Sorry I did not get anything out to you last week. I was busy with the Prodigal Son Retreat Day.
This week I am only preaching at St. John’s as we are having a Carol and Lessons service in Milford. So I will briefly comment on the regularly assigned readings for the Thirdin Advent as I have a hard enough time thinking about 4 readings let alone 9!!
The Thirdin Advent is often referred to as Rejoice and some churches use rose as the liturgical colour for vestments and hangings and one of the Advent candles is often pink to symbolize this joy. This was particularly meaningful when we used to mark Advent as a penitential time of prayer and fasting. It was originally much more like Lent and in fact only recently have we changed liturgical colours for Advent from purple to blue. The Third of advent was meant to be a bit of a break and a reminder that we are closer to the coming of the Lord. So it was filled with joy.
Anyway our readings are full of joy. This is especially true for the Old Testament reading from Isaiah. Speaking to exiles in a bleak situation Isaiah holds out a vision of hope and joy. God has not forgotten His people and will come in judgement and salvation and restore all things. God will enter the dark and desert places and bring new life , wonderful life. There will be great rejoicing as when water brings new life in the desert and flowers blossom and bloom. The blind will see, the deaf will hear, the lame shall leap like a deer and the speechless shall sing. A holy highway to Zion will have no dangers and the ransomed of the Lord will come to Zion with singing. Everlasting joy shall be upon their heads.
What tremendous images. Would it not be fantastic if we could live our lives with such hope and joy. A good sermon might consider the characteristics of Christian joy. After all St. Paul asks us to rejoice in the Lord always. I think if we lived with such joy it would be an amazing witness to the world about the hope that lies within us even when things seem dark. Anything we can do to live as an authentically joyful community will surely honour God and enable us to be light in darkness.
Much of the joy in this passage is expressed in singing. I heard a wonderful story on the radio today of a high school somewhere in South Western Ontario where they have made a unique intergenerational choir. The teens are paired up with an adult suffering from mild dementia. The teens help the adults find and keep their place in the music , and support them however they can so that together they sing for joy. Those adults who have lost their voice sing for joy. It is a really beautiful thing they are doing. The joy of music and the hope still evident in young and old alike enables songs to be sung even in the desert and dark places of dementia in the older people and who knows from what dark and desert places the young people may be singing from. It warmed my heart to hear this story. Coincidentally this week I also heard on Ontario Today a music therapist being interviewed who told similar stories of the mute being able to speak through song and the joy it brought. Literally people who had suffered strokes learned to speak again through singing and people with advanced dementia could sing entire songs and seem like themselves again. The Congresswoman in the US who was shot in the head learned to speak again by first singing.
Hearing these stories made me realize again what a joy it is to sing everyand that maybe we should explore other ways in which we could spread joy and hope through music . St. Augustine said that when you sing you pray twice. Through singing we learn much about God’s love for us in Christ and we can express our gratitude for this love and hope.
And of course the joy that Isaiah is using poetry to describe is based on the confident sure and certain hope that God will come and save. The Psalm forrepeats over and over again , leaving no doubt that it is the Lord who sets prisoners free, opens the eyes of the blind, executes justice, gives food to the hungry etc. Our joy and hope is in the Lord. It is not in our plans or efforts but in the Lord’s work in our lives.
For us as Christians we believe that this hope was seen most fully in the incarnation, in Christmas. Our Gospel reading foremphasizes this point. John the Baptist is in prison and he seems to be doubting whether or not Jesus is really the Messiah. Perhaps John was disappointed in Jesus because he was not leading a political movement of power that would overthrow the Romans. Our Lord’s answer was to say to the folks who asked the questions on behalf of John to tell him that through his ministry the blind see, the lame walk, the poor have good news preached to them. In other words the Isaiah’s vision was coming true.
There seems to be an almost cruel irony in our Lord’s reply to John because if Jesus has come to bring liberation than why is John still in prison awaiting execution? John, as Jesus goes on to say , is the greatest of all those born of women and yet he is in prison. I suppose a good sermon would take the situation of John to consider Christian joy in the context of very real suffering and pain.
This could lead to some thoughts on the Epistle from James where he introduces the spiritual discipline of patience( something I have very little of). He encourages us to be patient for the return of the Lord like a farmer waiting for the rains for his crops. James tells us to strengthen our hearts. So perhaps just as we exercise our physical heart so we exercise our spiritual heart. As Joanna Adams says in Feasting on The Word,” You cannot stand against the forces of evil, indifference, or oppression with flaccid faith, puny hope, or on again off again love.” James goes on as he often does to give a very practical example of strengthening your heart by not grumbling.
James also points his readers to the example of the prophets who stayed faithful to God despite suffering.
Somehow as the world continues to reflect upon Nelson Mandela, a prisoner like John the Baptist, I think he modeled the hope , joy and patience required to live into a better world. His life really does speak into a lot of the themes from our readings for.
Perhaps , those teens singing with the seniors also captures the truths of our readings. Let us think about them anyway as we sing for joy our hope in the Lordat St. Philip’s and at St. John’s in our Carols and Lesson services.
Tags: advent "old testament" st paul dementia music therapy isaiah christians epistle "third sunday" james nelson mandela