Rejoice in the Lord always
That’s the theme of this Sunday…the midpoint of Advent.
When in times past the seasonal emphasis was very much on repentence, today was a holiday
Gaudete Sunday…a chance for the gloom and solemnity to lift briefly…a chance to glimpse the promise of shining glory yet to come.
But in these days when conspicuous consumption has replaced austerity, this can pose a problem.
We’re up to our necks in the synthetic excitement and manufactured jollity of the tv Christmas…
We are blinded by the flashing fairy lights of a thousand High Street displays yet know that the tinselled celebrations on offer are only the palest reflection of real joy.
We hear the exhortations to rejoice but we hear also the words of John the Baptist, and apply them to ourselves.
You brood of vipers….
John is intent on challenging us, spurring us on to a life of radical discipleship, a life in which our faith is evident not just in our words but in our works and even in our wardrobes
Conscious of our own shortcomings we note that in Luke’s account, John’s sermon in the desert is replete with images of violence..
Even now the axe is lying at the root of the tree…
His winnowing fork is in his hand, to clear his threshing floor and to gather the wheat into his granary, but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire
That is deeply frightening.
Are we wheat or (as in our hearts we may fearfully suspect) chaff?
Can we even bear to ask?
And yet, in the very next sentence we are told
“So…he proclaimed the GOOD NEWS to the people”
And this is Gaudete Sunday?
Once again, I find myself struggling. How is this Good news? Where is the cause for rejoicing?
We're half way through Advent.
The world is pressurising us into one last frantic push to boost the sales figures
We're conscious of the gap between our reality, as damaged, fallible people, and the idealised Christmas that is rammed down our throats 24/7…the season of saccharine good will
And a voice at the back of our minds echoes John
"you generation of vipers"
We know that in so many ways we fail God
We look at the fruits of our lives and see only inadequacy
We do NOT do justice
We pile up possessions we do not need, fill our cupboards and our freezers so that we can share with those whom WE choose to invite to our table.
We are often dissatisfied with what we have – and fearful that there may not be enough to go round….
So we look at ourselves, and suspect we know our destination.
We feel small, weak, beleagured in the face of so many huge issues
climate change, economic melt down, the collapse of the Anglican Communion
In our hearts there is more of fear than of expectation…
But for all that, this IS Gaudete Sunday…and our salvation is indeed nearer than when we first believed.
Time, then, to heed the words of Zephaniah.
We do not need to fear, nor to despair.
The Lord our God IS in our midst already
“You shall fear disaster no more”
Because the God in our midst comes not with judgement but with joy.
It is his delight to renew and restore us
The Lord our God comes to us SINGING
He knows us to the core, with all our failings, fears and weakness but he is so much in love with us that he sings.
Ponder that for a moment.
YOU make GOD sing for joy!
And because of that glorious, extravagant love
“The Lord has taken away the judgements against you…
John saw only a part of the picture.
His vision was founded upon justice, but God acts not in accordance with our deserts but in accordance with his love for us.
So there is no need to fear.
Truly, this IS a day to rejoice.
So, let’s pause for a moment in the Advent madness and ponder what we might do to add our own harmonies to God’s song.
Where can we join in? What can we notice that might make God sing in our lives, in our world, in the days ahead?
Let’s be quiet, to hear the music of that song in our hearts today.