St. Mark's Episcopal Church

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Advent III 2014 Sermon
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Jim Campbell

You know me and my quest for Christian history and tradition!  Today I have another bit of church tradition for you!  The following is paraphrased from that eternal web source of knowledge, Wikipedia:
 
“This third Sunday in Advent has a pink candle on the Advent wreath and is called Gaudete Sunday.  (What we have at St. Mark’s is not a wreath per se but more an Advent candles holder.)  On this day rose-colored vestments may be worn instead of purple the color standard for the season of Advent (or in the Anglican tradition and some Lutheran traditions, Sarum blue).  Despite the sometimes somber readings of the season of Advent, emphasizing its secondary theme of the need for penitence, Gaudete Sunday’s readings focus on Advent’s first priority, the joyous anticipation of the baby Jesus’ coming.
 
Today takes its name from the Latin word Gaudete ("Rejoice").  Philippians 4:4–5 says: “Rejoice in the Lord always; again I say, rejoice.  Let your forbearance be known to all, for the Lord is near at hand; have no anxiety about anything, but in all things, by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, let your requests be known to God.”  
 
The season of Advent originated as a fast of forty days in preparation for Christmas, commencing on the day after the feast of St. Martin (celebrated on November 12th)--it was often called "St. Martin's Lent"—a name by which it was known as early as the fifth century.  In the ninth century, the duration of Advent was reduced to four weeks, but Advent preserved most of the characteristics of a penitential season which made it a kind of counterpart to Lent.  Gaudete Sunday occurs midway in this original 40 day season, and signifies the nearness of the Lord's coming.  (By the way, there is a counterpart to this Sunday in Lent--Laetare or Mothering Sunday or Refreshment Sunday or Rose Sunday, the 4th Sunday and halfway point of Lent.  It is also a time to rejoice, with similar vestments options as this Gaudete Sunday, and it is a day set aside to relax from the rest of the Lenten disciplines.)
 
The spirit of the Liturgy all through Advent is one of expectation and preparation for the feast of Christmas as well as for the second coming of Christ, and any penitential themes are suspended  on Gaudete Sunday for a while in order to symbolize the joy and gladness in the promised Redemption.”  What this says about saying “Alleluias” in Advent is unclear.
 
 
From what we have been reading in Advent so far, it is very clear our readings this week are more upbeat and joyful.  In fact, they are downright hopeful for those who struggle in life, as they need to be.
 
In our first reading today from Isaiah 61, verses 1-2: “The spirit of the Lord God is upon me, because the Lord has anointed me; he has sent me to bring good news to the oppressed, to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and release to the prisoners; to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor, and the day of vengeance of our God; to comfort all who mourn.”
 
When one looks at the situation in our country today, with the largest wealth inequality our nation has seen since the late 1920s (just before the Wall Street Crash of 1929 and the Depression of the 1930s), and a less favored middle class than the late 1940s and 1950s, it is easy to wonder who God favors at this time.

The Rev. Dr. Alan Brehm of First Presbyterian Church in Dickinson, Texas talks about that very issue: “But I think it’s important at this point to ask on whom does God’s favor rest.  Does God’s favor rest on just the few, only the chosen, only the “righteous”?  That idea is not consistent with the strange Kingdom of Heaven we’ve seen and heard about in Jesus’ parables.  In fact, it’s not even consistent with the Angels’ announcement of “peace on earth” itself.  It was made to shepherds, the ultimate outcasts in the Jewish world of that time.  It seems to me that the announcement of “peace on earth to all whom God favors” is precisely to those who would seem to be the most disfavored of people; it indicates that its God’s peace for all that is the promise of Advent.  It’s God’s good will toward the whole human family that the Angels’ Christmas declaration is talking about!”
 
In verse 2 Isaiah announces “the year of the Lord’s favor.”  This is shorthand for the “year of Jubilee,” the time when all debts were cancelled and all property sold or mortgaged was returned to the original owners.  Leviticus 25, verses 8-11 says: “Count off seven sabbath years—seven times seven years—so that the seven sabbath years amount to a period of forty-nine years.  Then have the trumpet sounded everywhere on the tenth day of the seventh month; on the Day of Atonement sound the trumpet throughout your land.  Consecrate the fiftieth year and proclaim liberty throughout the land to all its inhabitants.  It shall be a jubilee for you; each of you is to return to your family property and to your own clan.  The fiftieth year shall be a jubilee for you; do not sow and do not reap what grows of itself or harvest the untended vines.” 
 
Unfortunately, as one commenter pointed out, there is no evidence in history that this Jubilee Year ever occurred, as it is likely the wealthy and powerful would not stand for it.  Why would they give up what they had so callously taken and give it all back?
 
Well, back to Rev. Dr. Brehm’s words: “Isaiah reminds us that in “the year of the Lord’s favor,” God comes to set right ‘everything that has gone wrong, which make it possible for all people to thrive.  It’s a time when God’s grace defines life for all people.’  To some extent, God’s coming to set things right involves an element of “judgment.”  But as we have seen many times, from the perspective of God’s grace “judgment” is never simply punishment.  We might envision it as “preparing the way for the Lord,” as making straight what is crooked in order that it may be set right.  It is a matter of restoring us all to the people we were meant to be.  And it extends ultimately to all humankind—just and unjust, righteous and sinful alike.”
 
In my view, in the United States we are way overdue for a “Jubilee Year”!  If not literally, then at least in our collective mindsets and in our hearts!  It is time for those who fear others “who don’t “deserve it” taking what they “own”, and for those who take and hoard everything and believe they are especially favored, to find out that judgment will come, and that things will change for a fairer time for all.  And all of us in the church everywhere have roles to play to make this happen.
 
  
In our reading from 1st Thessalonians, verses 16-24: “Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.  Do not quench the Spirit.  Do not despise the words of prophets, but test everything; hold fast to what is good; abstain from every form of evil.  May the God of peace himself sanctify you entirely; and may your spirit and soul and body be kept sound and blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ.  The one who calls you is faithful, and he will do this.”
 
Everyone is out for him or herself and lawyers offering litigation are among the best paid professionals!  Paul's appeal goes against the grain of this self-centered world, calling all not only to a way of life in the community but in openness towards all. This way of life that characterizes Christian "waiting" breaks open the restrictions and restraints of human interaction focused upon one self. 
 
But there are other signs of this waiting as well.  Paul could not state it more clearly, "Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances."  We are not being told to keep a law; this is not a command that must somehow be fulfilled.  Rather, Paul is naming the work of the Spirit in the midst of the community, in the midst of life.  John (Tennefoss) brings this up for us in Bible study all the time, that we need to listen to the Holy Spirit to act out our lives.  It is the Spirit's work that awakens and sustains rejoicing and prayer and thanksgiving.  In other letters, Paul makes it clear that these things are fruits of the Spirit.
 
We are clearly told to act and be positive in our lives as Christians, and to look ahead to a better time for all we encounter.  AMEN!

 
 
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