Fr. Bill Carroll – The Third Sunday of Advent, December 12, 2021
Recently, I saw one of the most joyful events I have seen in a long, long time. Last Tuesday night, Pine Tree High School was performing in their annual Christmas concert here at Trinity. Dozens of young people were singing Christmas music, under the direction of Danielle Warren, who sings with our choir. I’d been planning to sit up here in my usual place, but then I decided that looked weird. And so, I looked around for someone to sit with. I noticed Sammy and Cherisa York sitting in the front pew, and I asked to sit with them. It turned out Cherisa was accompanying the choir on the piano right in front of us. And Miranda Dolive had been working as their voice coach.
In her welcoming remarks before the concert, Danielle noted that it was the first time that these young people had sung together in public in two years. If I heard her correctly, the last time they sang in public was the same concert at Trinity back in 2019, not long before everything shut down.
And it was such a beautiful, joyful thing, to see their faces and to hear their voices. There’s something about people singing together that draws us out of ourselves. And these kids were clearly in love with their conductor. Add to that proud parents and teachers that clearly love their students, and you have a recipe for real joy. Fr. Andrew was here Thursday night for the Trinity School of Texas La Posada, and he tells me that there was a similar joyful spirit in the room. (It’s always a standing-room only crowd.) And there were all those parents and kids, celebrating the nearness of Christ. What a joyful thing! As Christmas comes near, God is regathering us to sing, to celebrate, and to rejoice.
And so today, we hear some ancient songs of joy. Among the most powerful of these is our canticle (Canticle 9), the so-called First Song of Isaiah. It is familiar to many of us from Morning Prayer. In it, we hear God’s People lifting up their voices and singing in a time of exile, great anxiety, and fear:
Surely, it is God who saves me; (they sing)
I will trust in him and not be afraid.
(I will trust in him and not be afraid.)
Today, brothers and sisters is all about JOY. It is about the joy of Jesus and his love breaking out in our world. It is about the joy of God gathering us together for worship, for fellowship, and for service. However we’ve been separated from each other, however we’ve been separated from God, whatever worries and burdens we may be carrying today, God has come near to save us. For Jesus has come near. Even now, the air is crackling with the power of his presence. Behold, living water is flowing in the desert, causing it to bloom.
And so, our lessons this morning cry out with joy. The Epistle, especially, calls us to rejoice. The traditional name for this Sunday of the Church Year (the Third Sunday of Advent), Gaudete Sunday, comes from the first word of that lesson—the Latin word for “rejoice.” We light the pink candle today. In many places, the vestments are rose-pink. It’s as if Mother Church, like Mother Mary, is radiant and blushing with joy and new life:
Rejoice in the Lord always (the Apostle tells us), again I will say, “Rejoice.” Let your gentleness be known to everyone. The Lord is near.
Our Old Testament lesson, from the prophet Zephaniah, likewise overflows with joy:
Sing aloud, O daughter Zion,
and shout, O Israel!
Rejoice and exult with all your heart…
For the LORD has taken away the judgments against you…
Today, our long season of waiting is nearly over. Today, Jesus is at the doorstep—and the Kingdom of God is at hand. The Lord has come to us in mercy and in justice. He has come with tidings of great joy. And we are about to behold him, face-to-face.
Jesus is here among us to offer us a fresh start and a new life. He is here to make all things new.
His love (the love of Jesus) is the answer to the fear that grips our world today. Joy is God’s answer to everything that makes us afraid. Jesus says it again and again. So too do the angels, the apostles, and the prophets. “Fear not (they tell us). Do not be afraid.”
Even now—even now, brothers and sisters— Jesus has come near. He’s come near to show us God’s love. He’s come to show us the Way. He has come to break the power of sin and death in our lives.
John the Baptist knew that. As he called the People of Israel to repent, he pointed to the coming Savior—to the One more powerful than he. John knew that Jesus was coming soon and that he would baptize us, not with water, but with fire—with the Holy Spirit, with God’s own fire of love.
John has some harsh things to say to those of us who presume on God’s kindness—to those who think we’re special or that God owes us some kind of favor. John offers us (as Jesus will) the possibility of change and renewal—of being washed in the “springs of salvation.”
And he gives us directions for how to live in a world that’s often hostile to God and empty of love for our neighbors: “Whoever has two coats (he says) must give to those who have none.” “Share your food (he says). Do your job. Do not oppress your neighbors.”
When Jesus comes, he will be even more demanding. Jesus will come to claim our whole lives back for God.
But which of us—really—has done even what John asks us to?
Like the other prophets before him, John can uncompromising.
But he nothing is compared with Jesus, the Mighty God and Savior who is to come.
And that’s Good News. It’s Good News, certainly, for all who might otherwise freeze or starve to death. But it’s Good News also for all the rest of us—for anyone who is separated from the people that we love—for anyone who feels isolated or alone or afraid. It is Good News for all of us. It’s Good News even for those of us who have coats and food and other good gifts to spare. It’s Good News for all of us who have ever found ourselves far, far from home.
For God has not abandoned us. God will never, ever give up on us. He comes to us to claim us—to turn our hearts back to him and back to each other.
God comes among us to fill our hearts with joy.
And so, we do rejoice in the Lord, always.
He is near us, and we share the gifts he gives us.
“Surely, it is God who saves me; I will trust in him and not be afraid.”