First Thoughts From The Rev. Canon David Smith: 

Most weeks Fr. David sends out an e-mail with his first thoughts on the upcoming Sunday readings. These reflections are designed to encourage people to consider the readings before they come to worship which we hope will enrich Sunday worship. People are invited to respond to David with their own thoughts and sometimes interesting ideas and conversations occur that end up in the sermon. If you would like to receive these weekly e-mails e-mail David at  . 

Reflections on the Readings for Advent 3:Isaiah 61: 1-4, 8- 11, Psalm 126, 1 Thessalonians 5: 16- 24, John 1: 6- 8, 19 -28

Posted by Emily Sanderson on Saturday, December 13, 2014
Hi everyone,

St. Philip's are worshipping this week with a Carols and Lessons service and St. John's  is marking the Third Sunday of Advent with the assigned readings.  I could never comment on all 9 lessons so I will focus on the readings for St. John's. However there is a connection in that the theme is obviously (you do not need an English degree to spot the theme in the
readings )  joy.  What better way to express joy than in singing God's praises as we will do this week at St. Philip's and next week at St. John's in the Carols and Lesson service.

Readings Isaiah 61: 1-4, 8- 11, Psalm 126, 1 Thessalonians 5: 16- 24, John 1: 6- 8, 19 -28

Thanks To Feasting on the Word Year B Vol. 1 pgs 50 -73

The Third Sunday in Advent has always been a Sunday to mark joy. In the old days when  advent was far more penitential in nature the theme of joy was particularly poignant because of the switch in emphasis. Not as much of a
contrast but the readings assigned in the lectionary still keep with this theme. I have copied a paragraph from the Archdiocese of Washington's website that speaks to this.

"Today is a day for us to rejoice! Of course, every Sunday is a day of rejoicing because it's the day on which we celebrate the resurrection of our Lord Jesus. On this third Sunday of Advent, however, joy and rejoicing are special themes that run throughout the prayers and Bible readings appointed for today's Mass. That's why today is traditionally called "Gaudete" Sunday, from the Latin word for "rejoice." And that's also why the candle we light on the Advent wreath today is pink, a more festive and joyful color than purple."

The prophet Isaiah is speaking to a discouraged people. It is right after the exile in Babylon and things are going very slowly forward as the people try to reestablish their life and faith in Jerusalem. The opening words are very familiar to us because Jesus reads them in the synagogue in Nazareth when he begins his ministry. But Isaiah speaks this good news to the brokenhearted people in Zion. He is hopeful and anticipating through the spirit of the Lord that there will be gladness. Isaiah says that he will greatly rejoice in the Lord, my whole being shall exult in my God. I love the imagery that Isaiah uses to depict the joy that  God will grant. God will clothe the people with garments of salvation and robes of
righteousness. And righteousness and praise will spring up like a garden.

I am not much into clothing myself. I only own one suit and I prefer to be comfortable than all decked out. I like sweatpants and sweatshirts but I can see through our Jonathan  who likes to look good what joy clothing can bring. The first thing he bought with money earned from working after he gave money to his sister in the Congo was a real smart suit, and the smile he had when he wore the suit for the first time at a relative's wedding was radiant.

I am not much of a gardener either but Esther is and she gets so excited when flowers she planted grow into a beautiful garden. She smiles. And of course spectacular gardens do bring delight. A truth Isaiah is trying to highlight is that God seeks to and will bring joy.  This joy is for the here and now as well as in the future. Of course the vision of joy portrayed is one of joy in a just community. It is a collective salvation and joy.

Psalm 123 focuses on joy as well. A quick review of scholars shows that there is some debate about the tenses in the psalm but to me it seems that the psalm begins by looking backward to a time when God has brought joy, The Lord has done great things for us and we rejoiced. This may have been the return from exile. But now the people are experiencing pain and tears and are seeking God's joy again, may those who sow in tears reap with shouts of joy. Finally there is a confident look into the future when those who have planted in tears will come home with shouts of joy.

The Psalm is a good reminder that real joy often comes from deep sadness, tears of sorrow can be transformed by God so that they reap shouts of joy. Talitha Arnold in "Feasting on the Word" sees in the psalm an affirmation of both God's power and the people's faith. She goes on to sa ," Thus the psalm not only calls on God to use that transforming power, but also calls us to be open to its possibilities. It challenges us  to trust God's joy, wherever we encounter it- a stable in Bethlehem, at an empty tomb, or in acres of cow- pen daises and purple asters."  Interesting both Old Testament
readings reference flowers and gardens.

Paul in our epistle reading says rejoice always. And he connects this rejoicing with praying and giving thanks. These spiritual disciplines help us to recognize in a profound way that it is in God's love that we find joy and hope. These disciplines draw us close to the heart of the source of all our joy. And Paul ends our reading for today with a  statement that directs us to  the greatest source of  our joy, The one who calls you is faithful, and he will do this.

Writing this today has made me think that my life kind of follows the pattern of our psalm.

My natural instinct is to be joyful  and I have so many things to be thankful for.  I do rejoice in that I have a wonderful wife, family, meaningful work that has enabled me to meet so many interesting and wonderful people, health, home, comfort and fun.

But over the years as with everyone I have known sadness, depression, and discouragement. These times seem to immobilize me, worry and doubt replaces joy. And in these moments it is good to think backward to moments of joy and to return to the source of that joy. And then to be able to dream as the psalmist says, When the Lord restored the fortunes of Zion we were like people who dream.

I think Christian communities today go through similar feelings. We remember joy in the past, we feel discouraged at challenges we face , but hopefully we will look to the future and dream about what the restored fortunes will be like.

May this deep and profound joy, sometimes sown in tears, be our bedrock and may it help us sing our praises to the one who is faithful and who will do this.

And of course for us as Christians our joy and hope is in the one John the Baptist points to in our Gospel reading, the Light who came into the world.

Just some quick thoughts

Any ideas or comments.

Joyful blessings

Tags: joy; advent; hope