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Advent 3 December 17, 2017 - The Rev. Janet Campbell
ADVENT 3  Year B
Isaiah 61:1-4, 8-11; Psalm 126; 1 Thessalonians 5:16-24;
John 1:6-8, 19-28
Christ Episcopal Church
Tacoma, Washington
Sunday, December 17, 2017
The Rev. Janet Campbell
the Third Sunday of Advent,
has traditionally been called
Gaudete Sunday . . .    
gaudete being Latin for “rejoice . . .”
A moment of liturgical digression . . .
which may interest you . . .
and if it doesn’t,
rejoice, it will be over soon.
As the liturgical tradition developed
          in the churches of the Western world,
the custom of beginning the service with an introit
          came into being:
          a psalm verse or other
                    scriptural text in Latin,
          chanted during the entrance procession
                    of the liturgical ministers.

The introit texts varied
          across the church year,
serving to set the tone
          for the season or occasion . . .
          and the first word or words  
          became the name
          by which the Sunday or occasion
                    was commonly known . . .
So we arrive
at the Third Sunday of Advent
whose traditional introit
“Gaudete in Domino semper:”      
          “Rejoice in the Lord always;”
“iterum dico, gaudete.”      
          “again I will say, rejoice . . .”
Gaudete Sunday, Rejoicing Sunday.

In the days
when Advent was considered
a penitential season
          akin to Lent,
Gaudete Sunday was meant to provide
          a little relief from the penitence,
similar to Laetare Sunday,
          the fourth Sunday in Lent.
So vestments for those days
were rose-colored
rather than
          the penitential purple of Lent
          or the dark blue of Advent,
and the third candle
on the Advent wreath
          was a rosy pink.
Some places still mark
Gaudete Sunday in that way.
But more recently,
there has been less emphasis
on penitence in Advent
and more focus
on the kingdom of God
          born into the world
                   with Jesus,
          the kingdom coming into being
                   in the here and now . . .
and the role of the people of God
          in the work of the kingdom:      
in Jesus’ name,
challenging the values and practices of
          the corrupt powers of this world,
and seeking out and serving
          the vulnerable, neglected and oppressed.
“Rejoice in the Lord always,
again I will say rejoice.”
You might have recognized
those words;
a familiar passage from
Paul’s Letter to the Philippians,           (Philippians 4:4–6)
(a passage we’ll read
on Rejoicing Sunday next year, Year C.)
But, every year
          on Rejoicing Sunday,
the readings  
point us toward
seemingly improbable joy
no matter the situation
          in which we find ourselves.
          and to the source of this joy . . . 

A reminder
we very much need today . . .   
when we, as a nation,
          seem to have lost our way . . .
and we, as a community
          and as individuals,
as a consequence
often find ourselves sick at heart
          and full of anxiety . . .
and there is so much suffering,
so much,
in our country
          and in the world . . .
people, animals,
          all of creation . . .
and there are also
          the sufferings
                   of our own lives . . .
and it is hard, sometimes,
to remember
the joy.

And so Rejoicing Sunday reminds us:
Times of happiness
          come and go . . .
Times of suffering and sadness
          come and go . . .
but the Joy proclaimed
                   is ever ours.
For unlike happiness,
does not depend on
          what is going on around us,
          or what is going on within us.
Joy can and does endure
          what is going on around us,
          or what is going on within us.
It is the knowledge
          of God’s constant mercy and love,
boundless mercy,
unconditional love . . .
made known to us,
given to us,
in Christ.
Mercy and love
that never fail.
We do not preach a Gospel of happiness
at Christ Church . . .
happiness is ephemeral . . .
but we do preach a Gospel of joy
for the joy we have in Christ
is eternal.
“God so loved the world,”
wrote John in his Gospel,
“that God gave God’s only Son,
so that everyone who believes in him
may not perish
          but have eternal life.
Indeed, God did not send the Son
to condemn the world,
but in order that
the world might be saved through him.”  [John 3:16-17]
God’s saving mercy and love,
became incarnate . . .
enfleshed . . .
walked around in the world . . .
in the divine/human person
of Jesus.

Into the inevitable darkness
that is part of human being and living
          came the light that is Christ . . .
“the light shines in the darkness
and the darkness did not”           [John 1:5]
has not,
never will,
overcome it.  
John the Baptist was not the light,
but he testified to the in-breaking of the light
          so that all might believe
                   and believing,
Surely it was with rejoicing
that he
took up his post
in the wilderness
to point to the long-awaited one
          foretold in the prophetic tradition . . .
“I am the voice of one
crying out in the wilderness,
‘Make straight the way of the Lord,’
as the Prophet Isaiah said.”

