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    Entries in Joy (2)

    Tuesday
    Jan272015

    To Laugh in the Midst of Trial

    Lord, to laugh in the midst of trial and to rejoice in the darkest valley is another way of saying, "Our hope is in you." Fill us with laughter and joy while we work for peace and strive for justice. Amen.

    --From Common Prayer: A Liturgy for Ordinary Radicals, Morning Prayer for 1/27 

    Sunday
    Dec132009

    Advent Project: Week 3

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    .: Scripture Readings (Text NRSV, Audio NRSV) :.

    Zephaniah 3:14-20

    3:14 Sing aloud, O daughter Zion; shout, O Israel! Rejoice and exult with all your heart, O daughter Jerusalem!

    3:15 The LORD has taken away the judgments against you, he has turned away your enemies. The king of Israel, the LORD, is in your midst; you shall fear disaster no more.

    3:16 On that day it shall be said to Jerusalem: Do not fear, O Zion; do not let your hands grow weak.

    3:17 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

    3:18 as on a day of festival. I will remove disaster from you, so that you will not bear reproach for it.

    3:19 I will deal with all your oppressors at that time. And I will save the lame and gather the outcast, and I will change their shame into praise and renown in all the earth.

    3:20 At that time I will bring you home, at the time when I gather you; for I will make you renowned and praised among all the peoples of the earth, when I restore your fortunes before your eyes, says the LORD.

    Isaiah 12:2-6

    12:2 Surely God is my salvation; I will trust, and will not be afraid, for the LORD GOD is my strength and my might; he has become my salvation.

    12:3 With joy you will draw water from the wells of salvation.

    12:4 And you will say in that day: Give thanks to the LORD, call on his name; make known his deeds among the nations; proclaim that his name is exalted.

    12:5 Sing praises to the LORD, for he has done gloriously; let this be known in all the earth.

    12:6 Shout aloud and sing for joy, O royal Zion, for great in your midst is the Holy One of Israel.

    Philippians 4:4-7

    4:4 Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, Rejoice.

    4:5 Let your gentleness be known to everyone. The Lord is near.

    4:6 Do not worry about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God.

    4:7 And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.

    Luke 3:7-18

    3:7 John said to the crowds that came out to be baptized by him, "You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come?

    3:8 Bear fruits worthy of repentance. Do not begin to say to yourselves, 'We have Abraham as our ancestor'; for I tell you, God is able from these stones to raise up children to Abraham.

    3:9 Even now the ax is lying at the root of the trees; every tree therefore that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire."

    3:10 And the crowds asked him, "What then should we do?"

    3:11 In reply he said to them, "Whoever has two coats must share with anyone who has none; and whoever has food must do likewise."

    3:12 Even tax collectors came to be baptized, and they asked him, "Teacher, what should we do?"

    3:13 He said to them, "Collect no more than the amount prescribed for you."

    3:14 Soldiers also asked him, "And we, what should we do?" He said to them, "Do not extort money from anyone by threats or false accusation, and be satisfied with your wages."

    3:15 As the people were filled with expectation, and all were questioning in their hearts concerning John, whether he might be the Messiah,

    3:16 John answered all of them by saying, "I baptize you with water; but one who is more powerful than I is coming; I am not worthy to untie the thong of his sandals. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire.

    3:17 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."

    3:18 So, with many other exhortations, he proclaimed the good news to the people.

    .: Theological Reflection :.

    Is there any doubt what the third week of Advent is to be about?  John the Baptist is a bit terrifying, but even his message is declared by Luke in 3:18 to be “good news to the people.”

    It is quite obvious from the readings that in the third week of Advent we focus on joy.  In the first week, we focused on hope, and learned that God is calling us at this time to exhibit the patient hope of a people who have received God’s salvation in the coming of Jesus while at the same time awaiting hopefully for the outcome of God’s victory to be fully established at the day of Christ’s return.  In the second week of Advent we learned of God’s peace, understanding that through faith in Christ true peace can be found, and that the reconciliation we find in Jesus leads us to be the community that witnesses to, or, indeed, truly is God’s peace in the world.  

    We Live for What Brings Us Joy.  What Brings You Joy?

    So, what about joy?  Why do we enter the third week of Advent with our eyes fixed on the meaning of this word?  What is it?  What brings it about?  How do we possess it?  And how do we share it?

    On Twitter this week, a friend of mine named Steve provided the world with a brief description of what joy is not during a visit to Kohl’s.  He said there were one hundred people there.  Zero were smiling.  Apparently, Kohl’s is not a very joyful place.

    For some of us, we equate joy with the emotion of happiness.  We think of experiences, people, or destinations that conjure up in us a feel-good emotion.

    But true joy, and happiness for that matter, is much deeper than that.  The meaning of words change over time, so our common definition today--even that which we find in the dictionary--belies the depth of meaning a word such as joy has come to possess through the ages.  In my study of philosophy, happiness, in particular, is equated much more closely with a state of contentment that comes from living a life of virtue.  It may be the case that a person has lived a life of immense struggle, but because of her character as someone who acts virtuously in all circumstances, they find that they are happy.  The same can be said of joy.  True joy reaches beyond emotion, and is something that is to be possessed at the core of our being, our character.

