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.
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.
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.
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.
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:
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.