Advent III; December 16, 2018
The children of the Church did their musical program at the 10:30 service, so this sermon was only for the 8:00 service.
Why is there a pink candle in the Advent wreath? Somebody said it was because Mary and Joseph were hoping for a girl. Actually, it's a little more complicated and a lot less interesting. The liturgical color for Advent is purple. Purple is a somber color, a color for self-reflection and even penitence. "Penitence:" now there's a word you don't hear very often anymore. Anyway, that's why most of the candles in the Advent wreath are purple and, in many churches, all four candles are purple. But the traditional opening Scripture for the Third Sunday of Advent is the first line of what I just read from Philippians: "Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, Rejoice." "Rejoice" in Latin is "Gaudete," and so the Third Sunday of Advent is called "Gaudete Sunday." You can't very well be penitent when you're rejoicing, can you? So although the liturgical color for the rest of Advent is purple, the color for Gaudete Sunday is rose, or pink.
Aren't you glad you know that? It would be more fun to hope for a girl. And by the way, Lent also has a break from the purple, the Fourth Sunday in Lent, known as Laetere Sunday. Everybody needs a break from penitence.
It can be easy to rejoice this time of year – well, for most of us most of the time. You may be looking forward to seeing family at Christmas, and so you rejoice. Who doesn't love singing about figgy pudding? You might rejoice over Christmas cookies, or eggnog, or Christmas cookies dipped in eggnog. And I know that you are a faithful Christian people, so you rejoice over the birth of Jesus; you are grateful for a Savior, for his coming among us.
Sometimes it is hard to rejoice at Christmas. If this is your first Christmas without that certain someone, you may rather hibernate than rejoice. If you lost your job, or your daughter isn't speaking to you again, or you've come down with the flu, then you may not want to rejoice. I think everyone understands that, and I think everyone understands that we have times when we don't want to rejoice. No surprise there.
Which makes Paul's very clear imperative hard to take: "Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say Rejoice." Always? "Rejoice in the Lord always." Okay, Paul, I get that Christ has come for my salvation however I may happen to feel today – whether I'm sad or grieving or dealing with the flu, Christ has come and that is reason to rejoice. "Joy to the world, the Lord is come!" So maybe Paul wants us to remember, no matter how we happen to be feeling, that we have reason to rejoice in the Lord. As he says, "the Lord is near."
Some of you have dogs. Whenever we get home and we pull into the south parking lot, I can see the dogs looking out the apartment window. When Reggie wags his tail, his whole body shakes. So I can see that he is rejoicing that we are near. So go ahead: shake your whole body. The Lord is near.
Or maybe I put the emphasis on the wrong word; maybe I should read it, "Rejoice in the Lord always." Sure, there are a lot of wonderful things in my life: my wife, my work, you, my friends and family, my nice things… and sometimes even Omaha weather. But one thing that is always in my life is the Lord Jesus. "The Lord is near" is not only the promise that Christ will come again, but also a simple statement of fact that Christ will never leave me.
What can you I do to remind ourselves that the Lord is near, so that even when things are difficult, we can rejoice in the Lord?
The people offered these: the sunrise (reminder of the coming of the Son of God); acts of kindness (as Jesus was kind and giving); grandchildren (baby Jesus!).
Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, Rejoice.
Robert A. Keefer
Presbyterian Church of the Master