Sermon for Third Advent -
The Rev. Eric Christopher Shafer. -
Today is the Advent Sunday for Joy.
The four weeks of Advent in the Christian Church are traditionally not pre-Christmas celebrations but times of preparation and reflection and waiting. Advent means “coming.” And, we know what is coming is the birth of Jesus Christ, a Savior for humankind. But, Christ’s birth does not come until Christmas. Thus, the four Sundays before Christmas are a more somber time of reflection, waiting and preparation.
However, Christian tradition holds that this Third Sunday in Advent is a bit different. This Sunday has traditionally been called “Gaudete” which means “rejoice.” We mark it with a pink Advent candle, pink just for this Advent Sunday. Some clergy even wear pink stoles over their robes. Today’s second lesson from Philippians sets the mood – “Rejoice in the Lord always; again I say, rejoice.”
This got me thinking about joy and I decided to do a little “crowd-sourcing” to help prepare this sermon.
Around noon on Thursday I wrote a note on Facebook, asking the question, “What brings you joy in this life?” I posted it on my own page, on Mt. Olive’s Facebook page and on the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America’s Facebook page, a page with more than 10,000 participants. Within 18 hours I had nearly 100 responses.
What brings you joy
in this life?
You will not be surprised that many folks wrote on Facebook that their families bring them joy – children, grandchildren, husbands, wives, partners, people: “Listening to the heartbeat of my unborn grandchild” and “Being with and caring for my family” and “seeing life through grandchildren” and “a baby’s smile and giggle” and “my four grandchildren and their pure, sweet faith.” One person posted a photo of a happy baby, a “seven month old who never cries.” “My grandchildren help me see things in a new way,” wrote another. Several admitted that, while their family brought them much joy, they also drive them crazy at times! But “hugs” were mentioned a lot, too. And Jeremy’s Mom wrote how proud she was of both of her sons.
A number of folks mentioned their church family, too. “I just joined a new congregation,” a college friend wrote, and “I am very blessed. “My beautiful church people,” wrote another. “My church gives me peace when I am there,” said another.
Pets were mentioned often also. Cat videos, too. Reading and a good book was also noted a number of times.
And music – for so many people, music of all kinds brings them joy – singing, singing with others, a cappella singing, and even just listening to music. “No matter how yucky I feel,” wrote a soloist who is a member of my first congregation, “when I sing for people and craft a song, my soul is healed.” Another soloist wrote that joy is “making someone cry when I sing (really).” Even “music on the tuba or string base.” Bringing joy to others and ourselves.
Nature and the outdoors was another common joy theme. Mountains, canyons, winds and wildlife, nature and trees, sunrises and sunsets, God’s beautiful earth, even digging in the dirt. “Our beautiful natural surroundings,” wrote one member of Mt. Olive, “God’s beautiful earth.”
Some comments were lighthearted – Joy comes to at least one responder when the Green Bay Packers win a football game, another when he drinks a margarita, another when she eats a mallomars cookie. And it was no surprise for us Lutherans that “food and cooking” were often mentioned.
I heard from friends and acquaintances from nearly all the times of my life – high school and college friends, members of all the congregations I have served, colleagues from my time on the synod and churchwide staff. The recently retired President of my college wrote that “Puppies, Family and birthday cake” brought him joy and his response brought online chuckles to others. The spouse of a recently retired synod bishop wrote of the joy she now has with her husband spending “time together in a way we have not had in many years.”
Many wrote more theologically about the joy of prayer, the love of Jesus, listening to others and knowing God is working in the midst of it, God’s promise of grace, accepting the gift of joy through the Holy Spirit, the eternal love of God for us all, my relationship with Jesus, sharing Christ’s joy. “Heartful prayer when the going gets rough” brings joy to many. Another wrote, “Knowing that we are all connected to a magnificent universe created by God who is crazy about us!”
As you might imagine, a number of my responders were fellow clergy and they wrote of the joy of “being there to see others find their joy” and “watching someone who has struggled with addiction pick up his first year clean medallion – always makes me cry with gratitude and joy,” and “watching people do good things when they don’t know they are being watched.” Several pastors noted that preaching sermons brings them joy but one layperson said that his joy came from “short sermons!”
Joy from “helping others” was mentioned more than once. I liked – “being nice to people I don’t know” and “appreciating every day miracles.” A former parishioner wrote of the joy she has raising funds in memory of her son. A preschool teacher wrote of her great joy hearing from a former preschooler who is now in college, who remembers her fondly. Another simply said, “generosity.”
One person even sent me a photo of what joy looks like under a microscope! Seriously, she sent me an electronic microscope photo of joy, a photo which shows “molecules of the protein myosin dragging a ball of endorphins along an active filament into the inner part of the brain’s pariental cortex which produces a feeling of joy.”
One person wrote, “Joy is the absence of anxiety and pain. Joy is not a tangible things but in turn is very tangible. You can feel it. See it. Hear it. It’s one of those emotions that is most God like. Intangible but present.”
And I really liked this one, joy is “the possibility of knowing that we as a human race can live in peace without judgement and can learn to serve one another with acts of kindness.”
Perhaps the best response came to me in a direct Facebook message from a pastor who I knew many years ago. This is what she wrote, edited just a bit, “You asked what gave joy in this life. This was the second time I was asked that question today. Your question showed up just after I heard the news of a high school friend in her last days, or hours, because of an aggressive cancer. It also came as I anticipate the Christmas holiday with my stepson and reflect on the dynamic we have with each other. Neither of these events are joyful, neither provides the sense of “flow” I associate with joy.
“But,” this pastor continued, “this is why I love being Lutheran, that our theology encompasses the both/and nature of living here and now, what Martin Luther called “simul justus et peccator” of our being, which means that we are both saint and sinner at the same time. For me,” this pastor concluded, “joy is not synonymous with happiness, joy leans toward contentment. In the deepest sense, joy is part of God’s grace, God’s love for us. In this way, nothing gives me joy, but joy is given to me.”
May God give all of us that joy this Advent season and always, a joy that leans toward contentment, no matter what we face in this life, a joy that is full of God’s grace, God’s love for us.
Joy, a gift from God, this Advent and always.
The Rev. Eric Christopher Shafer
Senior Pastor - Mt. Olive Lutheran Church
Santa Monica, California
Sermon for Third Advent
Written by Rev. Eric Christopher Shafer.
December 12&13, 2015
Mt. Olive Lutheran, Santa Monica, California