Sermon 12/13 Rekindle Joy

Date: Dec. 13, 2020 Third Sunday of Advent In-person worship, outdoors
Scripture Lessons: Psalm 126 and John 1:6-8, 19-28
Sermon: Rekindle Joy
Pastor: Rev. Kim P. Wells

When I was young, there was a song we often sang in church. It was the 70’s.
There were guitars. And the words of the song went, “If anybody asks you who I
am, Who I am, Who I am, If anybody asks you who I am, Tell him I’m a child of
God.”

In our faith tradition, we do believe that every single human being, all 7.8 billion
of us, are each a child of God. Sacred. Holy. Created by love and for love.

In the words we heard from the gospel of John today, we are told of Jewish leaders
sending priests and Levites from Jerusalem out to the wilderness near the Jordan
River to ask John, “Who are you?” Who are you, John? Are you the Messiah?
Are you Elijah? Elijah was remembered as having been taken up in a whirlwind
and he was expected to return. So John is asked, Who are you? And he replies.
He is clear. He knows who he is and his role. Not the Messiah. Not Elijah. But
the one spoken of by the prophet Isaiah. The one who is to prepare the way.

So, in thinking about this question, “Who are you?” what is our answer? A child
of God. What other things might we answer if asked, Who are you?

RESPONSES FROM CONGREGATION

In thinking about answering that question, Who are you? we want to think about
how we respond with regard to our faith. Might we say, “I’m a child of God.” We
might say, “I’m a Christian.” Or we might say, “I am a follower of Jesus.” We
might even admit, “I’m a church goer.”

It can be hard to self identify as a person of faith in today’s world because
depending on the context it can send the wrong message. It can create confusion.
But here at our church, we have more of a shared understanding of what we do and
don’t mean when we claim our faith identity.

Given this question in the opening of the gospel of John, Who are you?, we are
going to look more closely at what it means to answer, “I am a follower of Jesus.”

In the gospel of John, the first public act of Jesus is the story of Jesus turning water
into wine at the wedding in Cana. Yes, there are many meanings to this story but
we don’t want to miss that this was a wedding. A celebration. A party. And Jesus
is coming through with the wine. It’s a good time.

Other stories in the gospels tell of meals and feasts. Again, fun with friends.
Something we’re missing these covid days.

There is the story of the feeding of the multitudes. A free picnic for thousands.
Again, think enjoying your friends and free food to boot.

There are stories of healing and the wonderful life-changing results. Again, cause
for celebration and gratitude.

We are told of Jesus bering accused of being a glutton and a drunkard. Celebrating
the abundance of food and friends.

We are told of Jesus the night before he is killed celebrating the seder. That’s a
feast of liberation. It’s sacred but it is joyful. At a seder I attended the kids threw
plastic frogs and had all kinds of props and fun.

I’m not saying Jesus was not serious. I’m not saying with world doesn’t have
serious problems.

But when we think about Jesus, let’s remember that in the gospel of John, Jesus
tells his followers, I have come to bring abundant joy.

Not abundant judgment. Not abundant suffering.
Not abundant guilt.
Not abundant condemnation.
Not abundant work.

Joy. Abundant Joy. Joy that is ever full. Joy is woven throughout the gospel
narratives. Joy that lifts the spirits and infuses relationships and is contagious.
How did the early church spread with such speed and scope? Maybe part of it is
the joy that was clearly evident among the followers of Jesus.

One stereotype of Christians today is that they are stern structure legitimators; right
and wrong, heaven and hell, in or out. There is a lot of fear and judgment. Not
much joy there.

Sometimes Christians today are seen as kind of mindless happy people. They can
seem ignorant or oblivious to all the problems in the world. Kind of delusional.
Really, not much joy there, either.

I think the joy we see in Jesus is subversive. The Romans wanted the Jews to be
miserable. To suffer. So that they would be easier to control and subdue. And
here is Jesus celebrating and enjoying friends, having fun, feasting. It’s like
announcing: Hey Romans, I’m not going to let you control my reality. God is
good. All the time. Life is a miracle. Love abounds. We are taking joy!

So, as we think about who we are as followers of Jesus, we want to think about
how we take joy. How are we joyful people because of our faith? How do we
express joy in our relationships? How do we share joy with others?

There is a story about the poet Rainer Maria Rilke. When he was living in Paris he
used to take a walk every afternoon and each day he passed by an elderly woman
who was begging. The women sat beside the path stoically and silently and
showed no sign of gratitude for the money that was given to her.

One day, Rilke walked past with a young woman friend. Much to her astonishment
he gave the elderly woman no coins. His companion wondered why. He told her,
“A person must give something to her heart and not to her hand.”

A few days later, Rilke went walking with a small, half-opened rose in his hand.
His young friend thought it was for her. But he did not give it to her. Instead, he
laid the rose in the hand of the beggar woman.

In response, the woman stood up, reached out, and took Rilke’s hand and kissed it.
She clutched the rose to her heart and disappeared. She was not seen for a week.
Then she came back and sat lifeless and cold as before. “What do you think she
lived on during that week?” asked Rilke’s young friend.

“On the rose,” he answered.

[From Advent, Christmas and Epiphany: Stories and Reflections on the Sunday
Readings, Megan McKenna, p. 145, adapted.]

Rilke gave the old woman joy.

This is a season to prepare to take joy. The joy that our faith is giving us. And
what better way to usher in joy than to celebrate the birth of a baby. Jesus. And
every other baby. Joy. Joy. Joy. Despite the sleepless nights. Joy. With all the
disruption. Joy. In the face of inconsolable crying and diapers. Joy.
This season is a time to remind ourselves who we are. We are children of God.
And we are followers of Jesus. And this makes us people of joy with a deep and
abiding trust in the goodness of life that brings delight. It’s there. For the taking.

So this advent season, take joy. If ever we needed it, take joy. With three thousand
people a day dying of covid. Take joy. With temperatures and sea level rising.
Take joy. Separated from family and friends. Take joy. Faced with economic
hardship. Take joy. In spite of a dysfunctional political situation. Take joy. With
a broken health care system. Take joy. Amidst the ravages of racism and
oppression. Take joy. In the absence of loved ones. Take joy.

Who are you? Know who you are. Follow Jesus. Rebel. Take joy. Amen.

A reasonable effort has been made to appropriately cite materials referenced in this sermon. For
additional information, please contact Lakewood United Church of Christ.

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