In case you missed the service, please read the sermon, by Lay-Leader, Pete Toot.
JOY AND COMMITMENT – 12/11/2022
Pete Toot – Joy Sunday
Welcome to the third Sunday of Advent, the 15 th day of the Church Year. The Ides of
December. Welcome to the Sunday of Joy, that Sunday which in the liturgical
calendar of Western Christianity is known as Gaudete Sunday. Gaudete is the first
word of the first phrase of the introit for this day’s mass in the Roman Catholic
Church: “Gaudete in Domino semper” – “Rejoice in the Lord always.”
A history lesson about Advent in 3 sentences… Advent has been around for over for
1500 years, is a period of penitence, or contrition, before Christmas like Lent is before
Easter. 1000 years ago, Advent was shortened to four weeks, and at its midpoint
Gaudete Sunday was introduced as a break in repentance to rejoice in the nearness of
the Lord’s coming. Similar to Anglican and Lutheran traditions, both of which can be
thought of as birthplaces of the New Church as a unique faith tradition, we light a
rose colored candle in the Advent Wreath adding today to the light of the circle of the
So let’s do a congregational check-up. How do you feel today? Are you especially,
profoundly joyful this morning? Caught up in rejoicing that it is only two weeks until
Christmas? – – – Are we all tired after two weeks lamenting all the wrongdoings and
sinning we’ve been up to through the year? Do we just really just need this one day,
today, this officially sanctioned break to feel happy?
Why should this sound strange? Aren’t we all on a Joy Sunday high? The answer that
comes to mind is probably not, but that’s normal since the world has changed a lot
from when religion was the central focus of community life and the church was very
much a part of everyday activities. Today life is more a race to stay ahead of what
comes at us. Families, communities, and even our view of the world and its peoples
are fragmented. News and opinions flood over us. We do not finish reacting to one
thing before another interrupts and takes its place. One result is that the rhythms of
church life, such as where we are on the liturgical calendar, don’t get felt the same
way they once did. Festival days come and go unthought of. The plan may affect the
sequence of the messages we hear in sermons, and bible readings in church, or
possibly the daily email Bible verse, but it is only the well commercialized holidays like
Christmas and Easter that hold our attention, drive our travel plans, our shopping
plans, our eating plans, and communications with family and friends.
I have some ideas about this, but let’s check out where our group’s Advent thinking is.
This is a another quiz. In this church we use a particular sequence of Sunday themes.
But those interested enough can go online and find all sorts of ideas about how
Advent should unfold. Our first Advent Sunday was “Hope Sunday” and it implies that
the first thing we would feel about the coming Christmas is that something is needed
and we can just hope that need can be filled. If we do catch that feeling, how the Lord
will do this may not even occur to us. – – – And this Sunday is “Joy Sunday” and we’ve
described this is where we sense that help for us is really coming soon, and we can
feel joy creeping in. – – – How many of you can name what the other two Sunday
themes are? Or know why there even are those themes, or what order they are in? –
- – Frankly, whatever order you put them in, a scheme can be put together to make it
a good Christmas story with a plot in which we are included. But maybe this shows
it’s not the ritual that has the most value. Granted, we do not have very many
Swedenborgian rituals, and we in this congregation probably observe fewer, and
those less often, than many other Swedenborgian churches. It is also true that many
of our parishioners feel at home here because they weren’t comfortable with the rites
and institutions of the organized religions they grew up with. A bunch of rebels, are
we? Don’t want our lives to be organized for us?
I will admit, a confession if you will, that I did not get up this morning thinking today is
the day of rejoicing and wow I really feel energized about that. Swedenborg in his
explanation of the Isaiah 42 passage spoke about the how “sing a new song” dealt
with “confession from joy”, but all I seem to be getting is a smidgen of joy in
confessing that I felt pretty much just as joyful this morning as I do every other
morning. That’s not zero, but not a big jump from yesterday.
