Rejoice always. I’m sure most of you know noticed that we lit the pink candle this morning. The joy candle. That is our theme on Advent three – Joy.
So, rejoice always. Sounds easy, right? But you and I both know – not always. Joy – like so many faith descriptors – we hear as a feeling. Something that happens TO us. Joy, like love, we feel is a consequence of a relationship or circumstance that is outside of ourselves – and therefore dependent on what is beyond our control.
But, as Paul well knew when we wrote this letter from a prison cell, that is not how Paul, or Jesus, thought of – or lived it.
Joy, like love, like faith, like gratitude – are internal ways of being. They are choices. They are mindsets. Joy is a practice, I would say, it’s even a discipline. And the only thing it is dependent on is our willingness to let go and let God.
You know, this letter that we hear from this morning, is believed to be the oldest scripture in the New Testament. From around 50 or so A.D. That’s just 20 years after the death of Jesus. So we know Christians were definitely in the minority, certainly not part of any denominational structure, and without a doubt, scared about their future.
Can you imagine those feelings? What it felt like to be isolated in their faith practices? What it felt like to be worried for their families and what was in store for their community? Anxious about how long things would be this way? I’ll bet you can.
So Paul, in his wisdom and because of his own discipline – shares loving and practical advice - make room for God. For in making room for God you will be enabled to let go of what you are feeling – the anxiety, worry and fear. Choose, actively, to let God in.
Rejoice always. Pray without ceasing and in all circumstances give thanks.
How is that possible when I don’t feel that way? It’s possible because I know something eternal to be true. I know that I am a child of God. Period. And I know that’s true of everyone else – whether they know it or not. And that disciplined mindset – gives me the ability and the autonomy to choose how I see the world – which in turn shapes how I be in the world.
If I could share something somewhat personal. A few weeks ago, right before Advent I wanted with all my heart – to quit. I knew I wasn’t going to – but, this was the Sunday right before Thanksgiving, I thought, I can’t do this anymore – and by this I mean – this – this impersonal automated mechanism for delivering worship as if it is a TV show. I was looking into a future of continuing this for the foreseeable future and thought – I can’t.
That, as I’m quite certain you can relate to, is hard place to be. And I’ll bet everyone listening to this has been there – whatever your context is, it’s that point where you think – that’s it – I give up.
And that feeling, which I call it despair, I know it and I know that red flag in my life – and I know what I have to do when it shows up whether I feel like doing it or not. It’s a discipline – so I get going on the practice, practice, practice.
I double-down on prayer – both meditative and scripture. I set that alarm clock, I set that timer and I set a schedule and I just do it. I get to work on service – SLYC, ACTC and thank you notes. I take walks, stare at trees and listen to people preach on podcasts. And I choose wisely what I take in – especially first thing in the morning. And this Advent, I’ve spent each morning with Bishop Michael Curry – Love is the Way: Holding on to Hope in Troubling Times.
And when I lean into that practice, I make room for God. There isn’t room for all my self-focused despair – when I turn my attention to practices of faith, hope and love. And indeed, that recalibration works, my feelings do indeed start to change. I should add, because it’d be a copout if I didn’t – I also reached out – to my friends – to my therapist – to my clergy colleagues – to hear some supportive words and to listen to their struggles too.
It’s not happenstance that this Advent my preaching has focused on choosing hope – choosing to begin again – and choosing joy. Paul says, don’t quench the Spirit! It’s in you – it’s in me – so give it what it needs to thrive – make a pathway for our God – let God stir up God’s power in you. Choose.
One day I know for a fact that this place will be packed. One day we are all going to greet each other – and hug each other – and then hug each other again – with smiles so wide our cheeks will hurt! One day – we will gather in this place and we are going to SING. We are going to make a joyful noise with organ and choir and throng!
One day there are going to be children running up and down this aisle and babies giggling and interrupting and we are going love it. One day in this church – and in our homes and in our schools and in our workplaces – and in so many places in our life – we are going to come together – and the joy, and gratitude is going to overwhelm us.
We prepare the way for God when we hold onto a dream that is out in front of us – that’s what Paul did. That’s what John the Baptist did. That’s what Jesus did.
So my friends – hold fast to your visions and your dreams of a future will be but is not just yet – and practice, practice, practice.
Make room for God to stir up his power in you - Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; Do not quench the Spirit - for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you. Amen.