    Paul, in the book of Galatians, listed joy alongside of “love...peace, goodness, gentleness, faithfulness, and self-control” as the “fruit of the spirit,” each of which find their expression rooted in the transformation of our character as it comes to be aligned with the person of Christ.  Indeed, joy is more than mere emotion.  It is a state of being.

    But joy is not commonly found in our world.  We all know that you don’t have to go far to find sorrow and misery.  Some people call it “work.”  Some people call it “family.”  Other people call it “church.”  We live in a world today that seems short on good news.  The United States currently has a 10% unemployment rate, we continue to be at war, and marriages are strained and many in our day have failed.  We live in a fragmented, chaotic world, and there are many sources of grief we have to face daily.  It may be the case that you are facing great difficulty in your life right now--social pressures, major life decisions, illness, difficult academic or professional work, leadership challenges in the church or in the world, relationship difficulties with a parent, a friend, or someone you love.  It could be that all the news you are receiving is bad.

    But the bad news, whatever it is, whether singular or pluriform, doesn’t have to be the final word.  Joy can be found in the midst of your struggle.  Joy is accessible in our world today, particularly if you call yourself a follower of Jesus.  Advent is a time when we remember that the true source of joy has come, and we celebrate.  We worship.

    D. Martyn Lloyd Jones, a pastor writing near some fifty years ago, said it this way,” As we face the modern world with all its trouble and turmoil and with all its difficulties and sadness, nothing is more important than that we who call ourselves Christian, and who claim the name of Christ, should be representing our faith in such a way before others, as to give them the impression that here is the solution, and here is the answer.  In a world where everything has gone so sadly astray, we should be standing out as men and women apart, people characterized by a fundamental joy and certainty in spite of conditions, in spite of adversity.”

    I’m going to cut to the chase--there is good news.  There is reason for joy.  And that reason is God’s salvation, announced by the prophets of old, and most fully expressed in the person of Jesus.

    The Nearby God

    But,  do we immediately think of something good when we think of Jesus?  At the very least, we might think of a good teacher, or a good man.  But when we think of Jesus, do we go beyond this, and at least wonder if Jesus’ life reveals to us a good god?

    In a number of places, among them the book, The Meaning of Jesus: Two Visions, written with Marcus Borg, N.T. Wright tells of his time as the college chaplain at Worcester College, Oxford.  Each year, Wright would meet with first year undergraduates individually for a few moments to welcome them to the college and to make a connection.  He says, “Most were happy to meet me, but many commented, often with slight embarrassment, ‘You won’t be seeing much of me; you see, I don’t believe in God.’”

    From here, Wright says he developed a stock response.  “Oh, that’s interesting,” he would say.  “Which god is it you don’t believe in?”

    Wright reports this used to surprise them.  The students regarded the word God as univocal, always meaning the same thing.  So, he found, the students would “stumble out a few phrases about the god they didn’t believe in: a being who lived up in the sky, looking down disapprovingly at the world, occasionally intervening to do miracles, sending bad people to hell while allowing good people to share his heaven.”  Again, Wright developed a stock response to this “spy-in-the-sky” theology: “Well,” he would say, “I’m not surprised you don’t believe in that god.  I don’t believe in that god either.”

    Wright, humorously then shares that after an initial startle, the undergraduate would come to possess a faint look of recognition, for it was rumored half the college chaplains at Oxford were atheists.  After a moment passed, Wright would say, “No, I believe in the god I see revealed in Jesus of Nazareth.”  And from there, the table was set to discuss what Christian people actually believe about God.

    I would contend that one of the foremost reasons that many of us lack great joy in our lives is that we are yet to encounter and to fall in love with the God fully revealed in Jesus.  As my friend Jim says, we have “bad God narratives.”  

    We believe that God is a distant task-master, an absentee-landlord, an angry judge, an abusive father, a neglectful parent, a reckless warlord.  This is tragic.  

    We don’t believe that God is love, both in unconditional affection and in healthy discipline, that God is wise beyond measure, that God is generous beyond our imagination, and possessing power greater than the powers of this world.  This is mournful.

    We don’t believe in the God announced by Isaiah, heralded in Zephaniah, or proclaimed by John the Baptist.  But we should.  We need a fresh reading of Scripture, a fresh reading of the stories of Jesus, a reading that calls into question our current assumptions about the character of God.  I think we’ll be surprised by what we find, not least in our reading today from Philippians.

    When we recognize that, as Paul wrote in Philippians 4, that “The Lord is near,” we find ourselves in a position to, “not worry about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let [our] requests be made known to God.  And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard [our] hearts and [our] minds in Christ Jesus.”  It is quite amazing that we often remember Paul’s exhortation to present our requests to God in prayer, and even that the peace of God will guard our hearts, all while forgetting what Paul says immediately preceding this profound statement, “The Lord is near.”  True joy comes not in the abundance of our possessions, but in the abundance of our relationships, foremost in our relationship to the God who has come near in Jesus Christ.

    God has Rescued Us.

