In the name of God the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Amen.
As we have journeyed through our advent themes each Sunday we’ve come to the rose candle, the candle of joy. Joy can be difficult to meditate on as it is something better experienced than discussed. Joy is all the more difficult to think of after the events that just happened in Newtown Connecticut on Friday while we’re still reeling from the mall shooting in Portland Oregon. As the wisdom of Ecclesiastes says there is “a time to mourn and a time to dance…” Mourning is appropriate now. Likewise the preacher of Ecclesiastes wrote there is “a time to keep silence, and a time to speak.” At first silence seems appropriate in the face of such inconceivable violence and this against many children. Indeed, we should avoid platitudes and clichés with those who mourn and with one another, but rather give a hand to hold; a shoulder to cry on. As a preacher I was tempted to keep silent and preach as though nothing had happened. What can one say to make sense of this tragedy? What can one say to comfort the mourners? On the other hand silence in the face of such violence is not appropriate.
The trouble is that there is nothing we can say or do to make joy out of the joyless realities in this world. The outrage that is heard in our nation, the sensationalism of the Media and all the usual talk about psychoanalysis, national security, and gun laws can distract us from the heart of the issue. Those are all still attempts to avoid the real problem everyone in our human family needs to admit. Sin is real. Evil exists. The human race is broken and humanity is not basically good. No, I have never pulled a trigger on someone, but I’ve had my share of victims whom I have cut down with my sin. Surely we live in the shadow of death and sin has found its dwelling on earth.
Advent traditionally was a season of penitence like that of Lent, but influenced by American cultural forces Advent has become more a season of pre-Christmas merry making. It is dark days like Friday that make the pangs of our Advent longing for Christ’s return that much more apparent. As we heard on Wednesday night from St. Peter, “According to His promise we are waiting for a new heaven and a new earth in which righteousness dwells.” There is no way to sugarcoat what happened on Friday to make you comfortable with it and it would be a sin if we should. The day of our comfort is a future one. So, today God calls us to feel all the sorrow and trouble of this world as we long for the future day of Christ. The day when sin and all evil will be undone and righteousness, blessedness, and joy will reign forever.
For it’s exactly because of the bitter realities of the world that God did something about it. The prophet Zephaniah knew the bitter realities well. Our text from chapter three this morning is chock-full of good news and reasons to have joy. If you were to go back and read the two chapters before it you’d wonder if the same man had written them. Preceding our reading he speaks dreadfully and clearly about the sins of God’s people. He teaches that the day of God’s visitation on earth is going to be an explosion of judgment. Yet, the wondrous and mysterious thing is that he ends his entire revelation with good promises. Though judgment will come there will be rejoicing.
Listen to what God had to say to Israel in their sorrow than and to us now: “Rejoice and exult all your heart O daughter of Jerusalem…Yahweh has taken away the judgments against you; he has cleared away your enemies. The king of Israel, the Lord, is in your midst; you shall never fear evil again…Yahweh your God is in your midst, a mighty one who will save; he will rejoice over you with gladness, he will quiet you by his love; he will exult over you with loud singing.”
God promises his people that though judgment will come it will be taken away. Yahweh God would come to dwell in our midst and He came to us as one of us. He became an Israel of one, the single representative of the people, but not just Israel, the entire human family. The second Adam, who had no sin, received the explosion of God’s judgment for you and all humanity upon the cross. And here is the mysterious thing about what Jesus suffered for you. He counted it as joy. “Yahweh your God is in your midst, a mighty one who will save; he will rejoice over you with gladness…he will exult over you with loud singing.”
On another Friday as dark and joyless as this last one a mighty warrior, strong to save, hung upon a tree. Yet, here is how Jesus himself spoke of that day just moments before he was crucified: “When a woman is giving birth, she has sorrow because her hour has come, but when she has delivered the baby, she no longer remembers the anguish, for joy that a human being has been born into the world.”
Jesus looked upon the cross the same as a mother in labor. He knew that He was making it possible for us to be rightfully called children of God again. The author of Hebrews spoke of it this way, “[look] to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right had of the throne of God.” Christ’s joy is not that He has the right hand of power. He’s joyful because by dying He would give birth to many children. What a mystery that at this very moment our God and Savior has joy over us, sinful though we are, undeserving as we might be, He sings and rejoices over us because He has saved us. He exults as children are born anew by the washing of the water and Word in Baptism. He rejoices when you come to His altar so He can feed you with His life giving body and blood. Like a mother holding her newborn baby He doesn’t care one whit the pain it took to bring you to Him.
Again when Jesus was speaking about a mother’s pain He had this to say to His disciples and He says it now to us in our mourning: “So also you have sorrow now, but I will see you again and your hearts will rejoice, and no one will take your joy from you.” Only Christ can give joy to the joyless. Only He has the Words that bring comfort. Only He can turn our mourning to dancing. In light of recent events we are all the more aware of how much the world needs to hear the Advent promises of Christ. Let’s take a moment to pray for them:
Prayer: Gracious Lord Jesus, friend of the little children, lighten the darkness of our hearts. Remember in mercy all who have been devastated by the shooting this week in Connecticut. To Your care we commend the injured and the mourning, the traumatized and the terrified. Embrace and comfort each hurting family, O You Lord Jesus who have known in Your own flesh what violence and hatred can do. When the world had it’s way with You, You cried out “It is finished!” and yet you triumphed in love by Your resurrection. Give those who have sorrow now Your peace and a share in Your hope and joy. Come Lord Jesus, come quickly. Have mercy upon the families who suffer. Have mercy upon us all. Amen.