Where is the Joy?

Sermon Given December 12, 2021

So today is what is known as Gaudete Sunday, the Sunday we are called to rejoice. Yet we have to wonder, where does the joy come from today? I had half a sermon written about John the Baptist, trying to match his prophetic tone with a joyful spirit when the tornadoes swept though and Mayfield was turned upside down. I’ve written and re-written this sermon trying to figure out how to preach in response, finding a deep lament rising up, the sadness of such loss. Too much death keeps happening.

The prophet Zephaniah knew death and destruction. The short three chapter book is full of woes and prophecy of doom. He spoke of deep loss, the great and terrible day of the Lord. Yet, the final verses of the prophet’s book turn suddenly, and the shout of “Rejoice!” rises up. Judgment is averted. Redemption has come. It seems such a stark contrast that some commentators wonder if it was tacked on at a later date by people unwilling to let doom and gloom have the final say. No matter whether it was original or not, it speaks to our human need for hope. We can’t believe doom is all there is for us. We need more. We need redemption.

John the Baptist, using the stark and vivid language of a prophet, calls for us to turn, to see salvation and to never turn away from it again. It comes not with assent to theological doctrines or taking on a personal Lord and Savior, though a personal relationship with Jesus helps. But it comes when we give of ourselves for another, when we refuse to cheat and defraud even when the system is set up for your benefit above another. It comes through mutual care and an assertion of equality. We are not here solely for our own benefit, we have a role in this world, gifts we can use to help others.

John shares that with the gift of the Holy Spirit, we have the power to be ablaze with God’s fire, the light of the world. We can let go of those things that once protected us, but now slow us down. We can grow into full maturity as children of God, and once we get there, we don’t need the protective chaff that once kept us safe. We can break out, break away from the chaff, letting it go entirely as we turn from wheat to bread, the bread of life. We can grow into full unity with God through Christ. It is indeed possible. God calls out to us, “Love me! I’ll show you the way! I’ll give you life unimaginable!”

And in the midst of that kind of living, we have power. We have hope. We have it within ourselves to help change the world. Christ can use us for the betterment of all.

That’s where the joy comes from today. Not in the outside circumstances of the world, which are heartbreaking, but in the knowledge that God can use us to help those in heartache. We can’t individually fix it all, but we can join the cause, the mission to make the world better than it is right now. Jesus can use us.

Today, we gather and we declare that tornadoes don’t have the last say. Destruction does not have the last say. Power outages do not have the last say. We rejoice because God has the last say and God can use us to help make a better way. We are called today to love our neighbors, to help those who have gone through great loss, to mourn with those who mourn, to weep with those who weep, and to help build a better world. We are called. We are commissioned. We are able. Amen.