Today is the third Sunday in Advent: that season when we wait, in holy anticipation, for God to come into the world as one of us, among a dispossessed people in an occupied land; as a newborn, to new parents, who couldn’t find a place to stay for the night.
Today is the third Sunday in Advent: when we light a candle for joy.
Every Sunday, after worship, we gather in Fellowship Hall and have coffee and juice and snacks. We sit at the tables, we check in, we chat for a little while, and then we go our separate ways.
And I circulate. I move from table to table. I say hello. I have a few conversations.
One Sunday, a while ago, I sat down at one of the tables, and one of the kids said, “Hi.”
And I didn’t talk to the kid in question before I wrote this sermon—I didn’t get their permission to tell this story—so I won’t use their name. But I also don’t think they would mind, so I think it’s okay if you guess which kid this was.
But I sat down at one of the tables, and this kid said, “Hi.” And I said, “Hello.” And this kid proceeded to tell me… about dinosaurs.
This is the first time that’s happened with this kid, but it’s not the first time that’s happened.
You see, I don’t have kids, but I have friends who have kids, and this congregation has kids, and I sometimes just run into kids. And all kids are nerds; every kid is just a little too into something: dinosaurs or Star Wars or unicorns or The Backyardigans or whatever. Every kid has their thing.
And I know that parents can get tired of hearing about the thing. And I’m sure that I would get tired of hearing about the thing after a while. But I’ve had a lot of moments when I’m just a new person who might not have heard about this before and who will listen… and… well…
I’ve had a lot of moments when a kid gets a look of unbridled rapturous joy on their face and told me about something they love. They aren’t trying to prove themselves. They aren’t showing off. They aren’t trying to demonstrate anything. They just have this thing that they love and they want to share that love.
And so they tell me, for no other reason than that they know it to be true, that an Argentinosaurus’s poo could be more than three gallons.
I’ve told you this before:
Joy is a celebration of being and a manifestation of abundance. Joy is an act of resistance against the world-as-it-is and an act of imagining the world-as-it-could-be. Joy is a little glimpse of the kingdom of God.
Even when it’s joy at a fact about dinosaur poo.
I don’t know about you, but I feel like joy is in short supply these days.
Part of that short supply is because of… y’know… the world. I don’t need to tell you about the distance between the world-as-it-is and the world-as-it-should-be; you know that distance is there. I don’t need to recite the litany of struggles that we and our friends and our neighbors are facing today, and have faced for nineteen or twenty or twenty-one months, and have faced for decades or centuries or millennia; you know it by heart.
And those are important things. And there are a thousand sermons in them.
But part of that short supply is also because of us.
I don’t know about you, but I feel like somewhere on the road to adulthood, I lost a lot of my joy.
Don’t get me wrong. I am not without joy; there are places where I find joy. I find joy in my family and in my friends. I find joy in my work and in my hobbies. I find joy in this congregation. But…
I don’t remember the last time I was so excited about some random thing that I just had to share it with someone who sat down near me during fellowship time, or in a meeting, or in line at the grocery.
I don’t remember the last time I told a stranger that Micropachycephalosaurus has the longest name of any dinosaur… or the last time I told a new friend what my favorite dinosaur is… or the last time I had a favorite dinosaur… or, really, the last time I gave those majestic thunder lizards more than a few seconds of thought.
I don’t know about you, but I feel like somewhere on the road to adulthood, I traded a lot of my joy… for worry.
I worry about time and energy and money… about the church as an institution, and this church as an organization, and every person in this church… about whether people like me, and whether I’m good enough, and whether I can keep tricking people into thinking that I know what I’m doing.
I worry about the distance between the world-as-it-is and the world-as-it-should-be. I worry about the litany of struggles that we and our friends and our neighbors are facing today, and have faced for nineteen or twenty or twenty-one months, and have faced for decades or centuries or millennia.
I worry about the scarcities that I face… and the scarcities that I might face… and that there might not be enough.
And I don’t know about you. Maybe I’m the weird one here—and, let’s be honest, I worry about that, too—but I doubt it.
I think that part of what we mean by ‘growing up’ is ‘trading our joy for worry’. And some people grow up too fast.
In our reading today, a prophet is speaking. In our reading today, a prophet is delivering good news.
The people have been through so much. Babylon came, and conquered them, and destroyed their capital, and tore down their house of worship, and carried them into exile. It has been decades; they might as well be dead.
Exile is a world of worry. The people worry about the scarcities that they face and the scarcities that they might face. The people worry that there might not be enough.
And now there is this prophet speaking to them. Now there is this prophet delivering good news. Now there is this prophet… calling to them…
“You who are thirsty, come to the water! You who are hungry, come and eat! It doesn’t matter if you have money, there is bread and there is wine, and it is free for everyone! For the word will come from the Lord, and it will accomplish its purpose!”
And it will. God will raise up Cyrus and the Persians, Babylon will fall to them, and Cyrus will issue a decree: the people will go home, and have their own place, and return to the familiar rhythms of life.
And there will be joy.
So much of the distance between the world-as-it-is and the world-as-it-should-be—so many of the struggles that we and our friends and our neighbors face—comes from that worry… that worry that there might not be enough.
When we worry that there might not be enough, we run after food that does not fill us and chase after things that do not satisfy us; we follow wicked paths and think unrighteous thoughts; we fight to keep what is ours and we accumulate more for ourselves; we build fences and walls and keep the world out so that we can protect ourselves and our stuff.
We trade away our joy… for the fleeting security of power and privilege and prestige… for bread that does not fill us… for work that does not satisfy us… for worry that leaves us empty.
And in the middle of all of that, there is a prophet speaking. In the middle of all of that, there is a prophet delivering good news.
There is enough and more than enough.
God creates and sustains the world. God sends rain and snow. God calls on the earth to bear life and the earth gives life: seed to the sower and bread to the eater.
And more than that, God sends the word, and the word is enough to accomplish God’s purpose: to bring mercy and pardon, to redeem and to restore.
So come to the table!
Are you hungry? For bread or for righteousness? Then come to the table! There is enough and more than enough!
Are you thirsty? For wine or for justice? Then come to the table! There is enough and more than enough!
Are you longing for grace and for pardon? Are you yearning for redemption and restoration? Are you desperate to know that you are loved and worthy of love? Then come to the table! There is enough and more than enough! There is more than more than enough!
And it doesn’t cost anything… except that it costs us everything: all of the bread that does not fill us, all of the work that does not satisfy us, all of the worry that leaves us empty.
So come to the table; come and trade your worry for the joy of God’s abundance!
And maybe, just maybe, one day, you will meet a new person, who might not have heard this before, and who will listen… and you will get that look of pure unbridled rapturous joy… and you will tell them about something you love.
And maybe, just maybe, that thing will be that there is enough and more than enough; that they are loved and worthy of love; that the kingdom of God is growing all around us; that we can give up our worries and live in a world of love.
Today is the third Sunday of Advent: that seasons when we recommit ourselves to the work of holy anticipation, in the hope that the seed that Christ scattered so long ago will grow and blossom, and the world will become what it is yearning to be… nothing less than the kingdom of God.
Today is the third Sunday of Advent: when we light a candle for joy; when we claim the joy that God has provided to the world-as-it-is; when we look forward to the joy that will flood the world that God is calling into being. Today is the day when we share the joy that we have found here with the whole world.