Sunday, December 16, 2018
3rd Sunday of Advent
The Revised Common Lectionary passages for the Lord’s Day are:
First Reading: Zephaniah 3:14-20
Psalm: Canticle Isaiah 12:2-6
Second Reading: Philippians 4:4-7
Gospel Reading: Luke 3:7-18
The liturgical color for the day is: Purple or Blue
This week the Psalter Lesson is a Canticle of Isaiah. From what we think of as First Isaiah, Israel is exile and the song is sung: “With joy you will draw water from the wells of salvation. 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.”
Joy is that which endures even in the darkness of loss, exile, and isolation. The rose candle is lit on the Advent Wreath this week. Its color is rose to remind us of Easter and the Resurrection. Every Lord’s Day is a mini-resurrection celebration. Easter comes 52 times a year and the joy of that is symbolized in the rose color of the candle we light.
Zephaniah blazes forward with singing aloud, shouting full rejoicing with exultation from the heart—again, the theme of joy is prominent. The words from the Second Reading are familiar to most as key verses in Philippians: “Rejoice in the Lord always…The Lord is near.”
That theme of joy is prominent in all the readings, and then we get to the Gospel Lesson. It seems a break in the tide of joy with John’s “you brood of vipers” and “even now the ax is lying at the root of the trees.” Where is the joy in this lesson?
It is there—clear and prominent. The joy is the announcement that the “one who is more powerful than I is coming.” That message of John becomes the joyful message of urgency and imminence. This is not some distant future that John announces—it is happening now. That calls for immediate action.
That Emmanuel—the God-With-Us—is near, even nearer than our next breath is both an urgent and imminent promise that arouses the joy of us all. The leap we need to make this season is not God is with us, but that we can embrace that as joyful news. Our age has a difficult time with joy because we confuse it with happiness. Happiness is an emotional state that comes and goes, while joy is that which is deep, enduring, and a hopeful confidence in the fidelity of God no matter how we find ourselves. For Israel, that joy we so palpable it could be drawn like water from a well.
May we draw such waters and allow such urgent and imminent news to become the flicker of starlight joy these days for: “He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and with fire.” (Even the fire reference here is joyful as it gets rids of all the gunk and junk that gets in the way of our living the God-With-Us life in Christ.)
“Rejoice! Rejoice! Rejoice, give thanks and sing!”