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.