My thoughts for tomorrow's sermon:
Church traditions in the Advent and Christmas seasons can be a bit mysterious. Today I plan to unlock a few of the mysteries. Even calling the season Advent or Christmas makes a difference in church circles. We are in ADVENT, the ‘season’ of Christmas begins at Christmas and extends until Jan 6 which is the day of epiphany. (Epiphany is always Jan. 6 whether or not it is a Sunday. We tend to celebrate it on a Sunday near by.)
The Advent Wreath is another tradition. We are used to seeing the wreath and it’s pretty purple candles and that one odd pink candle. Why the pink candle?
You may know the answer, pink is for joy. (roses; joy of being here 1 year) Even knowing that pink is for joy, did you ever wonder how a pink candle ended up in the wreath among the purple?
• First you need to know a little more about Advent. The season of advent was modeled on the church season of Lent as a time of penitence and reflection leading up to Christmas the way Lent gives us a special time to prepare for Easter.
• In early Lenten seasons, fasting was a big part of the tradition. The church decided that since Lent holds the hint of hope since resurrection is the essence of Easter, there should be a break in the fasting and a FEAST should be celebrated.
o On that Feast day, the Pope began to give someone in the congregation a PINK ROSE.
o Later, pink vestments were worn and other things in pink became inserted into the Royal Purple of Lent.
When ADVENT began, the Pink day among the purple days was continued so we have a PINK candle in the wreath of PURPLE candles to recall the JOY of that comes at Christmas.
I can’t promise to answer all your questions today but here’s another one:
Why do we read so many passages from the Prophets, specifically why today’s text from ZEPHANIAH?
The prophetic message has always been a big part of Christmas. When people experienced Christ, they recognized him as the fulfillment of prophecy. So we return to Isaiah and Zephaniah, Micah, Jeremiah and others to hear their words predicting destruction and yet promising a reason for hope, in light of the story of Jesus’ birth.
ADVENT MAY BE THE ONLY TIME WE CAN REALLY STAND TO HEAR THE PROPHETS. “Prophets say what no one wants to hear or believe. They point in directions no one wants to look. Prophets heard God when every else concluded God was or is silent. Prophets see God when nobody else does and they feel God’s presence when everyone else is numb.
Prophets also feel God’s compassion, anger, and joy. They dream God’s dreams and utter a wak up call to us. They hope God’s hopes and announce a new future even while we are still in the bleak present. Prophets will God’s will and live it against all odds. They sing GOD’s SONG and sometimes interrupt our program with a change of tune.” Deborah Block wrote those insightful words about prophets and her message is true about Zephaniah.
Zephaniah prophesied at the time of King Josiah of Judah (2 kingdoms, north and south). King Josiah became king when he was 8 years old Some scholars believe Zephaniah prophesied in the early years of his reign when Judah’s idolatry, corruption and injustice were severe. When King Josiah was 18, the high priest found a book of LAW in the temple while it was undergoing repairs that showed them how far God’s people had strayed from God’s teaching. Josiah’s reform in 621 BCE returned Torah observance to the center of life.
Often we can’t identify with ancient Judah and Israel. It was so “long ago and far away.” Yet we can identify with corruption and injustice. I saw a movie on TV recently about modern slave trade where young women traveling alone were followed and ‘taken’ captive. They were brutalized and kept as sex slaves, a pure money-making operations for their “owners.” It is easy to see the owners and perpetrators as evil but what of the people who bought women or used women and enabled the business of slaves to be so profitable.
It doesn’t take news reading or watching for us to think that the pride, idolatry and corruption of Josiah’s time is not so different than our time. It’s just that many of us are insulated from the horror. It takes a movie or tragic news story to wake us up and realize the problem is real. When we do face the reality, we can feel helpless to do anything about it. Slave trade, starvation, medicines held from needy people because of religious differences, walls built between countries; there are so many stories of desperate people and desperate acts that we get overwhelmed by the images.
That God judges and laments the way of humanity is as real today as ever. God is not absent from the pain of rape, poverty, and killing rages. God hates it as much today as in the time of Zephaniah.
We must hear his finger-point condemnation and accept our parts in the evil of the world. We bear a sense of guilt for whatever part our silence adds to the horror or where our piece of the material chain means some child is abused in factory work. We have to accept that our preference for ignoring the stories behind our goods and products is merely a way of escaping reality, it doesn’t change that reality for people who are suffering.
There comes a time when we must realize that however innocent our behavior is, we are all accomplices in the ways of human and that we deserve the harsh judgment of the prophets. We can appreciate their longing for justice to be restores and people healed. WE TOO long for a time when wars will cease and people will stop hurting each other.
All this prophetic judgment leads us to a final question;
WHERE IS THE JOY in this 3rd Sunday of advent? Where can we look for the joy of the pink candle in the midst of the longing for wholeness, justice and peace on earth?
Joy comes for Zephaniah as he looks ahead to a remnant being preserved from the destruction that will come.
Joy comes as we realize “God comes and is WITH US, Immanuel, and God’s presence among God’s peple makes all the difference.
Joy comes from our hope, that life will not always be held captive by evil and that we will and DO glimpse moments when people act with love.
1. We know there are times when compassion rules the day
2. When giving triumphs over stealing
3. When life is more important that killing and
4. Love overcomes hate.
Our joy is rooted in the experience of the life that is born at Christmas.
In the Victoria and Albert Museum in London, is a statue about 19” high of the Virgin and Child. I read that it was purchased in 1858 in Paris and is made very simply. No one knows who made it.
When people see it they laugh. People laugh because the child is laughing. The baby Jesus is looking at you as you look at him, and HE IS LAUGHING. Joy to the world, the Lord has come.
Our joy is rooted in the Christ who is, who was, and who is to come. It’s not that we have escaped most of the horror of the world, but that the horror can be stopped each time someone experiences the God in our midst and repents, TURNS around, and lives differently. Only God can intiative that kind of redemption. Our joy is in knowing that God Rules and reaches out thru people like us to bring change.
That’s the joy we see and it’s where our hope lies. That our simple acts of kindness multiplied by God’s endless love, can make a difference. When lives are restored to right relationship with God, new life is born.
We need the PINK candle to remind us of joy even when we are experiencing the hopelessness of evil.
‘but’ if you will allow me one more question;
We might ask, is that all there is? The HOPE of joy while we wait?
Actually, there IS more.
It is the picture Zephaniah paints of God’s Joy, “God as the one who bursts into song with joy over God’s beloved: (v. 17-18) “GOD will rejoice OVER YOU with gladness, GOD will renew you in his love; GOD will exult over you with loud singing.”
This is not God at a distance but God so intentionally involved in humanity that Divine Love is birthed into a human and IT – GIVES - GOD – JOY!.
Picture the scene in pink if you will, God, laughing with us in delightful joy.
The God who knows us so well that God forgives our Unfaithfulness and our love affair with things,
God forgives our complacency and corruption,
God’ forgives all the injustice of the ages,
EVEN the execution of the gift of Jesus.
THIS God rejoices when relationship is restored between human and The Divine.
THIS God rejoices when we act with love and we allow
DIVINE COMPASSION to be BORN IN US.
THIS is our wonderful God, the source of our Joy, because we are the source of God’s joy.