I hope that you all had a chance to hear my colleague, JT Smeidendorf’s, sermon this past Sunday, "Hard Truth, Sweet Fruit." If not, click the link to experience it. His scripture text was from Luke 3 in which John the Baptist, the wild man prophet, is proclaiming God’s call to freedom, to new life, in the wilderness. “Change your life!” calls John. “Empowered by God’s grace and forgiveness.” “Learn to resist oppression through sloughing off old ways of resentment, fear and scarcity through sharing your abundance and God’s love.”
The call to new life in God’s realm is freeing and joyful. It is also hard. It comes with hard truths, with a keen, realistic view of the world with all its beauty and treachery. It is a call to a journey towards wholeness that we know only through learning to walk in the darkness of the shadow side of ourselves as individuals and communities. JT illuminated John’s call and its joyful costs of service as we lit the pink Advent candle of Joy on Sunday.
This year’s Plymouth Advent devotional, Advent Unbound, sheds light on the prophet’s call to joy and hard times. “Among shadows of sorrow, grief, and despair … we light a candle of joy. Joy that God calls us to lives of simple generosity and justice: Got two coats? Give one away. Be fair. Be grateful. And joy that God promises to burn away the “chaff,” the husks on our hearts that get in the way of doing such simple, beautiful things.”
Late last week I was contacted by a young adult who has been attending Plymouth regularly, Gray La Fond. In the midst of recovering from a booster shot, caring for an aging, ailing and beloved dog, and finishing finals, Gray is on a mission of Joy. Here is the mission in Gray’s own words:
“Hello, my name is Gray La Fond and I am a new attendee of services here. I wanted to invite you to participate in a project of mine to bring blankets, socks, jackets, cash, gift cards, wipes/toiletries, and Christmas cookies to the homeless. I am making three types of cookies and I will be buying a few blankets and some warm socks. This is an independent, unaffiliated project of mine as I see my vocation as service. I plan to distribute these supplies to the places where I usually see the homeless, like outside grocery stores, this week until the 19th. I am a CSU student and I will be flying back to San Diego on the 20th, hence the end date. If you would like to drive around with me, I would love that. If you don’t have time to pass anything out yourself, you can give it to me and I can do that part. If you feel inspired to do something on your own, that is great, too. Please contact me via email or at (858) 281-3042 to let me know if you want to join me.”
Psalm 30.5b tells us that “Weeping will stay for the night, but joy comes in the morning.” Lamentations, a book of lament and grief, tells us in chapter 3, verses 22-23, that “The steadfast love of the God never ceases; God’s mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning.” I believe Gray understands this, as did John the Baptist in his call. And they both inspire me to look for God’s joy each morning in this third week of Advent.
This morning (Tuesday) I brought some Blessing Bags with toiletries and warm socks as well as a gently used coat to donate to Gray’s efforts and placed them in a box in Plymouth’s narthex. You can find what I am calling Gray’s “Joy Box” there and place your donations in and around it until the office closes on Friday (12/17) at 4 pm. Or contact Gray (info above) and help distribute the Joy!
With you on the Advent journey,
Advent Unbound Week Three: Joy
The Rev. Jane Anne Ferguson, Associate Minister, is a writer, storyteller, and contributor to Feasting on the Word, a popular biblical commentary. She is also the writer of sermon-stories.com, a lectionary-based story-commentary series.
Advent is the season of waiting, something I’ve never been particularly fond of or adept at doing. This Advent, however, occurs in the midst of a global season of waiting. So, it is like waiting squared. Are we Christians really waiting for Jesus to return to earth in any corporeal way? Some do, some don’t. It isn’t really a big part of my theology…I figure that the historical Jesus (who lived and taught in the 1st century) gave us fairly clear instructions to be co-creators of the kingdom of God, we humans just haven’t been compliant, so far.
Is that what we’re waiting for, or is it something perhaps less dramatic, but every bit as profound? (I’ll be preaching on that this Sunday, so tune in at 10:00 or the next day on our website!)
We are waiting for a lot of other things to fall into place right now: waiting for vaccine approval…for vaccine production…for vaccine distribution… to see our friends…waiting to see our families… to be back in our church home… to sing (outside the shower and in the company of others)… to give big hugs… to venture into the store… to have a beer together at the brewpub…to go back to the gym and the pool…to start a new job after being laid off…to have some relief in making rent payments…to have a sense of normalcy in our everyday routine…to have friends over for dinner…to travel..to have the occupant of the White House admit defeat. Some time we are going to get the good news that we’ve turned the corner in dealing with Covid-19.
The pandemic has caused us to wait, but not everything has been delayed. We still have a relationship with God. We continue to worship. We continue to be in touch with family and friends, even if it’s through a phone call or a Zoom connection. We have ongoing work to do, personally and vocationally.
One of the things you may have thought you had to postpone (but that I encourage you not to delay) is the experience of joy. This is different than being happy or satisfied or contented or jovial. Joy is a deeper emotion that plays more in the heart than it does in the mind. Most of us aren’t exactly joyful that we got a new iPhone for Christmas…but we are joyful in seeing a sister or brother or child or grandchild on FaceTime or Zoom. Most of us don’t experience joy when we get a positive report card in school, but we do experience joy when we see a stunning sunrise. Where do you experience joy that wraps together wonder and love and a sense of the numinous, a glow that opens up beyond your own, individual experience?
I invite you to open your heart to the possibility of encountering joy in this season, to look for the footprints of the divine in your everyday life. And when you have that experience, to see it as a glimmer of the Christlight in your midst. And to see this as joyful good news – Joyeux Noël!
The Rev. Hal Chorpenning has been Plymouth's senior minister since 2002. Before that, he was associate conference minister with the Connecticut Conference of the UCC. A grant from the Lilly Endowment enabled him to study Celtic Christianity in the UK and Ireland. Prior to ordained ministry, Hal had a business in corporate communications. Read more about Hal.