Reasons to Rejoice

December 13, 2009

The Rev. Dr. Anthony J. Godlefski, Pastor

Montgomery United Methodist Church

 

Zephaniah 3:14-20

14Sing aloud, O daughter Zion; shout, O Israel!

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. The king of Israel, the Lord, is in your midst; you shall fear disaster no more.

 

 

Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ, Good Morning!

 

 Our title and our topic this morning is Reasons to Rejoice. My friends, today is known as “Joy Sunday.” It is the third Sunday in Advent. We are halfway to Christmas, and today is the day that we have lit the third candle on our Advent Wreath - the pink one. It is the symbol of joy.

 

Let me tell you a little story about history. In the older days of the church, the season of Advent was called a penitential season. That means that the season of Advent was a time of introspection, a time of spiritual preparation. Sort of like Lent. The color of the season was purple. People sang slow, sad, minor key songs. The church was never decorated very elaborately; everything was somber back then, with the thought that the contrast would make Christmas all the more brilliant a celebration. Then on Christmas day, everything would erupt with color and beauty and light. That season of celebration would carry on through the twelve days of Christmas and beyond into Epiphany. That was the season of celebrating.

 

Well, we do it a little differently in our world now. The celebration of Christmas comes before the holiday itself these days. Back in the old days, Joy Sunday was a very special celebration:  it was a day of remembering that Christmas was not far away. It was a day when people were reminded to take heart - a reason to rejoice is on its way.

 

Even though in modern days we don’t celebrate Advent as such a penitential season, we have the need to be reminded to rejoice, because we have replaced the penitential nature of Advent with something else. It is called the “Christmas Rush.”  Have you experienced the “Christmas Rush”? During this season of Advent even in the midst of all of our beautiful decorations all around, we have this anxiety and this feeling that we have got to get this done and we have got to get that done. We have to have this prepared for and we have to be responsible for that and there is hardly time to breathe!

 

We beat up upon ourselves because of all the things we think we should get done that aren’t quite done and we get anxious. And so my dear friends, there has never been a time when we need to be reminded to rejoice as there is right now. Do we ever need a Joy Sunday! And so this morning I would like to remind us all that we have reasons to rejoice.

 

 The main reason to rejoice is what we find in the Bible. Please take in hand the readings from the Holy Bible for this morning. Wherever you see the words Zion or Israel substitute you own name.

 

Sing aloud…! Rejoice and exalt with all your heart. The Lord has taken the judgments against you and He has turned away your enemies. The King of Israel, the Lord, is in your midst. He is with you.

 

Here’s a statement that I am going to fasten my spiritual seatbelt for and want you to do the same thing. This next phrase strikes me with such unbelievable power, and perhaps it will you too. Here is what the Bible says.

 

You shall fear disaster no more.

 

 I need to hear those words, how about you?  You shall fear disaster no more. You shall go through your life not in a state of fear, but in a state of hope and assurance that God is with you and in your midst. Oh, keep this scripture close to your heart, won’t you friends? Do not fear. Do not let your hands grow weak. The Lord your God is in your midst. He will rejoice over you with gladness. He will renew you in His love. He will renew your heart with His love. He will exalt over you with loud singing as on a day of festival.

 

Hear now what the Bible says. It says with the very energy of God, the same energy that makes the waves crash on the beach, that makes the wind to blow, that will bring spring from winter’s cold, that very energy is celebrating you.  The very energy of God is celebrating you. It says how, right here. He will rejoice over you with gladness.

 

Did you ever rejoice over a child? Praise God, I know what that feels like, and perhaps you do too. That is the way God is rejoicing over you. His heart is filled with gladness, because of you. Therefore, your heart can be filled with gladness, too. He will renew you with His love. Do you need renewal inside? I do all the time. Because of God's love, our hearts are renewed as well. We are pulled back from negative thoughts, and brought into His marvelous light.

 

Here is an amazing verse: He will exalt over you with loud singing.  God, singing? Yes. The Bible says so. The Creator of the art of music, is singing a song about you. The One who created this wonderful and mysterious and transforming art called music is singing about you. Dr. Bell and I have spent our lives studying the great art of music, and sharing it with others. We know that it is an endless art, infinitely interesting, infinitely varied and with infinite opportunities for expression. The Bible says that God is singing a great, big, song about you.  He is rejoicing over you. Therefore, you have reason to rejoice.   Have you ever felt like making up a song about someone?  Have you ever improvised a lullaby to a child?  The Bible tells us that that is what God is doing for you.

 

In this Advent time, on this Joy Sunday, my friends, I invite you to join me in making a list. You may write it down, or you may just keep it in your heart as you go along: a list of reasons to rejoice. I am going to give you a few examples, but the important thing is that you create your own ten reasons to rejoice.

 

1.      Simple joys-the joy of Christmas lights. When I am riding around at night I just love to slow down and look at the beautiful lights on the houses, sparkling and white and red, green and gold and yellow. It is so lovely. You might have seen some of those houses where every inch is decorated with lights and that is wonderful. Also rejoice in those little houses where maybe just the hand rail up to the front door has some lights on it, or perhaps there is a single candle in a window. When you see it, know that somebody in the house is wishing you a Merry Christmas as you drive by. It is a reason to rejoice. 

2.      Coming home at night. The other night was so cold it was scary. Sometimes it is cold, it is bracing and sometimes it is fun to remind oneself that it is winter because it is cold outside. But the other night it was so cold and the wind was blowing so hard it was scary and it probably moved most of us to say a silent prayer for the homeless, and for those who had to be outside on a night like this, because all you wanted to do was to go inside. And you did go inside to your warm home. Thank God for your warm home. It is a reason to rejoice.

3.      The ability to buy a present for a loved one. Are you going to buy a present for someone this Christmas? The joy it gives your heart to be able to do that. It is a reason to rejoice.

4.      The ability to give.  Have you ever walked up to a store that has one of those representatives of the Salvation Army in front of it? He stands near a red kettle, ringing a bell. And you have the joy of being a contributor; you can put something in that red kettle. The ability to do that, the ability to give, is a reason to rejoice.

5.      Once again, simple joys. I love Christmas specials on TV, I don’t get to watch too much but once in awhile it is a reason to just relax and rejoice. 

6.      Children’s Christmas Pageant. Say Amen? It is a good place for an Amen. We are going to enjoy that today. It is a reason to rejoice.

7.      A car to drive home in or somebody to give you a ride to where you need to go. It is a reason to rejoice.

8.      The fact that you woke up this morning. Some say the best part of waking up is Folgers in your cup, I say the best part of waking up, is waking up! Absolutely, that is a reason to rejoice and give thanks to God.

9.      The fact that there is someone, somewhere, who loves you. And I know there is.

10.  Jesus. That God so loved the world and he cared so much,  that he sent the very best, His own Son, to save us, to love us, to understand us.  If there ever was a reason to rejoice, it is Jesus. He's the reason for the season.

 

Dear friend, make that list, won’t you?   Let this be the day when you turn your attention from the anxieties that often trouble us to the things that we can rejoice about.  And when you do, your thinking will be in harmony with the thinking of the great God who created this universe, this world, and you and me also.

 

God loves you; I do too. Have a blessed week.        

 

© 2009 Anthony J. Godlefski