December 15, 2019
Gaudate — Rejoice — See the Advent wreath with three candles lit, the third is pink, or more accurately rose — the color of joy, of Mary, of angels singing! And so, we can sing: “Rejoice in the Lord always, and again I say, rejoice! Rejoice in the Lord always, and again I say, rejoice. Rejoice, rejoice, and again I say, rejoice. Rejoice, rejoice, and again I say, rejoice. Rejoice in the Lord always and again, I say, rejoice!”
This Third Sunday in the season of Advent — adventus, Latin for coming — is often called Gaudate Sunday — the Sunday of joy. After two Sundays of preparing the way, beginning with prophetic words of old, prophets pronouncing dire consequences as the chosen people of God disobeys the One God; words delivered with a hint of terror, tinged with apocalyptic threats but also with a promise, the promise of a savior. Then, last Sunday we hear another prophetic challenge, this time proclaimed by the wild man John the Baptist, (aka Murray Trelease) — Repent, for the promised one is coming — Prepare!
Three candles in the darkness are now shining. Frederick Buchner wrote, “the promise of Advent is that what is coming is an unimaginable invasion, an invasion of holiness.” What is coming upon the world, upon us, is the Light of the world. It is the Christ, the anointed one. That is the comfort of it. The challenge is that it has not yet come. Only the hope of it has come, only the longing for it. In the meantime we are waiting in the dark, and the dark, God knows is also in us. We watch and wait for a holiness to heal us and hallow us, to liberate us from the dark. But, for now, we wait for the advent of dawn, the coming of good news.
And, now my dear ones, I wish to offer you a bit of joy, for it is the cultivation of joy that is our most secure pathway while in the dark. Duke Divinity professor of Theology, Willie Jennings says it this way: “Joy is an act of resistance against despair and its forces.” Kabul Gibran said, “The deeper sorrow carves into your being the more joy you contain.”
I say that my primary spiritual practice is the cultivation of joy. Sorrow comes our way unbidden, but joy, like love, is not a feeling but an act, a verb, a decision and it is the key to lighting the path when darkness surrounds us. I speak of cultivating joy, not as an intellectual reflection but as a practice I employ, an act of resistance against despair and its forces. For many years, it was simply a longing but in December of 2003, it became an act of resistance. If you will allow me to do so, I will guide you.
Close you eyes and imagine you are in the dark and in a very large space, a space the size of a cathedral. It is night and as you look around, you realize that the walls are black and that the windows are covered with large panels of plywood. As your eyes adjust, you can see a little bit of light here and there, candles burning and a few lamps scattered about the space. At one end, probably the sanctuary end, you see an enormous circle of plywood with scaffolding filling the space of what had been the great Rose window. Turning and looking to the other end, you see folding chairs and a great set of doors, you can see the lights beyond the door, lights of cars and buildings, the door itself is a fretwork of iron, with glass filling the gaps, designs of triangles. And then you notice there is an altar and two candles. Although you are facing away from the sanctuary, it seems fitting that the altar is at the back, beckoning those on the streets to come in. And now look, you see me. I am standing at that altar, in the back of the burned out cathedral, together with my deacon and we are defying the darkness, resisting against despair and its forces. I am defiant in my joy — choosing whatever tiny bit of light I can find to stand as a witness against the dark forces that plague our humanity. That one night in the blackened hull of our cathedral was filled with enough joy to light a city. We are the light for a world in darkness.
And, I cannot do it alone. I cannot cultivate joy without others who will stand with me. For that is the promise and it is the light of Christ that burns in each of us who have chosen to follow this path.
Beloved, we do not know what will unfold on this day or any other day but we, who are followers of the light of Christ, are called to rejoice even in the midst of the darkness. And so, I say to you again, “Rejoice in the Lord always and again I say, rejoice.”