Tony E Dillon Hansen
Sermon based upon Isaiah 61:1-4; 8-11; Psalm 126; John 1: 25-27
Friends and Neighbors,
Happy Hannukah and 3rd Sunday of Advent!!
I know that we have a measure of fatigue with the pandemic and wish we could be back in our friendly sanctuary with the peace of Christ among us. Yet, there is glimmer of light that has been revealed in our virtual worships. As one commentator described, our church has become “more public” because people are able to simply drop into a worship service at any point.
In the past, it would be difficult to attend different services without driving all over town and further be identified as those people that are new or somehow different from the rest. People are showing up – longing, seeking and questioning. Welcome to you neighbors, you from far away and you longing. We are glad you are here!
May the words of my mouth and meditation of all of our hearts be acceptable in your sight, O Lord - our Hope, our Rock and our Redeemer.
When we read this Psalm along with the Isaiah passage, we see the beautiful imageries, poetry and emotion on display that walks us through struggle, ruin, devastations, and fear into comfort, anointing, transformation and liberty.
Isaiah describes the woes of desolation and frustration with exile in a time of great uncertainty (sounds kind of familiar). Even so, the spirit of God brings us good news and gives us opportunities to transform because there is hope, purpose and peace. There is joy to be had.
When people come to the word joy, I sense that most think of that great feeling we get when we hear great news, that win or the big achievement. It is something you feel in your bones, causes you to dance a little or even have that giant smile! You know it when it happens from Beethoven’s exhilarating grand finale to the simple joys that happen around us all the time!
Those simple joys are glimmers of light. We are in the middle of Advent and my friend Dave has been sharing the progress he has been making with a chocolate Advent calendar (full of simple joys) his wife gave him. I am sure others may have probably looked into the future days for more simple joys!
John’s Gospel identifies an important element of discipleship is witness. That joyful witness of John is more than just some random observation. John reminds us to behold the One that transforms - the One that brings hope, peace and joy to our lives. As Prof. Joy J Moore says, “something happened and is on the ground today” - not just some fantasy projection. There is truth in our witness of the divine at work in and among us.
Thus, our presence and witness are even more important this year as people come seeking and asking questions – you as our neighbor, you from far away and you that long for home. Let us witness together!
Out of Devastation
There is joyful transformation to our witness.
It is rising from the struggle and ruin to tap what is possible. There is rich sensory of smells and sights: “oil of gladness…oaks of righteousness”. We can wrap ourselves and wear the “garments of salvation” and “robes of righteousness” like a warm blanket in winter. There is youthful excitement like a bride and bridegroom. This is a transformation from the funeral and ashes to wedding and promise – mouths full of laughter (not the hardy-har-har, but the kind that starts small and grows every time someone speaks where you can hardly contain yourself. Laughter that becomes infectious).
This is an overt reminder of the promise to us.
Advent is anticipation and an opportunity to grow, even when we feel exiled or isolated. There is growth with “the planting of the Lord” that rises from below us and around us to greet us and guide us.
I mentioned Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony 4th movement (some call it the “symphony within a symphony”). Before the grand finale, we are introduced to variations on the theme “Ode to Joy” from a quiet low that grows and grows along with a quartet preview of the coming choral set. Then, the whole orchestra is set upon this intense race culminating with a couple horns giving us a small pause to announce with great anticipation – you know something big is going to happen - the exhilarating finale.
Likewise in this season of growth, we can be lifted from the lowly depths we have felt. This is the divine intercession in our world and our lives; something we desperately need during isolation, grieving and anxiety that this pandemic has wrought upon us.
Further, this text reminds us that we are not alone in feeling desolation. From dry waterbeds, devastations, “ruined cities”, and dreary mourning, God has saved us before and continues to transform us. It is this Sunday, Gaudete Sunday, that we not only find joy in life, but like the symphony, we can anticipate holy joy, and we race to embrace it with full hugs and kisses.
This is the joy of our God and the promise - that despite darkness, despite a foot of snow or even pandemics, that divine, holy promise is there to lift us and cradle us with comfort and liberate us from our misery. There is hope! There is soulful peace. There is liberating joy in that promise because no one can take that away and no one can deny us that grace.
May those who sow in tears
reap with shouts of joy.
Those who go out weeping,
…shall come home with shouts of joy,
We know that we, as people, have uncanny abilities to foul things up all the time. We lose focus upon what is important or lose focus upon the grace that is there – that can save us.
Listen for those brass horns in the distance and let joy touch you again. Let joy fill your hearts. Through Jesus, we are invited to participate in joy, despite darkness, because Jesus reaches into our hearts to transform us. Yes Feel it in your bones!
That is God’s promise, and we know this promise because God has done this before. God has lifted people who were in misery and lifts us today. In the middle of our long discontent and pandemic, we find the joyful hope of John baptizing, knowing there is One to liberate and save us.
Thus, witness the spirit of God in your chest and your mind. Be transformed and your spirit shall be lifted.
Yes that is the promise shared to all who seek and to all who mourn. There is someone who leads us to the light, especially when that light is difficult to see.
We will return from our exile and isolation;
we will be one in Christ both spiritually and physically.
From ashes to garland and jewels, we rise from oppression and brokenness to find salvation and liberation! Yes, the Lord has done great things for us! Let God do great things for you!
During Advent, we can dream big dreams again. For maybe just a moment, let go of your struggle and rejoice. Listen for the laughter and let yours heard. Be transformed! Fill your mouths with laughter again. Shout with joy! Witness holy hope in your life and your spirit.
Advent is the path to Christmas - the exciting renewal of everything promised. Step forward and be confident that God transforms you with joyful hands. So shout with holy Joy - your holy Amen!
Thanks Be to God