A sermon offered
December 16, 2012
at St. Nathaniel’s Episcopal Church
North Port, Florida
Advent III-C: Philippians 4:4-7; Luke 3:7-18
The peace of the Lord be always with you . . . (and also with you!)
And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus!! . . .
I speak to you in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit . . .
As I was looking into the scripture readings for today – thinking how I might start the sermon – how I might greet you all today – two possibilities jumped out at me.
One: I could go with tone of Paul’s letter to the Philippians and greet you as brothers and sisters in Christ – and in the peace and joy of the Lord – – – OR, the other option was that I could go with the gospel reading – and in the words of John the Baptist ¬ – begin the sermon by calling you all A BROOD OF VIPERS!! Now if you were to take me seriously on this one, I didn’t quite know how you might react – but I suspected that it wouldn’t be pretty – – – so I went with the always popular and always gracious — peace of the Lord …
This is not to say that the Baptist doesn’t have some very valid and much needed points to make – and his aggressive approach should probably be heard as a challenge to rise to a higher level of spiritual being, a challenge to move in new directions through true repentance, a challenge to give up false claims to righteousness and security based on who you are and who you know.
John the Baptizer’s challenge is to get ready for the one who is coming, the one who will baptize, not with water but with the Holy Spirit. This getting ready – watching and waiting with anticipation of something new and wonderful – this is what Advent is all about.
John’s rhetorical style may be a bit abrasive, rough around the edges, but at the heart of his message is the Good News that the light of Christ is coming into the world . . . the Son of God is coming to us, coming to live in and among us . . . and this is definitely something to rejoice about!!
And rejoicing brings us to this Sunday, the third Sunday in Advent, which is traditionally known as Gaudete Sunday. Gaudete is the Latin word for rejoice. This day is traditionally the day during Advent when the focus on getting ready, the focus on the discipline of Advent preparation, is relaxed a bit. And it’s also the day we light the rose colored candle on the Advent wreath, the candle that symbolizes joy.
In the epistle reading Paul invites us to “rejoice in the Lord always.” Today is a day not to be troubled or worried, a day when we remember that God’s peace is so wide and deep that it passes all our understanding. Today is a day to remember that God wants us to be happy – the kind of happy that goes deep and sustains us even through hard times.
At the same time, the experience of joyful peace is not always easy to find this time of year. For many this can be the most troubling season of the year – with the anxieties and expectations that arise around Christmas. Maybe you feel a mounting pressure to have everything “just right” for the holidays as Christmas is coming ever closer.
Paul’s answer to all this in the letter to the Philippians is “Let your gentleness be known to everyone. The Lord is near. Do not worry about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God.”
But even with prayer and supplication, pain and heartache can overwhelm us. Sorrow and tragedy cannot necessarily be held at bay, even on days set aside for rejoicing. That Peace of God, which surpasses all understanding” can be elusive – regardless of Paul’s assurances that it “will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.”
This past week we’ve all been drawn into mourning with the families and friends of the twenty-six victims – many of them children – killed in the shooting tragedy in Connecticut. For all of us these days are filled with grief instead of joy. This tragedy reminds us about how vulnerable we are as human beings. While we walk the face of this earth there is no place of perfect safety – no place where we are totally protected from violence.
As Christians, we know that personal suffering does – or someday will – lie directly in our paths. In this we are not alone. As Christians, we follow the way of the cross knowing that when we mourn, when we are in pain, we held ever-more tightly in the arms of Jesus – Jesus who suffered and died a violent and merciless human death – – Jesus who comforts us and draws us into his peace with the words
“Come to me all you who are weary . . . and I will give you rest.”
And so – in his peace and rest . . . Gaudate!!!! . . . Rejoice in the Lord always; again I say, Rejoice. . . . And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, truly will guard your hearts and your minds and His Peace will keep you in knowledge and love of Christ Jesus. . . .