We began our Advent season 2 weeks ago by lighting the Christ candle of HOPE. That was to celebrate how ‘Summoned or not summoned, we believe God is here’[i] in all Christ’s empowering beauty, and how that is always still the reality which forms the ground of our hope! It’s why we can be hopeful in every circumstance!
Last week, the 2nd Sunday of Advent, we lit the candle of Christ’s PEACE. We looked at the beginning of John the Baptist’s ministry, and how he called people to make room for their coming awareness of just who they actually are, an awareness of what all this actually is as result of our faith that everything is filled with Christ’s ‘in-soaked presence’ Christ already intimately among and within us and every possible thing. With that presence of Christ is always Christ’s PEACE.
The reason we so often miss owning and living into and out from that peace of Christ within us and everywhere where Christ is, is because we allow the worst of ourselves and our circumstances to overwhelm our perception of that beautiful presence. We find ourselves doing ugly things or we have had ugly things done to us, or we don’t do the lovely things we can, or that we know we should, or haven’t had those lovely things done to us, all of which leaves us smaller – diminished in our vision, our perception, blinded as we all so often and so easily are by our own deep hurts and guilts and shame – the pain of separation & brokenness, within ourselves, our relationships, all of which strips away awareness of Christ’s PEACE…
What John he Baptist calls repentance is the intentional ridding our lives of every possible thing that gets in the way of our fullest possible owning and appreciating of that one most essential and most empowering truth: Christ is with us! Emmanuel: God is with us.
Along with the faithful of 1000s of years, we believe Christ is here and, it’s as we get to embrace that reality, that we get to appreciate how everything & everyone already has sewn deep into our DNA that sacred God-crafted, and Christ-sealed identity: and with it the Advent HOPE, PEACE, & for today, JOY that that most golden insight means!
We are going to hear again from John the Baptist today, reading from Luke 3:7-18.
This is the Word of God, and it is being read today by Harry Shepherd, reading from the Message paraphrase of this passage.
We’re told ‘Baptism’ was becoming the popular thing to do. What’s wrong with doing the POPULAR thing? We can imagine the scene: This wild haired, wild-eyed fanatic in his camel hair tunic bound by ropes, eating locusts and wild honey, loudly yelling his demands for repentance at anyone who’d hear him! To begin with, the majority of people – certainly the religious authorities – probably just dismissed him as some off-the-wall freak with a baptism-fixation… But then his teachings began to get traction. People started paying attention. They started showing up. And getting baptized. This oddity, this spectacle, was becoming trendy, popular. And what`s wrong with that?
Fashion is a pretty formidable force – irresistible to many of us, it seems. Remember those serious beehive hairdos of the 1960s? The miniskirts? The insane platform boots we wore in the 1970s. How about the bellbottom hipsters, the Oxford Bags trousers that came back from the 1930s, and those very serious mullets? What’s wrong with doing the popular thing? Nothing, so long as we remember that ‘fashions are fickle’. They come and go! And that’s quite OK insofar as it’s clothing and hairstyles – but not when it comes to the eternal things that matter most? There’s nothing faddish about being baptized into a faith-awareness of Christ-with-us, and us in Christ!
John really spelt it out: Do you think a little water on your snakeskins is going to deflect God’s judgment? It’s your life that must change, not your skin. The ministry of John the Baptist is about so much more than just the superficial, the cosmetic, it’s about something deeply attitudinal – something so much more essential… It’s about a transformation-something that involves us at the level of our inner most-center/souls/something absolutely grounding. And then which manifests outwardly in all our living!
Because, he says, What counts is your life. Is it green and flourishing? Because if it’s deadwood, it goes on the fire.”
…what would a green and flourishing life that counts look like?
…and a life of insignificance/ meaninglessness
– deserving to be burnt as deadwood?
Elsewhere Jesus attacked the Pharisees for this very thing: ‘Woe to you, you hypocrites! You clean the outside of the cup while the inside is dirty – full of greed and wickedness… First clean what’s inside and the outside will look after itself.[ii]
Shocked! Stunned! They wanted to know: ‘…what are we supposed to do?’ And so John points to God’s example of Jesus ministry which was about to begin – Jesus Christ who releases God’s Spirit to be working within us. This is not just some superficial quick-fix that John is calling for from those listeners, and from us – what some may call a ‘down-stream’ or ‘functional’ fix. This is about something much more essential, it’s for an ‘adaptive’ fix/ something much deeper, more fundamental, later likened by both Jesus and in the writing of St Paul to our willingness to embrace death for there to be rebirth. Like being ‘born again’.
As we experience something of that deep attitudinal shift, that inner-eyes-opening, hugely transformative, awareness, so we can expect ourselves to live lives aligned with how we have been made to be – a kind of falling upwards into alignment with Our Maker’s divine intentions. What shall you do?
If you have two coats, give one away,” he said. “Do the same with your food.” 12 For Tax men: …“No more extortion—collect only what is required by law.” 14 For Soldiers: “No harassment, no blackmail—and be content with your rations.” He describes our living lives of solid, practical, integrity! It’s simply living that is honest, just, kind, fair…
We’re told that there was a lot more of this kind of teaching — words that gave strength to the people, words that put heart in them! What does it mean to ‘give strength’ to the people – or to ‘put heart’ into them?
That’s just what brings us to this third Advent Sunday theme of ‘JOY!’ We’re speaking about Biblical JOY which is so very much more than any transient or superficial experience of mere ‘happiness!’ Feelings of happiness come and go depending on our interpretation of our circumstances! If we perceive something as being pleasant or good for us or others we care about, we may experience happiness. But we can quickly lose that feeling if our interpretations change. ‘JOY’ on the other hand, is much more about our perception of who what and where God currently, actually is – as we are given to wake up to the ubiquitous/ everywhere at one presence of Christ.
I was intrigued to see a connection between JOY and GRACE! Joy in Greek is ξαρα and that from a root ξαιρο and also ξαρσ which gives us among other things words like gladness, rejoicing, grace and gracefulness! It seems to suggest that the real JOY of life has to do with our recognition of God’s Grace – active always and everywhere…
The Amazing grace of God, the amazing JOY of God…
The Amazing grace of God, the amazing JOY of God…
That is always what scripture teaches. I think of Nehemiah 8:10 “The joy of the Lord is your strength” And Acts 2:28: “You have made known to me the paths of life; you will fill me with joy in your presence.” And John 15:11: “I have told you this so that my joy may be in you and that your joy may be complete.” And then in Galatians 5:22, along with love, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, Gal.5:22 lists JOY as one of the fruits of God’s Spirit working within us!
May the JOY of Christ’s presence be very real for you this Christmas season, quite regardless of your circumstances. May you come to be the blessing to others that Christ has always and still intends you to be.
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[i] Text over Carl Jung’s study entrance: Vocatus atque non vocatus, Deus aderit
[ii] Very loosely paraphrased from Luke 11:39