From Advent 3, 2013: Joy Released!

Advent 3, 2013 – Joy Released!
The Rev Robert G Eaton

Isaiah 35:1-10
Psalm 146:4-9
James 5:7-10
Matthew 11:2-11

 

Why are you here today?

Surely there are some different answers, Could it be, _nice place__., ___good people__, good music, or __great snacks after the service_?

Would it, though, be safe to say you are all here because you have already asked the question today from John the Baptist:

Are you the one?
Or is there another?

Somehow, somewhere, for the vast majority of you, Jesus entered into your life.
And you have the story to tell. I’m beginning to hear those stories. Marvelous stories of God entering into your lives.

Yes, There may be some “seekers” here. Good. Look to Jesus.
And the rest of you will be praying for those seekers to find what we have found in Christ. And that we were found by Christ. What joy we have found in the author and perfector of our faith.

So we gather because we have believed, we are sure, and we will continue to come to worship.

But there is another sense to this lingering question, “Are you the one?”

If you’re the One, we pray, why aren’t my prayers answered? If you’re the one why is there not the peace on earth you are supposed to have brought? If you ’re the one, where IS my joy?
And so our Faith is questioned, and we take a spiritual battering.
But we continue to drudge on, perhaps hoping something will change.
Perhaps we keep coming back with in fact that question, Are you really the one?
And do I really believe in you? and Did what you did for me, and how you touched me before really, really take place after all?

Soul-wringing questions.

John asks the question, “Are you the One?” John is human, no doubt. But Its too easy for us post-moderns to decide from reading this scripture to only say we can commiserate with John in the moments of a loss of faith.
Really, Don’t you think John knew the answer to that question already?!!
REALLY??

For John, it was something like this, said to HIS disciples while he was in jail:

Go find Jesus. You know, the One I pointed out.
The One I baptized,
My cousin, for God’s sake.
The One God the Father spoke over from the cloud
The One the Holy Spirit glorified in the form of a dove.
The one who is the lamb of God.
That one.
Ask him this: “Are you the one, or should we look for another?”

Its not a matter of John’s belief in Jesus.
Its not whether or not something has been touched in his heart.
And I think it is safe to say, it is not a matter of whether or not, like John’s mother experienced the leaping for joy from within her womb, There was a leaping for joy from within John himself when he first laid eyes on Jesus.
And I don’t mean just Happy.
I mean Joy.

Yes, happy can mean joy. And yet there is some sense of joy being more profound, deeper, and not able to be wiped away by some one negative moment. I was happy until I saw THAT, or read THAT, or felt THAT, and now I’m not happy anymore.

HERE’s what you need to hear about John and about you:
The joy’s not gone, it is just covered.

As one familiar preacher used to say in his way,
Is there JOY in St James ?
Yes, he would finish, looking at the congregation and speaking out what they were desperate to hear: there is JOY in St James.

So where is it?
I’ve seen a lot of happy here so far in St James, and I’ve seen some true joy. It’s not that it is not here.

It’s more like what happens when you just get beat down, and worn out, and doing so much work in order to just keep things moving.

The picture from the scriptures today is what it looks like in the wilderness BEFORE the new rain comes, before the water courses of the negev are filled up.
What happened to all that beauty and life and growth and nature’s exuberance after the LAST time it all came out?

Here’s what happened: No rain. Lots of wind. Sun beating down. Relentless dryness.

Every human being can find the relentless struggles of life to be like a weight, like tromping through molasses, like a gradual slowing down, sapping of energy, hard to keep moving.
And Christians are humans, so are not immune to this,

We cover up our joy as Christians. Others cover up our joy as Chrsitians,
The world covers up our joy .
The Enemy covers up our joy, or even lies and says there was no joy in the first place.
You remember the 3 enemies of the believer: the world, the flesh and the devil?

In that state some of us will say, “Just get on with it”, or “Work through it – get to where you’re going.”
Some of us will say, “I guess this is just my lot in life, to be miserable and never be happy.”
Some of us will say in this state, “If other people would just let me alone and quit bothering me, I would be very happy with life.”
And some of us in that state, come to a complete stop, or practically so, saying “I just can’t go on anymore”, often with tragic actions and consequences.

