Reasons For Rejoicing!©
Zephaniah 4:14-20; Philippians 4:4-7
Advent 3
Dr. Sharlyn DeHaven Gates
December 13, 2015

According to the Companion to the Presbyterian Book of Common Worship, Advent first originated as a three week fast in preparation for baptism at Epiphany.  It used to be that the church had specific days when baptism was performed – Epiphany and Easter were two prominent days.

But then, Advent evolved into a time for preparation for the coming of Christ as judge – and so it became a very penitential time, like Lent is.  It was a time for searching oneself and seeing if there was something within that we needed to do to be prepared.

With the scriptures we’ve read the first two Sunday’s of Advent, that look towards Christ’s coming again, we can see how being more pensive – thinking more about the day of judgment – would be a good thing.

I’d like to share with you the reading from the Companion to the Book of Common Worship:

“Advent today is seen as a season of hope and joy, anticipating the fulfillment of the rule of God in Christ’s coming in the future. … In the Middle Ages, the appointed epistle for the Third Sunday of Advent was Philippians 4:4–6, which begins with the Latin word Gaudete, meaning, “rejoice”: “Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, Rejoice. Let your gentleness be known to everyone. The Lord is near.”

Philippians 4:4–6 also served as the introit for the day (entrance song), which was interspersed with the Psalm 84:2: “My soul longs, indeed it faints for the courts of the LORD; my heart and my flesh sing for joy to the living God.”

Thus, the penitential mood of Advent was momentarily suspended by the joyous character of the Philippians text. Since this anticipated joy of the end time was an exception during a penitential Advent, Paul’s injunction to the Philippians, Gaudete in Domino semper (translated as “Rejoice in the Lord always”) had the effect of interrupting the period of fasting. Therefore, the opening word of the text gave its name to this Third Sunday of Advent, Gaudete Sunday, by which it is still known in some traditions.

And, a candle on the Advent wreath was changed to pink or rose as a sign of a brief delight in the midst of fasting in preparation for the Christmas feast. In traditions where the Third Sunday of Advent is observed as Gaudete Sunday, the paraments are also often rose-colored,” (although we do not have rose-colored paraments.)

(Companion to the Book of Common Worship, p. 450, Westminster Press)

So, even though we look at Advent as a time of hope and joy, a time for anticipating Jesus’ coming at last, we have had a good bit of news lately that causes us to be more pensive, more anxious.

What a great relief it is to read joyful passages like the ones from Zephaniah, and Paul’s letter to the Philippians.  Both were declaring joy in the midst of a very serious time.

Zephaniah was a prophet at the time that Babylonia conquered Judah and Israel; and Paul was writing from prison.  Most scholars believe he was writing from prison in Rome.

Although Paul had been thrown in prison numerous times, this time seemed to be very serious.  It is believed that Paul was martyred in Rome.  If you read all of Philippians, (which I encourage you to do) you will get the sense of Paul’s being so at peace with whatever happens to him.

In fact, Paul says he would be happier if he could die for the Lord Jesus; but for the sake of others, like the church in Philippi, he hopes to live a while longer so he can encourage them.

Zephaniah brings such joyful news from the Lord to the Israelites who have experienced God’s judgment.  He now brings promises of restoration and peace.  Reasons for rejoicing!

I want to ask you today to think about your life right now.  As your pastor, I am aware that many of you have things going on in your lives that bring anxiety and worry; that are reason for sadness and grief.  And those things, added to the news we hear going on in the world, are legitimate concerns.

But, perhaps like Paul, you have found reasons for rejoicing right in the midst of it all.  I would love it if a few of you would share why you have a reason to rejoice.

As I have been putting out Christmas decorations, especially decorating our tree, I have found so much joy - especially this year – with each ornament I’ve added to the tree. If you are friends with me on Facebook, you’ve seen my pictures – probably way more of my pictures than most of you care to see on your newsfeed.

But, as I shared there, I have memories of the time my mom and dad gave me so many pieces of my nativity set.  But, then, I remember the first church I served as a full time, ordained minister, in Minnesota.  They gave me several pieces of that same nativity.

And there is an ornament from the little Scotch Grove country church I served as a student pastor, still in seminary.  And the crystal ornament with my mom’s face etched in it – a gift given the Christmas after she died.  And the ornaments Fred and I have picked out together, and the ones our grandchildren have made for us.

And of course, all the beautiful special ornaments you all showered us with the first Christmas we were here, when we realized all the regular ornaments I had purchased did not make it to Michigan!

Each year, I put all those special ornaments you gave away in their original boxes with your names and your messages, and so it is a great joy to open each one, every year!

Memories bring tears often times – tears of longing and sometimes grief, but oh! they can bring so much joy as well.  I would not give anything for the memories all those gifts of love bring to me.

Have you heard of the Secret Santa out of Kansas City?  After I decided to use this story in my sermon, I saw it on the nightly news just the other evening.

This Secret Santa is actually the second person to do this – the first one who remained anonymous for years – passed away a couple of years ago.  And now there is a new Secret Santa who gives away thousands of dollars to strangers at Christmas time.  He goes to different cities and gives out $100 bills to people he thinks could especially use some help.

This video that I want you to see takes place in the Kansas City area.

Secret Santa Video Picture

Secret Santa

What joy these gifts brings to the people who are hurting, who are worrying about what they are going to do, how they are going to feed their family, how they will be able to give any kind of special Christmas to their children.

And what joy it gives to the police who are able to be the bearers of such extravagant gifts!

Growing up, I used to think the reason for rejoicing was what I found under the Christmas tree.  And yes, it was so much fun.  Christmas morning at our house with 6 kids anxiously waiting to see Nana and Gram’s car lights coming up over the hill to our house was a chaotic, crazy, wild, loud time.

We would peek into the living room, but we were not allowed in, until Nana and Gram arrived.  Then the fun began!

Thanks to Nana, we had more than we really needed to give us joy.  But she enjoyed it.  It gave her joy – even to the four of us who were her step grandchildren.

All that Christmas morning joy was truly memorable and fun.  But there are grown up times where joy was just – different.  It was the joy of feeding homeless men on Christmas day and hearing their sincere greetings of “Merry Christmas!  Thank you for coming!”

It’s the quiet Christmas mornings with my husband, remembering the night before – the Christmas Eve service and all your faces glowing in candlelight.  It’s serving you The Lord’s Supper and seeing such deep faith in your faces – knowing your pain, your losses, and your joy.

This week, give thanks for all the reasons for rejoicing that you can think of.  Of course, the greatest one of all is the best gift we have ever been given – the gift with the most love, the deepest sacrifice.  It is the gift of Immanuel – the gift of God coming to us in the tiny baby, born in a manger.

They shall call his name Immanuel – God with us.  You shall name him Jesus – the one who saves.

Rejoice!  Christmas is getting closer and closer.  Rejoice!  Christ will come again.

So be it.

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