OK – – – What is Advent asking of me that I don’t get? What it seems to be asking is
superficial. But I have had 76 Christmas’ in my life. I know what to expect and I have
good feelings about some of it, bad feelings about some of it, and I am absolutely
certain that when it is over, the feelings about Christmas will fade away and return
next December. Advent comes to me most directly asking me to remember that ~
Jesus was born in Bethlehem, ~ that even though he was born in the springtime, not
the winter, that doesn’t matter, he has a birthday that comes every year and it marks
his coming into the world so he could arrange for all of us to go to heaven. Advent
doesn’t say to me, like it may have to early Christians, that I have been pretty bad and
I should think a lot about that before Jesus gets here and be glad I can still get to
heaven. Swedenborg does not speak much about the journey in those kinds of terms.
So I search for where are the missing pieces – in short, why don’t I feel really happy
about such a wonderful day as Joy Sunday? Here are my ideas:
Idea 1. Joy is something felt when we have accomplished something of real personal
value. It is something we may surprise ourselves with when something we tried
works out well. Or, maybe we brought a smile to someone who needed that smile.
Or it may be something felt when something we see touches our hearts and make us
glad we got to see it, or glad it happened. Idea 2. It is relatively short-lived, and can
happen often from many different kinds of things. Think about those moments when
joy struck you. I bet most came without the need to be close to Christmas. Idea 3. Joy
must be important! It really feels good while it lasts! Maybe joy is encouragement to
encounter important and useful additions to our lives. Idea 4. James says “be patient
… until the coming of the Lord.” One joy does not happiness bring by itself. While it
can be said that joy can come from both selfish and unselfish accomplishments, I
would say the ones that come from unselfish accomplishments are the ones that
really lead us to happiness, and really can be connected to God-oriented-spiritual-
development. Now if that sounds heavenly to you, well it does to me, too. We carry
our little personal heaven within, as we and the Lord put it together. Joys are the
milestones that mark a positive spiritual journey, which means our real journey, the
journey that starts in this life and is just the tiniest beginning of our whole life.
Joy and Love are intimately connected. What does Christmas celebrate in a deep
spiritual sense? It is the birth of Love within us. Who knows how many times that
spark has to be rekindled? But it grows, it can grow, when we sense that something
lovable happening is a gift, we let it grow. It make us better suited for a life of eternal
happiness. Leads us to be more loving, that is, more proficient and willing to pass on
to others the love we get, and take for granted from the Lord. You see Christmas is all
the time delivering us beginnings. Advent is all the time in its possibilities. So when
we wake up in morning, we could say “self, are you ready for advent, ready for
today’s adventure?” We could say “I’m ready to look for hope and peace and joy and
love in my interactions in the world,” … couldn’t we.
I called this message “Joy and Commitment.” The commitment part is important, and
though commitment to the church organization is what we will look at in the next
part of todays’ meeting, this is not the main partner of Joy which is very important.
The main partner of Joy is the commitment we make to ourselves to grow spiritually,
to grow into the fullness for which we are created. Those word’s come from our
church’s purpose statement. …to grow spiritually, “to grow into the fullness for which
we are created.” Our theology, I think all Christian theology, teaches that we are
eternal, that we are spiritual beings that live temporarily in these funky bodies in this
world, just for a while, and graduate to eternity after we get a head start here. I say
head start, but there is only one thing to learn here, though it may take time to do it,
and only one decision we make that really counts. That is the decision to be on the
side of love for one another. The trick is THIS head-start course, (or maybe heart-
start course,) comes with some hard to understand instructions written in the Good
Book. Just as it is impossible to successfully explain to a kindergartener that their
school life prepares them for the adult world, it is hard for us to understand the
explanation that our earthly life prepares us for the spiritual world to come. A
kindergartener has little reference point for adult life, just like we have little conscious
experience of the spiritual life to come.
I would just recommend one practice, a possible commitment. Just an idea. Train
yourself, when you hear this season the words “the birth of Christ”, or “the birth of
Jesus”, add a couple more words to yourself, you pick the ones that work for you, but
you might try something like “in my heart” – – – “the birth of Jesus in my heart.” And
use that trigger for a quick visit to your heart where Divine Love waits for your touch.
“Hey, Happy birthday God.” Didn’t Isaiah say “a highway shall be there … it shall be
for God’s people … no lion shall be there ….” I think quick visits to the heart help us
see where it is headed, shows us where our personal version of that highway lies, call
it the Holy Way as Isaiah did if you like. A small step on this road is a joy indeed.
Maybe in such moments we can have the blindness of our eyes opened, and the
deafness of our ears unstopped, and our voice empowered to sing a new song.