Its all the same misery – just how different people deal with their lives, and all that misery, and beating down.

The collect is right. There is a hindering. And the collect is also right, we need Jesus to set us free.
And sometimes, being set free is just being told – I am the One. You have me. I am in you.
And our response, not, “OK I’ll try to do better”, or “work harder” to get that good feeling of joy.
But this one, “THANK GOD.” “THANK You, Jesus.” And we set our hearts to singing and praying and worshipping and testifying and giving witness to the Joy that is ours, because Jesus is who He is, and we are in Him. Alleluia!

So too here was John the baptist, in prison for speaking truth.
And there was a diminished spirit. And the joy of knowing that the Messiah was on the earth was also diminished; covered up, the joy was struck. The joy itself was mocked and persecuted.
And it must have felt to John like everything had dried up.

From the darkness of his cell, you can just hear John saying, THIS IS NOT WHAT I BOUGHT INTO…….

In John’s misery, he sent his disciples not to inquire about the authenticity of jesus,
But about why the first part of Isaiah was not just absolutely accomplished. Like,
If you’re doing your job, Jesus, why am I sitting in a prison? Where is the new Kingdom ushered in?
John is saying, I don’t feel joyful; I certainly don’t feel happy.

So he sent his disciples, and Jesus said, just before letting all those around him know how great this man John was,
Let John know: I am here. I am doing what I came to do. You are seeing it yourselves:
The blind receive their sight (WHAT JOY MUST HAVE BEEN THEIRS!)
The lame walk ( “ )
The lepers are cleansed ( “ )
The deaf hear ( “ )
The dead are raised ( “ )
And the poor have good news brought to them ( “ )

The message? Rejoice, John, I am here. You have done the right work. You’ve pointed to the right One.. What you are impatiently saying you had hoped for with me is not a matter of proving yourself right. Look at what I am doing. The Kingdom is here. You are a good and faithful servant. You have pointed to me.

In case you didn’t hear this by now,
Advent 3 is not about a call to “doing it better” or striving more.
Today the scriptures beg the preacher to say this:

That JOY you have already in Jesus is going to be SET FREE by Jesus when he comes.
And, as well, this is what he is saying to you, “Here I am.” So be set free to be joyful.

There are so many great people in this parish who are obviously doing so much work for the continued success and establishment of this parish. And yet the Pall exists, the striving continues, looking for that moment when it is all supposed to drop into place. This message must be brought to your spirits, your souls, even your bodies: You aren’t. He is. Point to Him. Release your joy.

How did the prophet Isaiah describe this coming of the Messiah?
Say to those who are of a fearful heart, Be strong, do not fear!
Look! Here is your God!. He will come and save you!
HE is going to do all this! Rejoice!
The wilderness and the dry land shall be glad! The desert shall rejoice and blossom!
Why? The scriptures for today say, Not because we’re out watering it, But because GOD is COMING and GOD is HERE.
The flowering just pops out. Everything changes. Rejoice!
Then the eyes of the blind will be opened and the ears of the deaf unstopped.
Why? Not because we made it so; but Because GOD is COMING, God has arrived, and everything will be like we hoped it would when we first believed.

Therefore the redeemed of the Lord shall return
And come with singing unto Zion
And everlasting Joy shall be upon their heads.

In fulfillment of the prophet Isaiah,
And with the pointing of the John the Baptist as the forerunner,
Receive this good news, Jesus is here now to help you.

Several songs come to mind
[singing—- with response from congregation!]
Oh, happy day
(Oh, happy day)
Oh, happy day
(Oh, happy day)

When Jesus washed
(When Jesus washed)
When He washed
(When Jesus washed)

When He washed
(When Jesus washed)
My sins away, yeah
(Oh, happy day)

Oh, happy day

Joyful, joyful we adore thee god of glory god of love, where “hearts unfold like flowers before thee”
And
Joy to the world the lord has come, let earth receive her king.

Rejoice.
Joy is in you. Joy is in this parish.

Amen.

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