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"Joy is our True Home" by Christine Wilke, Plymouth Church UCC - December 17, 2017

posted Jan 3, 2018, 9:25 AM by Plymouth Church UCC

I want to begin by telling you the story behind today’s sermon. Shortly after I accepted Andrew’s offer to preach today I started thinking about what to preach. But at the time I was in the midst of filling in for a colleague who was out of town so I didn’t give it too much thought because I was preparing those sermons. Yet on the overnight between Friday, December 8 and Saturday December 9, I woke up in the middle of the night from a really sound, peaceful, relaxing, non-dreaming, sleep with an idea. It came to me more like an image, so maybe it was a vision from the Holy Spirit. Or maybe it was the result of my overactive mind, because as you know, our minds really never sleep, or maybe it was a combination of both. It was so vivid that I knew it’s what I needed to preach about today. It was so vivid that I didn’t even need to write it down. I knew I would remember it in the morning and I did.

The idea or vision I had was this candle. This rose or pink colored candle.

You don’t have a rose colored candle in your Advent wreath because like many Protestant churches, you use the color blue for Advent - blue banners, blue ornaments on the tree, and blue Advent candles. There’s probably several reasons for that. The best one in my mind, is that using blue for Advent helps differentiate it from Lent so that purple is not the color for both of those seasons and we don’t confuse them because we are using the same color.

Lent is a season of repentance. Advent is a season of hope, anticipation, expectation, and waiting as we prepare to celebrate the birth of our savior and wait for his return. Yet Advent is about more than that. It’s more than passively waiting, and hoping, and anticipating, and expecting.

Advent is about Jesus the Christ coming into our world and into our lives and hearts in all moments, all places, and all times, past, present, and future. During Advent we are reminded that Jesus’ coming is not static. It is not two events – one taking place in the past, over 2,000 years ago when Jesus was born, and the other occurring in the future somewhere when he returns. And we are not just waiting passively during this in-between time.

Rather, Jesus continually comes into the world through us and our actions, as individuals and faith communities – in the ways we treat one another and care for each other, especially the least among us: people without food or clothing or housing, those who are discriminated against, who are immigrants, and who are incarcerated. Jesus is born in us and through us whenever we give of ourselves and live his values in the world. He comes into the world over and over and over again through our acts of love, kindness, mercy, justice, understanding, and forgiveness towards others and even toward ourselves.

And all of you here at Plymouth do this a lot. Jesus comes into the world when you serve a meal at St. Ben’s or to the Pathfinder youth, when you host your holiday gift fair, when you send cards and notes to church members who can’t be here on Sunday or are hurting in some way. Jesus even comes into the world when you learn about and struggle with White Privilege, immigration, and civil rights; when you let yourself be vulnerable, feel uncomfortable; and allow your faith to inform and guide all of your beliefs. So through this congregation and each of you, Jesus comes into the world in very real and concrete ways all the time, not just during Advent. And that’s wonderful and commendable.

Yet, I know that doing everything you do can also be exhausting. It can be discouraging especially when we turn on the news or go on the internet or check social media and every single day we see that something we have worked for is being undone, like equal rights or health insurance for children or religious freedom for all people. Or we learn that Native American sacred lands are no longer protected or that certain parts of the government are banned from using the words - vulnerable, fetus, diversity, transgender, science-based, evidence-based, and entitlement.

With so much fear and anger and resentment in our society and when every day seems more absurd and terrifying than the last, we may feel overwhelmed, overburdened, and even hopeless at times. I know I do. These days it can be a struggle just to maintain our faith, our hope, and our joy.

That’s why I brought this candle - to remind us.

Today is the third Sunday of Advent, commonly known as Gaudete Sunday. Gaudete means rejoice, don’t lose heart. And even though we lit the candle of Peace today here at Plymouth, I noticed that the liturgy we used was about joy. We said “God of Joy, you break through clouds of despair and sorrow to bring good news to your people.” And we ended the liturgy by saying “We light this candle, knowing that joy is our true home.”

So today I am reminding each of us here to rejoice, or as Paul writes, “rejoice always.” I am reminding us to take some time to step away from the busyness and activity of the season, to let go of our feelings of despair, hopelessness, fear, and anger, for a just a little while, and to take a break from all that overwhelms us.

To stop. To breathe. To rejoice.

To help us with that, in addition to this bigger candle, I have these rose or pink colored tea lights. I hope that each of you will take one home with you and at some point this week you will sit down and light it and look at it and remember.

Remember that through the one whose birth we are about to celebrate, whose return we anticipate, and who comes into the world through us and our actions, we already have victory over sin, evil, suffering, violence, destruction, and death and because of that victory those things do not rule this world. They have no power over us and they will not have the last word. God’s love has overcome and will continue to overcome all of them.

Rejoice and don’t lose heart.

Gaze at your tealight burning bright and remember that God is faithful. God continues to move all of creation and every person toward redemption. You know the quote by MLK Jr: “The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice.” It is the same for redemption. The arc of God’s love and work in the world is long, but it bends toward redemption and humans can work with God to bring that redemption into the world, and although it often seems like some among us are working against God, no matter what in the end we cannot and will not thwart God.

Rejoice and don’t lose heart.

Take your hands and feel the heat from the flame of the candle and remember that our God is Emanuel, God with us, God right here in the middle of life, always coming into the world. And because God is always present, it is okay for us to take a break, to practice Sabbath. We do not have to be reading and watching and thinking and reacting and doing things all of the time.

So turn off the news, take a social media break, and do something that brings you joy. Take a nap, meditate, walk the dog in the snow, go see “The Last Jedi,” spend some extra time with your children or your friends or your friends’ children, prepare your favorite food, re-read your favorite book, watch sappy Christmas movies or not-so sappy Christmas movies, sing in the car, dance around your kitchen.

Do something so that when another person asks you, “What did you do last night?” you can say, “I rejoiced.” That’s not usually the way we use that word. We don’t look at rejoicing as an activity but it is. It is something we do and I hope that each of you will spend some time rejoicing this week.

Rejoice, don’t lose heart. Remember our God is always with us and joy is our true home. Amen.