Sunday, December 11, 2016

Third Advent Sunday

December 11, 2016  Third Advent  James 5: 7-10

Good morning.  A little liturgical history to start with.  The season of Advent evolved  as a mirror image of the season of Lent.  Originally a parallel six weeks in length, and the fourth Sunday in both observed as a pause for refreshment in the fast, with purple or black vestments and paraments temporarily replaced with a soft rose color.  In Lent the Fourth Sunday, “Laetare Sunday,”  in Advent, “Gaudete.”  The names of these days taken from the first word of the Latin text of the Choir Introit appointed for the day.  Both words are generally translated in English as “rejoice,”   Though the have slightly different nuances.  Laetare is a bit more inward in connotation, while Gaudete has a sense of outward expressiveness.    By the time of the reforms of the calendar at the Council of Trent in the middle 16th century Advent had been abbreviated, now four weeks, and Gaudete Sunday observed on the Third Sunday.  The Choral Introit, “Gaudete in Domino semper; iterum dico, Gaudete.”  From Philippians 4, as St. Paul wrote to that little church:  “Rejoice in the Lord always, and again I will say, Rejoice.  Let your gentleness be known to everyone.  The Lord is near.”   (Our Choir’s Introit this morning, in English rather than Latin.) 

I would pray with all this that we would each one of us hear the mid-Advent message and word of encouragement and refreshment in those words and in the quiet and lovely symbol of the Rose Candle.   Maybe thinking of it not so much as for one particular day on the calendar but even more as a Biblical word about the character of Christian life that we would be encouraged to explore and cultivate 24/7/365, in the sense that we are all our lives in the midst of an Advent, the in-between time, as we wait for the full realization for the victory that Christ as won.   That our lives and our relationship individually and as a congregational family, in our families and schools and where we work, everywhere, that this word of Gaudete would settle in as we wait for his coming.  So that the world would say, these Christians, how gentle they are, how good, how kind, how generous, how full of joy.  These Christians, how they love one another.  Rejoice in the Lord always.  And again I will say, rejoice.  The Lord is near.

As I mentioned a couple of weeks ago, I’m following the Epistle Lessons appointed for Advent in our lectionary A this year (and if you would be interested in having the series to take home with you for daily reflection, there are still copies in the narthex and over in Brooks Hall).  On this Third Advent Sunday morning  we turn to the Letter of St. James in the 5th chapter , and the Brother of our Lord and leader of the early Christian community in Jerusalem speaks pastorally to his congregation of the character of Spirit that makes the joy symbolized by our Gaudete Rose Candle a possibility.  The beginning of our selection this morning, verse seven, is the heart of it.  Short and sweet:  Be patient, until the coming of the Lord.  That’s James’s main pastoral message first to his congregation, as they lived in confusing, uncertain, tumultuous times—and then the Advent message for us this week, for the times we live in.   Be patient.  A word to an impatient people in an impatient world.  A patient spirit is the fruit of a life rooted in Christ Jesus and the condition that allows Christian relationships to grow.  Again: families, communities, congregations. 

Allowing ourselves to be impatient, to give way to anxiety, can be so destructive—as I think we can see evidence of this all around us.  The headlines in the morning paper and the sad mess of so many lives and families and communities and churches.  Perhaps even a sense of anxious urgency can be a tool of the Enemy, to work real spiritual harm, along with so much emotional and material and physical harm.  As a farmer plants seed into the earth and then waits carefully and confidently as beneath the soil the germination begins and the first growth of the new plant, so James says, “take a breath.”  Restfully, confidently.  There may not be much to see when you look at the newly planted field, but there is so much more going on under the surface.  To be patient until the coming of the Lord.  The full harvest is beginning, coming along just as it is supposed to,  but slowly and silently.  To the naked eye the world may show no evidence of what Christ has done.  The works of darkness continue, human brokenness and sin and strife--in our homes and families and our cities and nations.  Even tragically in the life of our Church and perhaps most of all in the people we look at when we look into the mirror in the morning.  But be patient, says James: be patient, and trust in the Lord, who has begun a good work, a perfect work, and will bring it to completion.  Establish your hearts in hope, trust him and trust this process of transformation, trust in what he has promised, what he has demonstrated for us in the victory of his Cross.

Patience is a difficult thing.  Especially rare in our culture, with our mentality of the race to the finish line.  Buy now, pay later.   We want what we want, and we want it yesterday!   Some have said we in this time suffer from a kind of collective Attention Deficit Disorder.  Reflected so often in our marriages and family life, in our sense of vocation and career, in the crazy way the misuse of drugs and alcohol and money and sex cascades all around us.  A world of secret potions and magic wands and politicians and salesmen and religious leaders on every side promising the moon.   Buy now, pay later.  The latest diet book on the supermarket magazine rack: “30 days to a new you.”  So often we push ourselves, we push our kids, we push each other.  Sometimes just a nudge, but other times with violence of words and actions.  Because we can’t wait to have what we think we need to have—we can’t wait to get to where we think we need to be.

But Advent is about this patient waiting.  About re-centering.  Calling us back from the edge, calling us away from the storm of busyness:  about discovering, exploring, finding the deep contentment of a patient life.  Waiting for Christmas each year is a little part of it.  An annual discipline, just to see if we still have it in us.  Waiting for Jesus to be known and to make a difference in our lives and in our world.  Waiting for Jesus to come again, in power and great glory.  Leaning forward with anticipation, but with a heart that is content, a spirit that rests in confidence. 

Advent  isn’t just about four weeks in December.  It is instead a re-set button for the whole year, for how we understand ourselves, how we live.   It is about the character of our life in Christ.  About who we really can become as we turn to him in faith, join ourselves to him, place ourselves in his hands. 

Again, may this holy season of Advent and especially this Gaudete Sunday be a source of enrichment, a time of deep and patient contentment, of grace, of joy, and of peace.  “Rejoice in the Lord always, and again I will say, Rejoice.  Let your gentleness be known to everyone.  The Lord is near.”  

Walk in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself for us, an offering and a sacrifice to God.

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