Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Sermon for Year C Advent 3 2012

Let it shine

There it is. Do you see it?

The pink candle. Some people call it the rose candle. 
Right there in the advent wreath with it’s three purple friends.

The lighting of that pink candle today
tells us that it is the third Sunday of Advent--
Gaudete Sunday. 
Gaudete, in Latin, means REJOICE.

I have been so ready all week to preach about joy--
Zephaniah shouts,
Rejoice and exult with all your heart...

The canticle sings
Sing the praises of the Lord, for he has done great things...

Philippians--oh my! our passage from Philippians is all about joy today--
Rejoice...do not worry about anything ...
Rejoice in the Lord always.

Even Luke’s gospel, if you read between the lines of
John the Baptizers “brood of vipers” shouts,
we see that John is bringing good news, joyful news--
the Messiah is coming.

The vestry has worked for a year 
to create a mission statement for St. John’s--
a mission statement which features joy so prominently--
just as joy is so prominent here in this congregation.

...St. John’s gathers 
to worship God 
and goes out 
with gladness 
to do Christ’s work 
in the world...

So much joy to be shared, to be preached, to be celebrated.

But then the shootings,
the horrific murder of young children and adults 
at Sandy Hook Elementary School 
in Newtown, Connecticut.

Last night I went to sleep thinking
how on earth can I stand in the pulpit 
and talk about joy
when such a slaughter has happened?

You could not go anywhere the past few days without hearing snippets 
of conversation about what happened in Connecticut. 
Sadness. Shock. Anger.

Facebook is covered with postings of prayers and laments.
Even though I do not personally know one single person 
who was murdered in this tragedy,
all I could imagine were the faces of my grandchildren 
on each of those children’s faces.
My heart has been so heavy.

Someone pointed out that we have a word for a child losing their parents--
they become an orphan.
We have a word when we lose a spouse.
We become a widow or a widower.

But there is no word in the English language 
for when a parent
loses a child.
Perhaps that sadness is so deep, so devastating 
that there is no word we can bear
to utter.
We cannot name that kind of pain.

Our suffering is not the same as those who have lost a child
or another member of their family in this tragedy.
But the truth is we all are hurting.
Our compassion, our humanity, binds us together.
God created us to be in community with one another,
to love one another, to care about each other.

It is when one of us becomes unbound, 
that tragedy often results.

How can I preach about joy today?

Yet how can I stand in this pulpit
and not preach about joy?

Even in the darkest of times,
light breaks through.
Pink candles are lighted.
Joy wiggles in.

There is a table at the back of the church this morning
and it is piled high with winter coats.
Coats that you have generously given
so that the children at the Irene Wortham Center
here in Asheville
will have a new coat this year. 

We know. We know.
For some families in Newtown, Connecticut 
there will be no need for new coats this winter.
Little coats will hang in closets--empty.
This hurts.

But these coats, which we will bless this morning,
are symbols that life is stronger than death--
these coats will be filled--
with children who are alive, who laugh and cry
and do silly things that all children do.
Joy does not give up.

And what a day it is to bless coats--
when John the Baptizer says in our gospel reading,
Whoever has two coats must share with anyone who has none...

You have come forward and shared.
Well done!
Joyfully done!
Joy is real.
Joy is necessary.

Today we bless a new creche 
donated to this parish by Nancy Anderson.
Nancy is not a member of St. John’s.
She comes here occasionally
and yes, she is friends with some of our parishioners,
yet she wanted St. John’s
      to have this beautiful creche. 

Imagine that. 
This gift will bring us joy in our worship for years to come.

Episcopalians usually don’t bring out the creche until Advent is over
and Christmas has arrived.
But Gaudete Sunday seems like the best of all days
to bless what has been so generously and joyfully given to us.

We need to be reminded right now
that God came to us
as a baby. 
A totally vulnerable little baby.
Joy and hope and love were born that day
in the most unlikely and
impossible circumstances.

We worship an anything-is-possible God.

Today we will also celebrate 
someone who has blessed us repeatedly.
We will celebrate Betty Hayes’ 90th birthday at coffee hour today.

Our hearts are filled with joy.
Most of you know that Betty has not had an easy time lately.
Three heart attacks.
Getting to age 90 is not for sissies!
We celebrate Betty’s life and her presence among us 
with great joy today!

Because even when life is difficult,
even when life is horribly tragic,
God has not abandoned us.

God has not caused or willed the tragedy or the hardship.
God is standing right beside us.
Right beside every broken heart in Newtown, Connecticut.

In times of tragedy we need to remember the joy that is promised
     and will be possible once more
     when we are ready.

God is always ready to be born, 
to come into our lives.
We are asked to open the door.
Whenever you’re ready, says God,
I will be here.
I will be here waiting.

We are resurrection people.
We are about life overcoming death,
We are about love being stronger than hate.
We are about light overcoming the darkness.

The pink candle is burning brightly today.
Joy shines in the darkness.
Let it shine.
Let it shine.
Let it shine.


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