Today we've lit the pink candle -because the 3rd Sunday in Advent is GAUDETE Sunday...
Gaudete means “Rejoice” - and that's why I asked you to keep track of the number of times you heard references to joy, rejoicing or even good news in our readings this morning. You might have noticed there were several even in the 2 readings we heard – but if you take a moment to look at the others, you'll find even more.
The church, then, is very keen that today we should REJOICE.
Well – with only 9 days til Christmas, that probably seems fair enough....except that we know that in some homes today there will be nothing to rejoice at. The families whose lives were changed forever by the events in Newtown on Friday will have a long and weary road to travel before joy can even be a faint possibility for them...and always, each and every day, there will be others whose stories don't make the news, but who find themselves walking the valley of the shadow.
Despite this, I dare to say that Paul is right.
Despite all the darkness of the world, the Christmas plans changed so terribly...we can rejoice.
So listen, because I want to tell you a story...It might seem to be a story of disappointed hopes...but remember to listen to the very end, because beyond the darkness the light still shines.
Once upon a mountain top, three little trees stood and dreamed of what they wanted to become when they grew up. The first little tree looked up at the stars and said: " I want to hold treasure. I want to be covered with gold and filled with precious stones. I'll be the most beautiful treasure chest in the world!" The second little tree looked out at the small stream trickling by on it's way to the ocean. " I want to be traveling mighty waters and carrying powerful kings. I'll be the strongest ship in the world! The third little tree looked down into the valley below where busy men and women worked in a busy town. I don't want to leave the mountain top at all. I want to grow so tall that when people stop to look at me they'll raise their eyes to heaven and think of God. I will be the tallest tree in the world.
Years, passed. The rain came, the sun shone and the little trees grew tall. One day three wood cutters climbed the mountain. The first wood cutter looked at the first tree and said, "This tree is beautiful. It is perfect for me." With a swoop of his shining axe, the first tree fell. "Now I shall make a beautiful chest, I shall hold wonderful treasure!" the first tree said.
The second wood cutter looked at the second tree and said, "This tree is strong. It's perfect for me." With a swoop of his shining axe, the second tree fell. "Now I shall sail mighty waters!" thought the second tree. " I shall be a strong ship for mighty kings!"
The third tree felt her heart sink when the last wood cutter looked her way. She stood straight and tall and pointed bravely to heaven. But the wood cutter never even looked up. "Any kind of tree will do for me." He muttered. With a swoop of his shining axe, the third tree fell.
The first tree rejoiced when the wood cutter brought her to a carpenter's shop. But the carpenter fashioned the tree into a manger for animals. The once beautiful tree was not covered with gold, or treasure. She was coated with saw dust and filled with hay. The second tree smiled when the wood cutter took her to a shipyard, but no mighty sailing ship was made that day. Instead the once strong tree was hammered and shaped into a simple fishing boat. She was too small and too weak to sail to an ocean, or even a river, instead she was taken to a little lake. The third tree was confused when the wood cutter cut her into strong beams and left her in the wood yard
"What happened?" The once tall tree wondered. " All I ever wanted was to stay on the mountain top and point to God..."
Many days and nights passed. The three trees nearly forgot their dreams. But one night, golden starlight poured over the first tree as a young woman placed her newborn baby in the manger. "I wish I could make a cradle for him." Her husband whispered. The mother squeezed his hand and smiled as the starlight shone on the smooth and sturdy wood. " This manger is beautiful." She said. And suddenly the first tree knew he was holding the greatest treasure in the world.
One evening a tired traveler and his friends crowded into the old fishing boat. The traveller fell asleep as the second tree quietly sailed out into the lake. Soon the wind got up and a terrible storm arose. The little tree shuddered, battered by huge waves. She knew she did not have the strength to carry so many passengers safely to harbour in this weather. The tired man awoke. He stood up, stretched out his hand, and said, "Peace." The storm stopped as quickly as it had begun. And suddenly the second tree knew she was carrying the king of heaven and earth.
One Friday morning, the third tree was startled when her beams were yanked from the forgotten wood pile. She flinched as she was carried through an angry jeering crowd. She shuddered when soldiers nailed a man's hand to her. She felt ugly and harsh and cruel. But on Sunday morning, when the sun rose and the earth trembled with joy beneath her, the third tree knew that God's love had changed everything. It had made the third tree strong. And every time people thought of the third tree, they would think of God. Her sadness turned to joy....a joy for all people.