21, 2018

My Friends at St. Stephen’s,

First of all, I begin my Christmas letter with an apology. Every year this letter goes out in a Christmas card. Obviously, there is no Christmas card from me this year. Three times over the last several weeks I entered a store with the intent of purchasing cards; three times I left empty-handed.

To say that my heart is just not “in” the Christmas spirit this year is a bit of an understatement.  This is how grief sometimes makes itself known. These months since my mother died last January have been, oftentimes, very difficult ones.

But with my apology comes my sincere thanks to each of you. Thank you for walking alongside me in my grief and being an understanding and caring community of fellow followers of Jesus. Thank you for your kindness and care for me this year. I saw St. Stephen’s in fine form: people stepping up to the plate, doing the work that needed to be done, coming forward and being a comforting and compassionate presence. I am so grateful for all of you.

Serving as St. Stephen’s continues to be one of the most fulfilling experiences of my priestly life. Our life together of worship, ministry, music and outreach has been a source of great personal joy for me and has helped me to see how gracious God is in showering blessings upon faithful, committed people who truly do seek after God.

As we move forward together into this future full of hope and potential growth, I ask for your continued prayers for St. Stephen’s and your continued presence on Sunday mornings, Wednesday nights and whenever else we gather together to worship and to do ministry.

Please know that I pray, as always, for each of you individually by name over the course of each week in my daily observance of the Daily Office (Morning and Evening Prayer). Also know that I also remember all of you at the altar during celebration of the Mass. Above all, know that I give God thanks every day for the opportunity to serve such a wonderful, caring and loving congregation of people who are committed to growth and radical hospitality.

In return, I ask for your prayers for me in my ministry. I depend on your prayers and blessings in my life and certainly can feel the full effect of those good works in lifting me up and sustaining me during those inevitable low times.

As much as my heart might not be in the Christmas spirit this year, I still, with you, rejoice in the birth of Christ—God’s chosen One, the Messiah—with true joy. Even in the midst of grief and sadness, joy can be still be known and experienced and celebrate. God is more powerful than grief or dark times. God’s Light continues to come to us wherever we are and in what circumstances we might find ourselves.

Let us celebrate this Light with hope for a coming year of amazing possibilities and new horizons. Let us celebrate the birth of Jesus with a defiant joy that is more powerful than anything life’s hardships can throw at us.    

My sincerest blessings to you and to all those you love during this season of joy, hope and love.

PEACE always,
Fr. Jamie Parsley+


Christmastide 2018
at St. Stephen’s
 Monday December 24  - Christmas Eve
7:00 pm – Holy Eucharist

Tuesday December 25    Nativity of Our Lord
10:00 am Holy Eucharist

Wednesday December 26St. Stephen
6:00 pm – Holy Eucharist
Fr. Jamie, celebrant/preacher





Tuesday, December 18, 2018


Cranes in downtown Fargo.

Sunday, December 16, 2018

Gaudete Sunday/Rose Sunday at St. Stephen's


3 Advent/Gaudete Sunday


December 16, 2018

Zephaniah 3.14-20; Philippians 4.4-7; Luke 3.7-18


Today is, if you haven’t noticed, Gaudete Sunday. It’s special Sunday. I LOVE Gaudete Sunday, as you all know!

Today we light our pink candle on the Advent wreath  We bedeck the church—and your priest—in rosy pink.

It’s so called because in our reading from Paul’s letter to the Philippians, we hear this:

 “Rejoice in the Lord always; I will say rejoice”

That word, “Rejoice,” in Latin is Gaudete.

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 and excited over the fact that, in just a few weeks time, that Messiah, God’s chosen One, will come to us.

“Rejoice” is our word for the day today.

We are joyful because, as Paul says today,

“the Lord is near”

Or, in Latin (since we’re on kind of a Latin kick this Gaudete Sunday) Dominus propus est.

Now that scripture that we just hear from Paul in his letter to the Philippians is just chock full of Gaudete goodness. Every line of that reading is filled with joy and hope.

“Do not worry about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication let your request be made known to God.”

When I was teenager, my mother gave me as a present a leather scroll with this scripture from Philippians chapter 4 written on it.  I was a very worry-filled kid when I was young—a fact that worried by mother tremendously. I have shared with some of you how even as an 8 year old, I had terrible stomach ulcers.

