“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. Lord, you have blessed your land; you have turned away the captivity of Jacob.”
That is the traditional introit for this third Sunday in Advent. In Latin, rejoice is Gaudete. We don’t use Latin in our church, but there are vestiges of it in our Book of Common Prayer.
Thankfully for us Anglos, the proper language for worship is English.
Rejoice in the Lord always, again I say rejoice. This is a quotation of St. Paul’s epistle to the Philippians, 4:4-6.
The appointed readings for today carry the theme as well.
Rejoice and exult with all your heart,
O daughter Jerusalem!
The LORD has taken away the judgments against you,
he has turned away your enemies.
—-From the prophecy of Zephaniah.
Cry aloud, inhabitants of Zion, ring out your joy, *
for the great one in the midst of you is the Holy One of Israel.
——From the first song of Isaiah.
“You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come?”
St. John in the Gospel according to St. Luke.
OK, that last one doesn’t really have any rejoicing, does it?
It seems like St. John the Baptist is a party pooper, right? Who invited him anyway?
What there is in this reading, is the sense of expectation at the words of St. John.
There is a lot of prophecy in the Hebrew Bible about the coming of the Messiah.
In fact there is a prophecy about St. John, too.
“Behold, I send my messenger, and he will prepare the way before me. And the Lord whom you seek will suddenly come to his temple; and the messenger of the covenant in whom you delight, behold, he is coming, says the Lord of hosts.” (Malachi 3:1)
So if there is any rejoicing to be found in this reading it is that the Messiah, the Savior is coming soon.
Come, thou long expected Jesus, born to set thy people free;
from our fears and sins release us, let us find our rest in thee.
Israel’s strength and consolation, hope of all the earth thou art;
dear desire of every nation, joy of every longing heart.
These words are from a familiar hymn which was written by Charles Wesley, which we sang just now as our Gradual Hymn.
The Joy of every longing heart. What a great line!
The salvation of Jesus Christ is available to all, no matter your background. St. Luke carefully points out that the gentiles and those considered ritually unclean could receive that salvation on the condition of repentance.
St. Luke tells us that not only the Jews came out to see and be baptized, but the tax collectors and soldiers, too. Salvation is not just for saints, but for sinners, too.
Everyone wants to know how they can be saved. His admonition is simple. Do not defraud the poor, and share what you have with them.
In other more familiar words, Love your neighbor as yourself.
And prepare to receive the good news of salvation in Jesus Christ. There is the real joy of the season.
Sometimes it is hard to be joyful, especially in times of loss. But there is joy in knowing that we have eternal life, and that we will see our loved ones again.
St. Paul told us not to grieve as those who have no hope. “For since we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so, through Jesus, God will bring with him those who have fallen asleep.”
In a couple of weeks we will be celebrating one of the great feasts of the Church, the Holy Incarnation.
The Word made flesh, God becomes man. This is so important for us because we need to know how much our Father in heaven loves us. He loves us so much as to send his Son to be born as a baby just as we are. He does this so no one will feel too inferior and undeserving of that love.
The beauty of this event is that it recalls the time that God came to earth to find his bride, which is the Church. This bride has not always been faithful. She has gone after false gods, and strange doctrine. Jesus doesn’t care about that. He loves his bride the Church sacrificially.
He gave his life for his bride the Church, and held back nothing. He asks us to give our lives to him, and to hold back nothing. It is only then that we will know the true joy of salvation.
That joy comes when we know he loves us just as imperfect as we are, and yet he will lead us into perfection as we draw closer to him.
Our Lord and Savior now draws near. Come let us adore him. Amen.