In the midst of
the brutal Roman occupation
          of his land,
and the exploitation of the poor
          by the wealthy priestly
                    and governing classes,
John announced with fierce joy
that the salvation God had prepared for
          God’s long-suffering people
even now was coming among them,
          soon to be revealed . . .
Some 500 or so years earlier,
the prophet Isaiah,
          empowered by God’s spirit,
spoke of joy to a people just returned
          from captivity in Babylon
                    to find the Temple
                   and much of Jerusalem
                             in ruins . . .
God had been with them in exile,
Isaiah proclaimed,
          and was with them now . . .
to bind up the broken-hearted,
          bring liberty to the captives
                   and release to the prisoners,
          to comfort all who mourned. 

Despite the devastation
          of their city,
and the uncertainty
          about how they were to live,
they would never be overwhelmed,
for God would strengthen them,
build up their community
          on the foundation of God’s justice,
make them examples
of righteousness and praise
          among the nations.
Having spoken for God,
the prophet then spoke for Israel,
breaking into a song of joyful thanksgiving
for all that God had done
          and was doing.
“I will greatly rejoice in the Lord,
my whole being shall exult in my God,
for [God] has clothed me
with the garments of salvation,
. . .  has covered me with the robe of righteousness . . .”

About 20 or so years
after Jesus’ death and resurrection,
in the year 51 or 52
          of the Common Era,
the apostle Paul
founded a small community of Christians
          in Thessalonika.
His first letter to them
was written just a few months later . . .
He had heard of the their
faith and faithfulness
and wrote to commend them for it . . .
and to encourage them
to persevere
the uncertainties and challenges
          of their new way of life
and the ever-present danger
          of persecution.
He also wanted to allay
their concern
that the promised return of Jesus
          had not yet occurred,
despite what he had told them
          of its immanence,
so that their confidence
in his teachings
would not be shaken.

The letter concludes
advice on aspects of Christian living
and the reminder
despite anything and everything,
there is joy,
for God is with them in Jesus Christ:
“Rejoice always,
pray without ceasing,
give thanks in all circumstances;
for this is the will of God
          in Jesus Christ for you.
“. . .  test everything,
hold fast to what is good;
abstain from every form of evil.
“May the God of peace . . .
sanctify you entirely;
and may your spirit and soul and body
be kept sound and blameless
at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ.
“The one who calls you is faithful,
and . . . will do this.”
“Rejoice always.”

We do not preach
a Gospel of happiness
at Christ Church . . .
for that would not honor
the reality of our living.
But we do preach
a Gospel of Joy,
the joy
that is ours in Christ
          through all our living . . .
For in Christ,
God has delivered us from evil
and made us worthy
to stand before God.
In Christ,
God has brought us out of error into truth,
out of sin into righteousness,
out of death into life.           [Eucharistic Prayer B, BCP p. 368]
This is the joy of knowing ourselves
beloved of God,
the joy of sharing in the risen life
of the risen Christ,
          in the Sacraments,
          in our companionship
                   with one another . . .
                   always discovering how
                             to live this life . . .
This is the joy of
          being called by God
to seek and find
          Christ in those we serve,
to hope and work
          for God’s kingdom,
to live with
          and purpose.
That we should be invited
into this life,
entrusted with this life,
is in itself
reason for rejoicing.
This is the joy
we preach at Christ Church:
sometimes solemn and sober,
sometimes as ebullient and extravagant
          as the prophet’s song,
sometimes a gentle whisper,
sometimes a wild welling up in the heart,
the constant of life
for those who love God . . .

not a feeling like happiness or sorrow,
but a fact . . .
joy lives in and among us in Christ.
As the world presses on
in its attempt
to create a happy and a merry
through the giving of jewelry
          and new cars . . .
or, as the News Tribune says this morning
in an email post:
“the perfect trending gift . . .”
we prepare to celebrate
the birth
of the one
who came to
bring good news to the oppressed,
bind up the broken-hearted,
proclaim release to the prisoners,
heal the sick,
and comfort those who mourn . . .

Will our Christmas be merry and happy?
Maybe . . . maybe not.
But it will be filled with the Joy
          of the reality of Christ.
“Gaudete in Domino sempare,
iterum dico, gaudete!”