Here are my thoughts for the 3rd Sunday in Advent (Year A), 15 December 2013. This is the third in a series of Advent messages. The first being “A Single Light – The Light of Hope”, 1 December 2013, and the second being “A Single Light – The Light of Love”, 8 December 2013.
The Scripture readings for this Sunday are Isaiah 35: 1 – 10, James 5: 7 – 10, and Matthew 11: 2 – 11.
We begin with a reading from the Old Testament, Job 33: 26 – 28,
“Or, you may fall on your knees and pray—to God’s delight! You’ll see God’s smile and celebrate, finding yourself set right with God. You’ll sing God’s praises to everyone you meet, testifying, ‘I messed up my life — and let me tell you, it wasn’t worth it. But God stepped in and saved me from certain death. I’m alive again! Once more I see the light!’”
In this world of darkness, we light the candles of hope and love and add a single of light of joy.
The Advent Candles (Tune: Away in a Manger)
On the Third Sunday of Advent
A candle is burning, a candle of Joy;
A candle to welcome brave Mary’s new boy.
Our hearts fill with wonder and eyes light and glows
Joy brightens winter like sunshine on snow.
Our second reading in lighting the Advent Candles comes from John 16: 27
Therefore you now have sorrow; but I will see you again and our heart will rejoice and our joy no one will take from you.
Our prayer this morning –
Gracious Lord, as we light this candle of joy this morning, let the brightness of the now lit three candles brighten our days as the Joy of Your Coming Birth brightens our lives. AMEN
As the days towards Christmas and the birth of Christ come closer and the lights on the Advent wreath shine even more brightly, we sense in many people a joy, a joy brought about by anticipation. Perhaps it is the Christmas presents that they will be getting, perhaps it is the Christmas presents that they will be giving. One would hope that there is a joy in knowing that soon Christ will be born again and that all will be right in the world.
For many people, the dark days of winter bring on a depression that they cannot shake. Speaking personally, this type of joy and happiness is tempered by remembrances of physical and personal pain that have occurred in my past. Hearing Elvis sing “Blue Christmas” at this time of year doesn’t really help many people getting in the mood.
And again the backdrop of all of this, there was another shooting at a high school where it appears (as I write this) a young man, filled with an unknown rage, decided the solution to a problem was a gun. And now another family must bury a child during the cold and dark days of winter.
How can there ever be joy at a time like this? And we know that in the time frame of Jesus’ birth, Herod will slaughter the innocent children in order to preserve his place on the throne.
Joy doesn’t seem to make much sense. And we begin to wonder if any of the things that we do will have any effect on life now or in the future.
As I was writing this paragraph, I remember bits and pieces of Star Trek episode where the Enterprise was transported back in time to the 1960s. Now, the essence of the plot at this point was that the crew of the Enterprise had to return things to the way they were before they were transported; otherwise, the course of time would be altered and there was no assurance that the Enterprise would exist in its own time frame. (Ah, the paradox of time travel)
And while the perils and problems of time travel and the paradox created by such events, there is the reality that what we do today does have an effect on what transpires tomorrow. It is reflected in the dialogue between Sir Thomas More and Richard Rich in one scene from “A Man For All Seasons.”
Sir Thomas More: Why not be a teacher? You’d be a fine teacher; perhaps a great one.
Richard Rich: If I was, who would know it?
Sir Thomas More: You; your pupils; your friends; God. Not a bad public, that.
The problem, of course, is that we often times what the results of our efforts today so that we can enjoy them and not in the future when we may not be around to do so.
In the Gospel reading for this Sunday, John the Baptizer is in prison, perhaps fully aware that he is about to be executed. There is not much joy in his life at this moment. So he sends his disciples to Jesus to find out if this man, whom John had baptized, was going to at least carry on what he, John, had started. There is a certain sense of joy that one gets when one knows that the work they have done means something to someone. John can truthfully be worried that all the work he did in preparation for the coming of the Messiah was in vain.
Jesus tells those disciples to tell John what they saw. And Jesus also tells the people that John had been sent to prepare the way. I would hope that those words brought, if not joy, comfort to John in his last days.
The words of Isaiah for today offer that promise, perhaps not today but most definitely in a time frame with which we can relate. The Birth of Jesus, not less than two weeks away, is the promise that there will be joy in this world again.
James writes about being patient, of waiting for the moment instead of expecting it right now. But we also know that John the Baptist prepared the way and that is what we have to do as well. As we patiently await the Birth of Christ, we are preparing this world to welcome Him.
We have lit three candles to show the way. The darkness is being driven away and there is a cause and call for joy.