Sunday, December 13, 2015

Fr.  Robert R.M. Bagwell+
Advent  III + C     13 December  2015       

(Gaudete) Rejoicing in the Lord Always

Zephaniah 3:14-20        

In the Church Kalendar, we call this "Gaudete Sunday".  The name "Gaudete Sunday" is taken from the words of the introit, Gaudete in Domino semper, "rejoice in the Lord always."

Today, we read in Philippians: "Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, Rejoice! Over and over in the Older Testament we have the admonition to live a life of rejoicing. This is not some sort self-hypnosis, not some "power of positive thinking:"mantra," this is at the core of the Judeo-Christian faith.  If you would consider for a moment some of the mantras of other major world faith traditions.  The Introit for Gaudete Sunday, in both the Traditional Latin Mass and the Novus Ordo or the modern Roman Catholic Mass, is taken from Philippians 4:4,5: "Gaudete in Domino semper"

In all major world religions, there is a fatalism, a trying to escape futility in karma in Hinduism, In Buddhism, the faithful seek to attain the highest level to purify one's heart and to let go of all yearnings toward sensual desires and the attachment to oneself. and to overcome unending rebirths. The so called "New Age" seeks to find a celestial path though a myriad of faith traditions'   In the Islamic tradition, the follower seeks to live a life of trying to live up to Allah's expectations and keep five life goals to perhaps make it to heaven with a God who does not love you but you serve in eternal subjugation. Allah, a word that means "the god"  is wholly other, not remotely like humanity, impersonal, rather than personal.

In contrast to all of these traditions, the Judeo-Christian God stands alone in the proclamation of joy.  Over and over the children of Israel are told to rejoice in the Lord!  What brings joy in the human heart?  Innumerable forgiveness of wrongs we have done;  unconditional love; the second chance to the one thousandth chance that you have wronged another and are loved unconditionally each and every time you screw up?  The proclamation that "Jesus loves me, this I know" is an alien concept to other world religions.  No reason, no way to make him love more or less, just love, love, love.  "Love" is the first of all basic human needs. Unconditional love is a proclamation nearly unknown in human love.  It is Divine love. Only the Christian proclamation speaks of a God who is our:  "Maker, Defender, Redeemer and Friend" to quote, Robert Grant,  the Anglican hymn writer in "O Worship the King."  Only Christianity has the temerity to proclaim in John's first epistle that Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love."(I Jn 4:8)

Jesus is the One who is "our peace who has broken down every wall" as Paul proclaims in Ephesians 2'  The collect says we are "sorely hindered by our sins," but Jesus is a sinner's Savior. He takes away the "hindrance" of our bondage to the will anchored to selfishness and every form of degraded love as one spiritual writer once wrote.

But where does the Apostle Paul get off positing some Pollyannaish efforts to jump-start joy?  The Tradition says that Paul wrote to the Philippians from prison in Rome. When Paul encourages the Philippian Christians to rejoice, he is in a captivity of his own. This gets to the heart of the power of the Christian gospel. The peace of God which passes all human understanding is an inner calm not determined by outward circumstances, but mediated by the Spirit of God. It is that inner barometer that has allowed our contemporary martyred brethren to go calmly to their deaths, murdered by the purveyors of the so called Moslem Caliphate.

For some, the rose candle represents hope.  Advent is itself a season of hope.  The good news of Jesus is about hope and promise. It is the inner peace God plants inside of our souls, it is a peace born from ineffable joy. What hinders us from it?  Don=t most people want it? The season of Advent 2015 comes with a certain expectation of joy. We're supposed to rejoice around Christmas time, aren't we? It's part of the prescribed program. Corporate America has capitalized on this sense of holiday joy, promising increased joy with every purchase. Or at least, a way to buy off some guilt. And if you aren't joyful, for whatever reason, you run the risk of being with uncompassionate Scrooge or the Grinch who stole Christmas. But is this the joy that Paul speaks of to the Church at Philippi?  Or have we been brainwashed or worse, fooled into something that isn=t Ajoy@ at all? Joy is a deep sense of inner confidence, unshaken by the uncertainties of life.  Joy is a state of being, not of mind.  Joy should characterize the Christian and if not, then we have some serious homework to do.  In a moment, John the Baptizer will give us some help with our homework.

A famous preacher was trying to teach his students to make their facial expressions harmonize with what they are speaking about. "When you speak of heaven," he said, "let you face light up, let it be irradiated with a heavenly gleam, let your eyes shine with reflected glory. But when you speak of Hell – well, then, your ordinary face will do."  The gospel reading hardly seems to be one reflecting hope and joy.  He begins with threats and concludes with a directive toward hope and promise.  The hope and promise in Jesus Christ is not to ignore the realities of life, to point to a path to overcome them.  The scripture is again, not Pollyanna but realistic. Let us remember soberly the words of Jesus: "You will leave me all alone. Yet I am not alone, for my Father is with me. “I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world." (John 16)  

In my experience, there is not a better prescription for Holy Joy than what Paul gives us in this reading.  John gives them some good spiritual counsel: "AAct your way into right thinking.@ Part of the doing is controlling our thinking. An act of the self. You can=t always think yourself into right acting.  The mind is like the crew of a vessel that has mutinied and having put the Acaptain@ (the human will) down in the brig, is now running the ship.

After this the prescription follows: Do not worry about anything: What!  whatever would I do with my time?  My therapist?  To quote the saintly  Charles de Foucauld: "the thing that we owe absolutely to God is never to worry about anything." Another I have heard: "worry is an insult to your father."  The prescription follows "in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God."   Don't dismiss this too quickly if you have not tried it because the promise is a wondrous healing of the human spirit. The promise is what we so often hear in the final blessing will be our result or should I say God's." The peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus

In a world where there is no outer peace.  we have the Prince of Peace, God with us who despite all temptations to believe the opposite, has everything under Divine control.  He says to his children in his Redeemed for the Father's glory, Peace, be still.  This peace which one day He promises will pervade the whole world, begins as He embraces us and we Him. In this season of the already but not yet in our hearts and the hearts of all who love him may we rejoice in the Lord always and evermore for hope is ours; the promise is ours and His perfect peace and joy are for all who call upon His Name.


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