    But even more than the good news Paul writes to the church at Philippi, that “God is near,” we read in Zephaniah beginning in verse 15, “ The LORD has taken away the judgments against you, he has turned away your enemies. The king of Israel, the LORD, is in your midst; you shall fear disaster no more.  On that day it shall be said to Jerusalem: Do not fear, O Zion; do not let your hands grow weak.  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. I will remove disaster from you, so that you will not bear reproach for it.  I will deal with all your oppressors at that time. And I will save the lame and gather the outcast, and I will change their shame into praise and renown in all the earth.  At that time I will bring you home, at the time when I gather you; for I will make you renowned and praised among all the peoples of the earth, when I restore your fortunes before your eyes, says the LORD.”

    Zephaniah’s words, first heard in Judah during the reign of King Josiah, were first given to announce the type of rejoicing that would take place when God’s judgment of his people had reached its end and their restoration had been made complete.  But when read during Advent, Christians have sensed something more in these words, both for the present and for the future.  Larry Hoffsis captures this well, saying:

    The prophet’s words are fulfilled in Christ.  Even so, there remains for us, too, the element of the future about them.  Certainly all is not past in Christ.  He points us to his coming again.  He is in our midst now, of that we can be assured.  But there is a nearer presence still to come, when we shall have our final homecoming with God.

    During Advent we can have joy knowing that Christ has come and has made possible peace with God and with one another, but we also have joy rooted in our hope that one day Christ will come again.  Peace, hope, and joy mingle, and each enriches the other.

    We do not see this in Zephaniah only, but also in Isaiah 12.  Isaiah makes it plain: God is the one who rescues us.  God is the one who brings salvation.  As it is written in 12:2-3, “Surely God is my salvation; I will trust, and will not be afraid, for the LORD GOD is my strength and my might; he has become my salvation.  With joy you will draw water from the wells of salvation.”

    Isaiah declares for the people of Israel that God, “has become my salvation,” and encourages the people of Israel by saying “you will draw water from the wells of salvation.”  These texts, though they possessed a clear meaning for those to whom they were written, also point us forward in the biblical story to a time when God does indeed become our salvation by taking on flesh in the person of Jesus, and in fact becomes the very well of salvation of which Isaiah speaks, as we see in John 4 as Jesus speaks to the woman at the well, whom he tells that he himself is a source of living water that, when given, springs up in the one to whom he has given it as a spring of water gushing up to eternal life.

    The Coming of Christ and the Spirit of Joy: Generosity, Justice, and Contentment

    So in close, this brings us to the Gospel of Luke and the ministry of John the Baptist.  How do we live in light of the coming of Christ, that which we celebrate each Advent?

    As the people of Israel came to see John, the news we read, on the surface, bears a sharp edge.  They are hard words to hear, “You brood of vipers,” he says, “Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come?”  Those words do not play easy on our ears today.  We’d rather John be more like a teddy-bear than a roaring lion.

    When I read these words I think back to another time when John’s words might have been heard a bit differently.  I think of early Methodism.  In the early Methodist societies, the only requirement for those who wished to be admitted was that each person possessed, “a desire to flee from the wrath to come, and to be saved from their sins.”

    When we consider the words of John the Baptist, his message begins with similar flair.  He adds to his earlier warning, “ Even now the ax is lying at the root of the trees; every tree therefore that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire.”  The crowds, rightly, ask the appropriate question, “What then should we do?

    To the crowds, John’s message is simple.  He says, “Whoever has two coats, let him share with those who have none, whoever has food, do likewise.”  To the tax-collectors, he says, “Collect no more than what is fair.”  To the soldiers, he says, “Don’t extort money, don’t harass and falsely accuse the people, and be content with your wages.”

    Likewise, early Methodist societies would follow three simple rules.  They would, first, “Do no harm, avoiding evil of every kind.”  Secondly, they would never cease in “doing good of every possible sort.”  And thirdly, they would attend “upon all the ordinances of God,” worship, the study and teaching of the Bible, Holy Communion, prayer, and fasting.  In light of the coming judgment, they would live in particular way to align themselves more fully with the purposes of God.  In many ways, we should be doing the same thing.  But we do not only pursue this way of life in order to flee from the wrath to come, but we pursue this way of life in order to participate in the redemption of all things that God has brought about fully in Jesus.  And we discover the joy that comes in this work by first believing that Jesus is indeed the Messiah.  He is the one of whom John said, “ I baptize you with water; but one who is more powerful than I is coming; I am not worthy to untie the thong of his sandals. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire.”

    We have been journeying together for three weeks now during this season of Advent.  We have seen that in the coming of Christ we have hope, we have peace, and now, we have joy. We enter into the fullness of joy by entering into a relationship with Jesus by faith. And the fruit of entering into that relationship should show up in our lives.  We should, “avoid every evil,” “do every possible good,” and attend “upon all the ordinances of God.”  And in doing so we should take joy, for it is in doing those things that our lives intersect with the one that is our source of joy, Jesus.  And it is in doing so that our character comes to further and further reflect the one who is our source of joy, Jesus the Christ.

    May your life come to reflect more and more the person and work of Jesus and may you have joy this Advent.  Amen.