On this Third Sunday of Advent, with 12 days remaining in the count-up to Christmas, “How might the word, that echoes through today’s Scripture, the word ‘Rejoice,’ prompt us to make some changes of things to do to get ready for Christmas?
First, when remembering Zephaniah’s call to those returning exiles: Sing aloud, O daughter Zion; shout, O Israel!
Rejoice and exult with all your heart, O daughter Jerusalem! The Lord has taken away the judgments against you, he has turned away your enemies. The king of Israel, the Lord, is in your midst; you shall fear disaster no more. Yet, many disasters followed the descendants; there would be exile after exile, until World War II when mad minds devised “the final solution” in death camps!
The Austrian psychiatrist, Viktor Frankl, spent 1942-45 in four different Nazi concentration camps, including Auschwitz. By the end of the war his pregnant wife, his parents and his brother had been murdered; only he and his sister survived. In the midst of that unspeakable horror, intensified by the darkness of night wrapped in dense fog, he looked out and, in the distance, saw a light appear in a farmhouse.
It was the sign that turned his death camp years into his book, “Man’s Search for Meaning” – in which he told how grief and rage, suffering and dying changed from a tragedy into triumphant, which, for him, happened through love, love ultimately traced back to God. That love caused him to become aware of its potential for one’s self and for others, and in that pursuit find meaning and purpose in living. (Viktor Frankl on Love, Suffering and the Meaning of Life, Ed Batista, http://www.edbatista.com/2010/04/life.html)
An item for the “To-do” list: to search for and pursue sightings and experiences of love that awaken the charge to “Rejoice!” in the midst of all that would smother and extinguish that exclamation, knowing that the ultimate expression of love is, as the prophet Zechariah said, the Lord, is in your midst…
For Viktor Frankl it was a light in a window that awakened him to that assurance. At the end of this Advent journey it will be a familiar scene of a dark night pierced by the light of a star, shining on a Baby in a manger.
A person who was driving through a bleak tenement neighborhood, happened to see a sidewalk manger in front of a rundown auto repair shop. It was an old tire holding a worn blanket cradling a plastic baby doll, a silent sign of how God chose to be present among us and promises never to leave us; God-in-Christ, in our midst.
A much-needed reason to check our “To do” list and see if that assuring sight of love is there; if not, then to add it.
Second, when reading today’s sampling from Paul’s letter to a small gathering of Christians living their new-found life in Christ, and remembering he was writing from a jail cell, knowing others were attacking his ministry, and after twenty years hard travel, he was tired; yet he wrote: Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, Rejoice.
and listed all the ways they were to broadcast their joy.
Eugene Peterson’s “The Message” which is a reading of the Bible in everyday English also has introductions to each book or letter. The one for Paul’s Letter to the Philippians describes it as being written by a man infected with the joy of Christ in his life, which also infected them, and they in turn, one another.
As bleak as his life was, and the future wasn’t any better, Paul was sustained as he remembered the Philippian Christians’ infectious love.
Recently I watched a young woman walk into the post office with large boxes and I asked, “Christmas presents?” “No,” she said, “For my husband who is in Afghanistan.”
I thought of a story told by a soldier who received a package like that at Christmas time, filled with his favorite homemade cookies, which arrived as crumbs. But that didn’t affect his savoring the love baked into them, as Paul did, when in prison, and then he exclaimed: Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, Rejoice.
A much-needed reason to check our “To do” list and see how we are sharing expressions of the contagious love of Christ this Christmas. If not, then what do we need to do to add it to the list?
Third, when reading the harsh preaching of John, the Baptist (or Baptizer), we uncover the word “rejoice!” in John’s announcement that the One Who is coming, “… will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire.” -
And so, “rejoice” in the Good News that is coming; prepare yourself, make a list of what you need to do
to be ready to receive Him.
Every first Tuesday morning our Conference sponsors a “Quiet Day” beginning with a half-hour guided devotional, two hours of free time for personal mediation, and sharing over the lunch each person brings. It is then that everyone looks to June Rung and awaits her newest poem. Her December lines are timely: “Celebrating Christmas”
How do we celebrate Christmas in a world gone mad with strife?
How do we look in that manger and find any clue to life?
How does the hustle and bustle ever begin to show the way
to the miracle secure in that stable bedded down on prickly hay?
How do we even remember what a wondrous gift we received
when so many actions around us could tell us we’ve been deceived?
How do we make space for that baby? How do we get beyond
all the noise and the activity so we can find that special bond?
When everything seems so daunting all the pressure and the fuss
let us never forget to remember that baby is God with us.
So how do we celebrate Christmas? How do we make it count
and not be just some celebration with festivities to tout?
How do we carry the message after the day is passed?
Where do we find the instructions? How do we make the day last?
You have to make the decision on how to follow through
but if you remember that babe and the life he led then you’ll know just what to do.
Christmas is not a day; it’s your life.
After hearing Zephaniah’s and Paul’s and John the Baptizer’s charges to “REJOICE,” might we need to make some adjustments, some deletions, and some additions to our “To-do” list so that we will be prepared
for a Christmas that is really God in our midst, in Christ? – our reason the pickup today’s word: “REJOICE!”