So, my mother chose this scroll specifically for me. Do not worry, that scroll reminded me over and over again.  I kept that scroll on my wall for years and then, as I moved around, I packed it up and it got lost, and for years thought it was lost for good. Well, a few weeks ago, as I was moving boxes out of the rectory into the twin home, I opened one up and there I came across the scroll, rolled up, at the bottom of a box of things from 30 years ago. As I read the scroll that day, and as I pondered it again for today, I realize how powerful this scripture really is:

Do not worry about anything.

But pray.

And if we do, if we release all our anxieties to God, God will reward us with a peace beyond all understanding.

We hear this scripture so much that we forget it’s real meaning. But it IS powerful. And important. And if we truly take it to heart, if we truly live it out, we realize it captures incredibly the spirit of this Sunday.

Don’t worry.

God is in control.

God is here, with us.

All will be well.
 
Advent 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 looking forward.

Now, for some of us, that doesn’t seem all that exciting. The future can be a scary place. And what it holds may not be some wonderfully hopeful thing. Many people have a real fear of the future.  It is important to remember that, as followers of Jesus, that in doing such introspection, in looking forward, we do not despair.  We do not lose heart.

To go back to what Paul says to us today in our Epistle reading:

“Do not worry about anything…”

And in that incredible reading we hear this morning from the Hebrew scriptures, we hear so many truly wonderful and hopeful things from the prophet Zephaniah.

“Do not fear, O Zion;
Do not let your hands grow weak.”

Why should we not fear? Because, according the prophet, God is in our midst.

God is with us.

And God “will rejoice over you with gladness,
[God] will renew you with [God’s] love.”

But God is even clearer in this reading about how well cared for we are by God.

God exults over us “with loud singing.”

God will “remove every disaster” from us, so that we will not bear reproach.

God will deal with all our oppressors, and the lame will saved and the outcast gathered in.

God will change whatever shame we have to praise

These words of God are being spoken to each of us today:

God says, “I will bring you home at the time when I gather you:
for I will make you renowned and praised
among all the peoples of the earth
when I restore your fortunes
before your eyes, says the Lord. “

Those words are being spoken to us this morning, by the God who loves us and cares for us.  We are well taken care of by our God.  And if that doesn’t give you a true reason to rejoice today, I hate to say it: nothing will.

Rejoice today.

God loves you.

God cares for you.

God exults in you with loud singing and rejoices over you with gladness.

This is why we rejoice today.

See, the  future is nothing to fear. Our future in God is a future of joy.  Joy in the simple fact that God really does love us and delights in us and rejoices as well in us.   That real and beautiful joy 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 sadness or loneliness or depression, which many people also suffer with at this time of the year.  That is why, even despite all that happened in our lives, all that is happening at the moment and that will happen, we can still rejoice.

Gaudete.

We find, in our Gospel reading, that even formidable figure of John the Baptist, saying to us,

“Bear fruits worthy of repentance.”

These words speak loud and clear to us even now—in this moment of joy.  Those words are speaking loud and clear to us as a congregation this morning. We are being told, bear good fruit.

Bear good fruit.

Let our joy be the seed of the good fruits we bear.  Do good in this world, even if you’re depressed or lonely or sad.  Do good even if the world does not, at times, do good to us. Do good always. Because in doing good, we are doing what God wants us to do in this world.   In doing good, we embody true joy.

Bear good fruit.

We bear good fruit when we live out in our joyful lives. We bear good fruit when we do the sometimes difficult task of loving and fully accepting all people equally.  We bear good fruit when we allow our love of God to guide us along right pathways. We bear good fruit when we strive to be good for the sake of loving God and one another even despite the fact that some body don’t deserve our love.

This is what Gaudete Sunday is all about—rejoicing.

Living in joy.

Letting joy reign supreme in us.

Letting joy win out over fear and uncertainty.

Being joyful in our love for God and for others.

We—Christians—bear good fruit when we are joyful in our God.  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.

We, as Christians, must embody that joy.  We must live that joy in all we do and say and are.

Today, we must, in all honesty, proclaim:

“Gaudete!”

Rejoice.

And live that Gaudete out in our very existence, in the ministries we do, in how we deal with others.

So, let Gaudete be more than just what we say or do one Sunday a year.  Let it be our way of life as we await the Messiah’s presence coming to us.

St. John and St. Paul are both right:

The Lord is near!

The Lord is near.

God has sent the Messiah to us to redeem us.

 So…let us bear good fruit.  And when we do we will truly know that “peace of God which surpasses all understanding….”

We too, as embodied joy, will be bearing good fruits.