How Do We Rejoice?
Park Avenue UMC
Pastor Rachel Keller
When I think back to my early childhood at Christmastime, I can’t remember many Christmas mornings. I have pictures of my sister and I in our pajamas over the years holding various Christmas gifts, or putting clothing in front of said pajamas, or making big mouth expressions behind cinnamon buns. But I can’t really remember many of them. What I remember most, is Christmas Eve. After all the church services were over, we’d come home, and my sister and I would put a plate of cookies together, with carrots for the reindeer of course, and write a note to Santa. We’d thank Santa for whatever gift he’d be bringing us that night, and (believing whole heartedly still that Santa is a Christian) we’d rejoice with Santa over celebrating the birth of Jesus. We’d no doubt go to bed with full excitement of Christmas morning, and I still remember running down the stairs and darting toward the notes to find what Santa had replied.
Over the years my sister and I stopped writing to Santa, and we now delight in what he brings for my nieces. But in those years, it seems as if Christmas has lost some of the joy that it once had. Sure I love the traditions and the time to be with family. I love the carols and decorations. But in our consumer driven society, I think the joy of Christmas has gotten lost in the next to nothing electronics, and the stuff that we accumulate – sometimes finishing our Christmas shopping on the evening of Thanksgiving! And while I enjoy finding meaningful gifts for other people, at times it can become a chore to get something just because and add one more thing to the to-do list. There are some things in our world that take away the wonder and joy of Christmas.
There are very few times that we read from the book of Zephaniah, but it is very fitting for this time of Advent as we talk about the coming of the Lord. This book is God’s words given to Zephaniah, a prophet during the reign of King Josiah. King Josiah was known as Israel’s reforming monarch. As we read, we see themes of indifference and complacency during this time. Many were treating God’s divinity as something that had no effect on daily life, and would say that they worship the one true God, but yet turn around and worship other gods.
And to these things, God makes some pretty harsh consequences. Before our reading for today, in the first chapter, Zephaniah’s prophecy says that in response to complacency, “Their wealth will be plundered, and their houses laid waste, though they build houses they will not inhabit them, though they plant vineyards they shall not drink from them.” It continues on with the threat of bringing stress to the people for their sins. It describes the day of the Lord as “a day of wrath…distress and anguish…ruin and devastation…darkness and gloom…clouds and thick darkness.” It doesn’t sound like this vision of God’s reign is very appealing or gives people much hope.
But what I find even more crazy than all of this, is that in the final and third chapter, there is a pretty dramatic shift. From distress and ruin and devastation, we see a future centered on God who will restore God’s people, give victory, rejoice, remove disaster, and deal with oppressors. Jerusalem has suddenly turned from a violent and unfaithful city, to a place that is filled with songs of rejoicing – where hope is restored. Even in the most crippling of circumstances, God comes to restore and bring justice with celebration.
In this time of Christmas, it’s so easy for us to develop complacency, and to put the other “stuff” of Christmas above our faith in Christ and our focus on his coming. We profess our faith in God, and sing the songs of Christmas – but do we really believe it in our hearts? This time of Advent is a time to really ask ourselves: are we ready for Jesus to return? Are we working toward the Kingdom of God? Are we taking time to find the joy and magic of the season – or are we just going through the motions? Are we just waiting until all of the rush and the music is over?
The good news is, that even when we get trapped in the noise and shopping and chaos that the Western world has turned this season into, the meaning behind this season is never going to change. The history of Jesus’ birth into this world is still true – it’s a birth that we celebrate because of the hope that it brought to the world. And the truth of Jesus’ return to earth doesn’t change either. It’s one that will come and bring – among many things – joy. Will we be filled with joy in waiting for it’s arrival? Will we reclaim the true joy of this season again? Can we wait for Jesus like a child that waits expectantly for Santa – filled with the wonder and excitement of generous giving? How will you rejoice?
After I step down from this pulpit soon, we have a special treat today. Our children’s choir is going to show us how they rejoice. They’ll once again remind us of the story of Jesus birth. As you listen to their readings and their singing, I hope it will help you be filled with joy once more and inspire you to find your own way of rejoicing this advent season. May it be so, Amen.