Advent 3rd Sunday: Joy

As we get closer and closer to Christmas we can feel joy spreading like a wildfire from the candles of hope and peace.  This joy is not the fleeting satisfaction we call happiness.  Joy is not a pious catch phrase, but an eternal flame that cannot be snuffed out by the cares of a weary world.

These candles here will not burn forever, but true joy that lives in our souls endures eternally. It survives flood, famine, pandemic, and unbearable sorrow.  When our bodies are too tired to carry on, the songs of joy still ring in our hearts.  

Today we light this candle of joy because the Christmas story reminds us that Emmanuel means God is with us always and everywhere.  [Light candle]

And so we pray: O come Emmanuel and ransom our weary world held captive by fear. When we are calm in the midst of chaos it is because your eternal joy is in us. We dare to be joyful because the tiny babe of Bethlehem has shown us victory over all the things that frighten us. No matter how many variants the forces of evil change themselves into; we know that you, almighty God, can transform our suffering into joyful praise. You have taught us that no matter how long our mourning in darkness may last, joy will come with the dawning of a fresh new day filled with hope, peace and love. And so today we offer you our songs of praise for the one who is Joy to the World. Amen

Second Advent Candle: Peace

John, the wild forerunner of the Messiah calls us out of our comfortable sanctuaries and living rooms into the wilderness of our weary world. Our mission is to level the playing field where our poor sisters and brothers struggle to survive. We are called to be peacemakers who do justice, not peacekeepers who protect the status quo.

John foresees the birth of a new day when the first will be last and the last first.  He calls us to comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable, even when  we are the latter.  And we are invited to be the bearers of that good news, welcoming Christ to transform our lives; so we can build peace from the inside out and be prepared whenever the Messiah returns. 

In that hope we light this second Advent candle, the Candle of Peace.  [Light Candle]

Let us pray: Holy God, We light the candle of peace to say, yes, we accept your invitation to be bearers of light into the dark places where there is no justice and no peace. We do so with grateful hearts for the example of Christ who came to dwell among us to show us the true way to a world of inner and outer peace for all creation. We will proclaim your peace from the housetops and our laptops until all flesh shall see your salvation as a new day dawns to usher in the peaceable reign of your universal love and grace. We pray in the name of the Prince of Peace, Amen.

First Sunday in Advent

The first Sunday of Advent comes before the Thanksgiving leftovers are consumed to remind us again of the cares of a weary world. Most of us are more stuffed than our turkeys, and yet we know millions of our sisters and brothers have nothing to be thankful for. We are moved by that suffering and do our best to share out of our abundance; but we wonder if it will ever be enough.

As we prepare our hearts to receive the Christ child this Advent, let us rely on the Scriptures to renew our faith: Words that say, “Comfort, comfort my people” to God’s children in exile. Words that say, “Come to me all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.”

Lighting one little candle seems so futile to our weary minds, but we dare to light it again this Advent, not because of the tiny light it gives off, but because of the hope it ignites in our hearts. We dare to be hopeful in a weary world because of a helpless peasant baby who emerges from the darkness of Mary’s womb to become the light of the world.

We know that the world’s cares and woes will pass away, but God’s word of hope will never die. And so today we stand up and raise our arms to light the candle of hope because we know that only in the strength of Christ can we survive these trying times and stand before God as redeemed people of hope. [lights candle]

And so we pray, Holy God, we come humbly to this season of preparation, not asking for the rest of the wealthy and privileged, but rest for our weary souls. We are are distressed and confused by cosmic warning signs of climate change. We are worn out from years of pandemic and paralyzed by partisan political warfare.

We are exhausted from playing the consumption game of our consumer Christmas culture, and frustrated by supply chain issues we can’t comprehend or control. We fall on our knees, O God, for we know that only the humble can hear the angel voices. Hear our prayers, we ask, during these dark December days that lead to great joy to the world. Amen

Alive

There is a tradition in United Methodist circles that when we gather for our Annual Conference we begin by singing these words from a Charles Wesley Hymn: “And are we yet alive, and see each other’s face?”  In this pandemic year how we long to see each other’s faces in person and not mediated through zoom, google or Facetime.  I suggest that when we are finally able to have in-person worship again we should sing that hymn.

The sadness and trials of 2020 began for me weeks before we ever heard of COVID-19.  A dear friend and colleague died in the first week of January in a freak accident where he fell and hit his head on concrete causing a fatal brain bleed.  The preacher at the celebration of the Rev. Dr. Bill Casto’s life was another of our mutual friends, Bishop Joe Sprague.  The thing that stuck with me most about the Bishop’s sermon was this line: “Where is our brother Bill now?  He is where he’s always been—in the heart of God.” 

As God’s beloved children that’s where all of us are alive, in the heart of God.   God’s gift of eternal life doesn’t start when we die.  Eternal means forever – before our souls took on human form and after this life on earth is over, whenever that may be.

As we prepare our hearts during this pandemic Advent being alive is more precious with death or the threat of it all around us. And being alive is more than simply breathing and existing.  Being alive for people of faith is more about quality than quantity.  It means finding passion and purpose in how we use this day and the life and talent God has given us.

Just as we all live eternally in the heart of God the incarnation we celebrate at Christmas means God came alive as one of us at Bethlehem, but that was not the beginning of Christs’ existence.   As the Gospel of John tells us “He was in the beginning with God. All things came into being through him, and without him not one thing came into being. What has come into beingin him was life, and the life was the light of all people. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness (even of 2020) did not overcome it.” (John 1:2-5)

What makes you feel alive?  How can you live more days embracing that feeling?  You are God’s beloved child – how do you plan to live up to that birthright?

My prayer for all of us to have a rebirth of joy and purpose is captured for me in these words from “O Little Town of Bethlehem: “O Holy Child of Bethlehem, descend to us we pray; cast out our sin and enter in, be born in us today.”  Amen