Third Sunday of Advent

Zephaniah 3:14-20; Psalm 85; Philippians 4:4-9; Luke 3:7-20

Today, the third Sunday of Advent, is known traditionally as Gaudete Sunday. Gaudete is a Latin word that means “rejoice.” A traditional introit to the Mass for today in Catholic churches goes, “Rejoice in the Lord always; again I say, rejoice. Let your forbearance be known to all, for the Lord is near at hand; have no anxiety about anything, but in all things, by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, let your requests be known to God. Lord, you have blessed your land; you have turned away the captivity of Jacob.” Advent is a season of waiting upon the coming of the Lord, but this Sunday is meant to be a respite, a brief moment of peace and light in the midst of uncertainty and darkness.

Zephaniah is not the most natural place to go for an encouraging message on joy. The bulk of his prophecy is that the disobedience of Judah means they will be conquered and go into exile. It is somewhat bleak, a dark warning of what will come for breaking covenant with God. It is a warning that God will not be mocked. Yet, God’s word to his people is that even judgment for idolatry and oppression is not the final word. His final word is that all things, including judgment, are at work for the grace of God to restore and transform his people. 

Who are God’s people? Who believes? A remnant, Zephanaiah says. John the Baptist tells the Pharisees who can be a part of this remnant: “Do not begin to say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham for our Father.’ For I tell you, God is able from these stones to raise up children for Abraham.” That’s you and me. In a world dark with death, evil, God can bring transformation, and he will do so. He has promised in his covenant, and his word will stand. Zephaniah tells the people truly when he prophesies that all human institutions will fail, but God’s promise will not. And we, we are able to be joyful because the success of God’s restoration does not rest on us, but on him, and we receive those blessings By Faith. Vs. 17 tells us that, “The Lord, your God, is in your midst, a warrior who gives victory; he will rejoice over you with gladness, he will renew you in his love; he will exult over you with loud singing as on a day of festival.”

Another festival is often celebrated this time of year, one which we could by rights celebrate but do not: Hanukkah! Hanukkah, a festival celebrated by Jews to this day, began almost 200 years before Christ’s coming. It is a Festival of Lights, celebrating when pagan rulers were driven from Jerusalem, and the Temple was rededicated to God. These rulers had taken the Temple, set aside just for worshipping God, and used it as a pagan temple, to worship idols of wood and stone. When they entered the Temple, they went to refill the lamps of the Temple with holy oil. But they only found enough for one night. Yet, that little bit of oil somehow, miraculously lasted for the 8 days, long enough for them to press olives to get more oil. God, in other words, made the holy light shine, when his people couldn’t. God’s love, and God’s abundance, God’s gift was shown to the people, when they couldn’t provide for themselves. That is the God we worship, the God who gives more than we even know to ask.

We can be joyful because the great gift of God we see in events like that of Hanukkah is given in even more abundance in Jesus Christ. Jesus is the lamp that never fades, the life that never ends, and he through his sacrifice, death, and resurrection defeated sin and death, so we may always and ever know that no matter how dark the world, or how dark our own sin, God is the one on whom we depend, God gives us the gift of life, and God will finish his work.

We are those who rejoice amidst the darkness, because we know that our salvation from it is based on God’s grace. Humans are able to corrupt and destroy, but God’s promise stands. That is why it depends on faith. And so we can rejoice, and our rejoicing can be a light to the world. We can rejoice, so light shines; we rejoice, and so we raise up the lame and welcome the outcast so they can rejoice with us; we rejoice because the Lord is one who is ever and always merciful, and who desires mercy and not sacrifice from us, and we rejoice because we can show mercy. 

When Paul says in Philippians “think about these things,” meaning what is true, honorable, just, pure, etc. it is not a burden to people weighed down by anxiety and depression and hardship. He says it, because he first says “Rejoice in the Lord always,” and he knows we are able to do that because “The Lord is at hand.” He doesn’t tell us to not be anxious because it is a sin to be anxious, or because we need to just “toughen up,” but because we can lift up our burdens to God and know that he hears us. Joy is not manufactured within us; joy is experienced when we embrace by faith the reality of Jesus Christ, the one in whom all things hold together and who has promised irrevocably to make this world NEW.

And our joy, our light, is meant overflow out of us. If you have two tunics or extra food, give them away. According to Zephaniah, God will save the lame and gather the outcast, and as his priestly kingdom so are we to do.

You want to know what our joy, our gaudete is to look like? Find those oppressed: homeless, sex workers, trafficked people, refugees, and give what you can to help.

If you know someone who lacks something important or necessary, and you have it, give it away. Don’t think about the calculus, whether you can sell it, etc. Give. It. Away.

Volunteer your time. Help wrap presents or prepare food for underprivileged folks (like we’re doing next Saturday!) Serve at a homeless shelter. Send a letter to the Mayor’s office asking why no resources have been designated for warmth shelters this year.

If you know someone suffering, sit with them. Listen. Build them up.

The sum of it is this: We know Jesus is coming back, and we know that at his coming there will be judgment for evil. But we also know that through that there will be restoration unto everlasting peace for his remnant, those who have trusted the Lord. Live as if that time is already here. Be joyful knowing that our suffering now is only for a time. Above all DO NOT hoard your joy, but let it spill over into the lives of others. SHARE it, so that others may rejoice with you. Let our gaudete be the gaudete of all. Amen.

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