2020-12-13 Advent 3
Grace, mercy and peace be to you from God our Father and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen!
Third Sunday in Advent! And the first thing we notice is that three of these things belong together and one of these things just isn’t the same. If you guessed our Pepto-Bismol Pink candle, then you ding-ding win! We have three blue and one pink. Ol’ pinky introduces the third Sunday in Advent. It’s pink because back in the day in Germany where the Advent wreath came from, all the candles were red. And pink is a lighter shade than red, visually showing us that this third Sunday is “lighter” in character. Advent used to be much more like Lent, a season of preparing the way of the Lord with fasting, prayer and almsgiving. So this third Sunday was a bit of a break from rigours of fasting and spiritual disciplines. It was “lighter” than the rest of the Sundays in Advent. But Lent and Advent were still pretty close as seasons of preparation. In fact you may remember a time when the liturgical colour of Advent shared purple with Lent. The candles were changed to purple but the pink one remained. The old timers will remember those days.
But as time went on, Advent took on a less heavy personality in general. It came to embody hope and excitement along with preparation. It was like the little kid shaking the presents under the tree, trying to guess what they might be! The liturgical colour changed from purple to blue. This was to reflect the Winnipeg Blue Bombers undying hope that they might actually have a good CFL team one day. Tee Hee! So the Advent candles went from purple to blue, except for ol’ pinky. She stands proud in her pretty pink heritage and glory to remind us that today is still lighter in spirit. Today, we embody the Advent spirit and theme of joy!
St. Paul writes in our Epistle reading “Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you” (1Thess 5:16-18). This is an awesome set of verses to say the least. However, it’s a majorly tall order and struggle to say the least too. Can a person really rejoice always as in all the time, praying and giving thanks no matter what?! I mean we are keenly aware that life is not joyful right now. Corona madness is driving us nuts! We are coviding around all day long with more than 19 minutes to spare! The potential for our Christmas season festivities to be gutted of all joy is very real! We’ve faced many disappointments this year, many difficulties, problems and frustrations. They are all nagging reminders that our world is chock full of these symptoms of death and sin. Spiritual problems are the true heart of the matter. Spiritual problems are the real plague we face.
As God’s people we know this is the case. Death. Sickness. Sin. Problems. Family breakdowns. We know these exist because all of creation is fallen, that the world itself is broken because we the people are broken. This is God’s law shining like a mirror on the situation, diagnosing the dilemmas. Life on earth as we know it will always be difficult. We will have trials. We will encounter temptations, disease, depression, sadness and sorrow.
People try all kinds of “remedies” for this harsh reality. Booze. Drugs. Gambling. Netflix. Keeping busy. Ignoring issues. These are all just escape hatches from the sucky reality of life. Or if people don’t opt for these destructive paths, they opt in for mental delusion: the power of positive thinking and good vibes. They pretend all day long that things are great and wonderful in the world! That there is no sorrow or sadness. We see this huge in today’s funeral industry. Don’t be sad. Don’t cry. Don’t grieve. It’s all such a downer. Don’t have a funeral, celebrate life instead! Don’t worry, be happy! These ideas have been propagated by a generation of people who cannot come to terms with the cold reality of death and mortality. Pain and searing loss of loved ones can’t simply be glossed over and pretended away. The reality of death hurts too much. No amount of happy thoughts and “sendin’ vibes” is going to change that!
So all of human life is marred with issues, problems, stress and grief. We know this is the case. We’ve felt it before. We are living it right now. It’s a spiritual root issue of sin and death and it requires a spiritual solution. But most of the time you look around and see that the church is full of “Chippies!”
What’s that? What’s a Chippie you might ask? Well it all goes back to 19-diggidy-5 with the story of a woman who had a budgie named Chippie. It all began when Chippie’s owner decided to clean out his cage with a vacuum cleaner. She stuck the nozzle into the cage to clean up the pan at the bottom when her phone rang. She reached for the phone with her free hand and not realizing it, her unsupervised vacuum nozzle hand went upwards and sucked poor Chippie right into the vacuum bag! Realizing what she’d done, she dropped her phone and ripped the vacuum cleaner cord out of the wall outlet!
With her heart in her throat, she tore open the vacuum bag to rescue poor Chippie! The bird was stunned and covered in a metric tonne of dust from head to talon - but thankfully, still alive. She grabbed poor Chippie and rushed him to the sink and cranked on the cold water full blast, holding him under the stream to give him a power wash! Then it dawned on her that Chippie was soaking wet and shivering, so she took the next logical step of grabbing the hair dryer and blasting him with a staggering stream of hot air!
You may be wondering if poor Chippie survived all this. Miraculously and thankfully, Yes. Yes he did. But he didn’t sing for a long time after that. And even now, rumour has it he sits in his cage, with one eye always fixed on the closet where the vacuum cleaner is kept! This funny little story illustrates how we are feeling at this time of year. Being sucked up, washed out and blown over stole all the joy from Chippie’s heart! His circumstances left him feeling lost, troubled, sad, fearful, devastated - anything but joyful!
“Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you” (1Thess 5:16-18). How can St. Paul write this and really mean it? Well, it’s because St. Paul was himself a Chippie when he wrote them. He had suffered much for the Lord in his ministry. But like Christian hope and peace, Christian joy is NOT found in life’s circumstances. It’s not dependant on earthly circumstances. It’s not contingent on earthly circumstances. Rather it is dependant and contingent on someone - Christ - our Advent and Christmas joy!
Our joy that rejoices always is because of our Messiah. It’s because God became man for us. It’s because He was born for us. It’s because our spiritual problems of sin and death find their spiritual solution the cross of Christ and His resurrection for us. Our Baptism connects us to His forgiveness and victory over the grave! When we receive Holy Communion we are filled to the brim with hope, peace and joy! It all connects back to that verse I quoted last Sunday: “In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world” (JN 16:33).
Christ our Messiah has overcome our sadness, depression, stress, anxiety, fear, worry, and concerns. Our heavenly joy trumps all earthly circumstances and situations. The Pepto-Bismol pink candle isn’t pink for any earthly reason. It’s pink to remind us of the heavenly reason. It is our greatest joy knowing our Lord has Advented to us and will Advent again. As we get closer and closer to Christmas, and closer and closer to the manger in Bethlehem, we are reminded of what awaits us there when we arrive.
There in that rough, wooded feeding trough, in the most unexpected place, is the Savior who richly gives something the world cannot give: true heavenly joy, peace and hope, sparkling like the finest gemstone in the universe! No earthly thing can tarnish its dazzling beauty. This is how St. Paul can write “Rejoice always” and mean it. He means it because our Lord truly has comforted His people. He visits us in time of greatest need. He is present when life around us grows dark and cold with sadness. The light of heaven shines in that very darkness and the darkness has not overcome it! This is our Lord’s greatest gift to us that cannot be wrapped and put under a tree. It is found only in the manger. It cannot be purchased with dollars and gold but is given freely and freely received by faith. This is our joy, dear friends. This is what we cling to when life is going to hell in the proverbial hand basket!
It’s easy to let our heavenly joy be eaten up by this joyless world of hurt. It requires diligence on our part to keep our hearts and minds focused on the manger, the source of our eternal joy. This little baby has overcome our world, our problems, our struggles, our sins and our iniquities. No matter what, God is Emmanuel. He is with us. He scatters the darkness and blesses us with His heavenly light. He calls us from our Chippie-like anxiety and replaces it with that gloriously pink heavenly joy that gladdens and warms our hearts! Christ is our Advent and Christmas joy now and forever more. Amen! Come, Lord Jesus!