Luke 3: 15-18
The World Needs Joy
After a long life of unselfish service, Father John O'Malley died and went to heaven. St. Peter met him at the gate and said: "John, you did such a wonderful job for us on earth, we'd like to do something special for you. You name it; it's yours."
John thought for a moment and said: "I'd like a private audience with the Holy Mother." St. Peter told him it would be arranged. On the appointed day, St. Peter escorted John to the Holy Mother's sanctuary. John went before Her, knelt, and said: "Holy Mother, I've always looked to you for guidance, and you have granted me peace and serenity through some difficult times. But I have one question that has nagged me during my whole time on earth. In all the paintings that were done of you, and in all the sculptures that were carved of you, you always looked so sad. Why is that?"
Mary thought for a moment, pursing her lips. She said: "I always wanted a girl."
Isn’t it funny that so often what we want, we have already, but we miss it because we focus on what we do not have?
Sometimes what we want is hidden from the clutter in our lives. Christmas time is certainly a prime example of how we often feel overwhelmed, we sense that this is supposed to be an important moment in our life, but often the responsibilities can hide the joy we are supposed to experience.
For many the sense of sorrow and feeling alone is at its height at this time of the year, because they are reminded of what they do not have, family, friends, who understand and love them.
For others, the financial issues and struggles have hit hard, it was reported that the number of homeless seeking cold winter shelter numbered 325 on the first night of the program for the East San Gabriel Valley, in comparison the number on the first night last year was around 100 and grew to 165 by the close of the program this past Feb.
In addition, I heard the report of the East Valley Clinic that serves those who have no health insurance, and they are seeing more and more families who have had very abundant lives but due to layoffs, are for the first time without health insurance or a job.
These realities cloud the joy of Christmas for so many.
What are we to do to rediscover joy in this time of preparation?
Paul points to the practice of rejoicing: 4Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, Rejoice.”
Notice that Paul says rejoice in the Lord, rejoice in God. He writes from a jail cell, and yet he still finds a way to rejoice. He rejoices in the Lord, the maker of heaven and earth, the prince of peace, the savior of the world. I confess I am sometimes so overwhelmed with the details of life, I forget to praise the creator of life.
Phillip Newell who wrote this book of Celtic prayers wrote this prayer:
Early in the morning, I seek your presence, O God
Not because you are ever, absent from me
But because often I am absent from you
At the heart of each moment
Where you forever dwell.
In the rising of the sun
In the unfolding color and shape of the morning
Open my eyes to the mystery of this moment
That in every moment of the day
I may know your life giving presence
Open my eyes to this moment
That in every moment
I may know you as the One who is always now.
When Paul talks about rejoicing in the Lord always, and in all ways he is talking about taking a moment to be still, to feel, to see the presence of God.
For many the business of life, the hurried, got to get it done right nowness, can push the joy right out of life.
Repent, John the Baptist says: let go of all that which clutters up your soul, release all the doubts, all the concerns, all the anxieties and fears. Let go and Let God move in to those places which so desperately need joy.
Once we rejoice in the presence of God in us, in the world Paul tells us how to respond: Let your gentleness be known to everyone. You may recall that two weeks ago, I ended my sermon with a challenge, to bring peace into the world in our daily living. When we are at the grocery store, to practice peace by helping someone who is trying to find an item, not getting mad when someone cuts us off on the road, being patient in line when the clerk is trying to go as fast as he/she can. As I have been trying to follow my own challenge, I have noticed it is not as easy as it sounds. Nevertheless, because I have been intentional to bring peace into this hurried season, I have been able to change my reactions to those who are in such a hurry. Instead of cursing, I strive to pray for those who cut me off, because the way they are driving they certainly need to be prayed for! In a world that is often so harsh, we do well to practice gentleness.
Next, “The Lord is near. 6Do not worry about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God.”
This week has been finals week for both my daughters. Usually it is a high stress time of year for us all. I noticed however, it is not the usual sort of chaos that I am usually glad to get away from. Rather, they both have been calmer than usual. The secret according to Amber was getting some of her work done before finals hit.
I was looking at facebook and noticed that the School of Theology at Claremont was taking suggestions about how to manage finals. They were awarding a free lunch to those who came up with the best suggestions. I put my two cents worth in, study with friends! It works to help you test out what you know with peers before you have to write it down. It works to help you realize what you missed, and you help one another figure out what is essential to know. The other key for my daughter was that the teachers gave them a study outline for the test. With all the material they had to read, it was good to know what topics were going to be the focus of the test.
These simple lessons can help us in life, so we can have more joy, to loosen the bonds of worry, so we can be free to rejoice.
We too can have times of stress, and it is the work we have done to repent of those things that are unimportant in order to have room for what is important that will help us through. The gift we give to ourselves is to take the time to build a healthy strong relationship to God, because in the tough times it is good to know we can rely on God to bring us joy even when all seems lost
Friends are important because they help us gain perspective and help us see how we may have lost sight of what is really important.
In the first part of the chapter Paul says: therefore, my brothers and sisters, whom I love and long for, my joy and crown, stand firm in the Lord in this way, my beloved
This image of calling his brother and sisters as “my joy and crown” reminds me of a story I read about a pastor who told this story:
“I complimented a woman in Rustin, Louisiana, on her jewelry. She smiled and said, "Thank you. I collect gems." I agreed and said, "It shows."
"No," she insisted. "I don't collect those gems. I collect real 'gems'--I have a gem of a husband, a gem of a daughter, a gem of a friend, a gem of a pastor. Those are the real 'gems' I invest in."