12/14/12, Joy Overcomes the Darkness

Zeph. 3:14-18, Phil. 4:4-9, Luke 3:10-18

 “Shout for joy, fair Zion; shout, Israel and be glad! Rejoice with all your heart, fair Jerusalem.” Zephaniah 3:14

 “Rejoice in the Savior always!   I say it again, rejoice!”  Philippians 4:4


What great Bible verses to quote for this third week of Advent.  Tradition marks this as Guadete Sunday, the week of joy. The darkness of our Advent readings and reflections is lightened up a bit. We light pink candles instead of purple.  These symbols of joy are meant to encourage us as we continue our journey through this dark season to the dawn of Christmas light. 


In truth though, many of us here this evening carry in our hearts and minds the devastating events of this past week.  Along with perpetual warfare and loss of life around the globe, tragic and mass murders in our own state and country cause us to grieve. Simpler losses like those of animals in the Newberg pet store  and the death of a beloved monk brother from the Abbey also leave us in pain.  And we are supposed to shout for joy and rejoice always?


This is the reality of human condition that we bring with us into this sanctuary tonight.  To deny the pain we feel on behalf of all humanity would be dishonest. So, in this setting of peace, I invite us to just sit prayerfully for a few moments as we bring all this pain into Divine Presence.  (Listen to a piece of music called “Lament”. )                  *******************


The verses I read at the beginning tell God’s people to rejoice- in command language, with exclamation points for punctuation!  However, neither the speakers and the hearers of those words were in happy places at the time.  The prophet Zephaniah gave this instruction only after he uttered words of judgment and doom that were to come upon Israel.  Apostle Paul, himself writing from prison with execution potentially imminent, was writing to a community in Philippi that was experiencing adversity.  How does the commandment to rejoice make sense in all this?


Given their circumstances, neither Paul nor the community of Christians in Philippi had much reason to feel happy, but the joy that Paul was advocating was based not on their feelings, but on their life of faith. 


The small letter to the Philippians is, in my opinion, one of the New Testament’s most profoundly practical reflections on the living of the Christian life.  It would be well worth our concentrated study. For tonight’s purposes, let me just point out that Paul writes this letter to dearly beloved friends.  He is imprisoned and anticipating execution at some time in the future.  Life has not been easy for the recipients of this letter either.  But underlying the dismal reality of all this, one hears a continual tone of encouragement and joy.

 It’s this very message of hope and peace and joy and love that we are offered during our Advent journey through the darkness of December’s days and through all of life’s trials. 


The secret of joy, you see, is in the action that we choose to take despite the circumstances that surround us.


In the Philippians passage,  Paul says REJOICE.  That’s a verb, an action, a chosen behavior.  And how is it worked out?  Not by expressing a happy feeling!  After the command to rejoice, Paul says this is how you do it.


1.     Let everyone see your forbearing (kind, patient)  spirit.

2.     Dismiss all anxiety from your mind.

3.     Present your needs to God through prayer and petition.

4.     Give thanks for all circumstances.

5.     THEN God’s peace will stand guard over your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.

6.     Finally--- direct your thoughts to what is true, worthy of respect, honest, pure, decent, virtuous, admirable, worthy of praise.

7.      THEN will the peace of God be with you.


In the music “Lament”, I hear within the melancholy of the minor key a movement of joy and ultimate victory.  Is that what you hear as you press on in the life of Christian faith? Take heart, good friends.  Take action and claim your joy even when tears flow freely. It’s knowing that the darkness doesn’t win in the end that keeps the ember of joy alive in us. 


In closing, I want to offer you the gift of a blog writing I discovered yesterday morning.


We sit in this season of darkness. Cold. Helpless. Lost. Afraid. Consumed, at times, with our despair and our weakness and our lack of control over life and death and the events in between.

It doesn’t seem strange at all that it’s winter. I can’t imagine today without gray.

And yet. And yet.

There’s a light that is bright inside me, that quietly waits with its hopes and its wishes and its sweetness and its aches.

This is the season of darkness, it’s true. But I believe today more than ever that one of our most profound acts as human beings, and perhaps our most unifying, is our insistence on celebrating the Light at the exact time it appears lost to us.

Do you know that we all do this? This Light Dance? We do. All over the world, across genders and borders and creeds, we do.

Swedes wreath their eldest daughters in candle crowns at the Festival of St. Lucia. The Dutch hand their children lanterns in honor of Saint Maarten who showed kindness to a stranger. Pagans light bonfires at the winter solstice and dance naked in the snow. Jews light the Menorah faithfully for eight nights because they believe that somehow, miraculously, Light will find a way to keep shining. We Christians burn the candles of Advent, anticipating that Light will walk among us, at once as frail as baby and as strong as God.

Around the world, people defy the dark and choose hope instead because we trust, despite all evidence to the contrary, that Light is coming. That Light, in fact, is already on the way.

Everywhere in the world, we rejoice in this triumph of Light over darkness as though we believe it will inevitably come to pass. We are ludicrous, ridiculous, irrational, and unreasonable people to do such a thing. And we are gorgeous and stunning and amazing for celebrating the Light as though we’re already victorious. For celebrating Life in the midst of death. For celebrating Peace in the midst of pain.

So come, Light. Come quickly. We’re ready for you. Especially now. Especially today when the darkness edges close. The spark inside us beckons you home, keeping the faith, and it knows your best secret. The spark inside us knows that the darkness doesn’t win in the end.

 http://putdowntheurinalcake.com/2012/12/connecticut-the-light-and-the-dark/ (Beth Woolsey)

By Sandi DeMaster