3rd Sunday in Advent
Isaiah 61:1-4, 8-11
1 Thessalonians 5:16-24
John 1:6-8, 19-28
Dear fellow ministers of the gospel of Jesus Christ,
grace and peace to you from the one who sows joy. Amen
Today we lit the third candle on our Advent wreath,
the candle that traditionally represents joy.
It might seem a bit odd
during this season of reflection and preparation
that joy be included,
but in fact, preparation and joy go hand in hand,
we prepare in anticipation of joy
and sometimes we need joy to continue with preparations.
But what do we mean by ‘joy’?
Often in world around us,
especially at this time of year
joy is sold as the result of a big build up to Christmas morning
and so preparation sounds a little like this:
He’s making a list,
Checking it twice,
Gonna find out who’s naughty or nice
Santa Claus is coming to Town
Only those children who are nice
will rejoice on Christmas morning
with a big pile of presents under the tree
so we are encouraged to prepare by writing lists to Santa
to get our shopping done
and make everything just so for the coming celebration.
This understanding of joy is fleeting,
as the months of build up
are uncovered in half an hour
and toys lie discarded by the end of the day.
Now to be fair
there can be great pleasure
in exchanging gifts as signs of love and appreciation,
and in some ways the preparation is as fun
if not more
than the actual moment.
But if that’s all there is to the day
If what we are left with is an empty feeling
when all is said and done
what we experienced wasn’t joy.
Because joy, true joy,
goes deeper than the ecstasy of a moment,
joy follows anticipation yes,
but joy also follows hardship and disappointment,
which mean acknowledging the hardship and disappointment
and the longing that comes from knowing
that things are not as they ought to be.
is the response to the saving promises of God
in the midst of the brokenness of the world.
Which means our preparations sound less like Santa Claus is coming to town
and more like:
Comfort, comfort now my people;
Tell of peace! So says our God.
Comfort those who sit in darkness
Mourning under sorrow’s load.
To God’s people now proclaim
That God’s pardon waits for them!
Tell them that their war is over;
God will reign in peace forever.
of the reality of the world around us
but like the candles on the Advent wreath,
our preparations also include hope,
the promise of peace
and yes even joy,
because the preparations for the saving promises of God
also include the hard work of clearing away the rubble of the past
to create space for the new thing
that God is doing
and without hope, the promise of peace and joy
it is easy to become discouraged.
We see this first in our reading from Isaiah.
The prophet is speaking to a group of people
who are discouraged, disappointed by life around them
and humiliated that they cannot do the work that God has called them to do.
They are the people who returned to the promised land
from exile in Babylon.
For years and years and years
they dreamed of going home
and how great it was going to be,
so much better than their current circumstances
and now they are faced with reality,
the reality of a destroyed temple and cities,
the reality that there’s a lot of work to do
to restore the temple and land to its former glory
and since there’s not a lot left to work with,
it’s starting to seem like an impossible task.
Into their discouragement God sends the prophet
“to bring good news to the oppressed, to bind up the broken hearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and release to the prisoners; to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor…”
this year of the Lord’s favor
refers to a jubilee year,
In the jubilee year,
all debts were forgiven,
all land reverted back to the original owners,
and slaves were freed,
society was basically supposed to reset
to the beginning of the time in the promised land
when the gifts of God were equally divided.
The jubilee year
was a chance to return to the manna way of life
and God understood that would only be possible
with a fresh start,
a level playing field for everyone.
Because it seems that the unfortunate fact of human society
is that some will prosper and some will,
for whatever reason
find themselves in debt,
and once in debt,
it is extremely hard to get out from under that burden,
no matter how hard one works
and that burden even gets passed down the generations
Lately there’s been a movement among some churches
and nonprofit organizations
to put jubilee into practice
by raising money to forgive medical debt.
The most recent example I saw
was from a church that a friend goes to in Iowa,
they were able to forgive $5 million in medical debt.
Which seems like an impossible amount,
even for one well off congregation.
I was curious so I did a little research,
it seems that there is a whole industry
that profits off of people being in debt,
when someone can’t pay their debt to the hospital,
the hospital can sell the debt,
at a reduced price
to a debt collector
who is allowed to try to collect interest
and the full amount owed
and the difference between the discounted price they got from the hospital
and the full amount is their profit
and these companies often take a much more aggressive approach
in trying to collect the debt than the hospitals
So this is where nonprofits and churches come in,
they buy that reduced price debt,
and instead of trying to collect it,
they forgive it.
Instead of debt collecting bills,
the people receive a notice
that their debt has been forgiven,
they have been set free.
Imagine the relief and yes, joy,
the weight lifted
of receiving such a notice,
especially since the groups target people whose debt is
5% or more of their income.
And guess how much that $5 million in medical debt cost?
$8,000. 0.16% of the original
This is salvation proclaimed and made tangible,
the clearing away the rubble of the past
leading to the freedom to serve God rather than debt.
This is what God proclaims to the Israelites through the prophet,
and the change is immediate,
from a humiliated people
they now become “oaks of righteousness”
and are able to rebuild the cities and the temple,
they will rejoice in God
and sow their joy among the nations
so that it spreads around the world,
even the prophet can’t hold back at this good news,
after sharing the message of God
the prophet shares from their own perspective
“I will greatly rejoice in the lord, my whole being shall exult in my God, for he has clothed me with the garments of salvation…”
and likens the results to a garden
where the seeds sown spring up, creating more life.
God promises salvation,
real tangible here and now salvation,
and God calls us to share our joy
and bring God’s salvation to others,
which means preparing the way,
taking an honest look at the world around us,
clearing out the rubble to make way
for the new thing that God is doing,
God’s real tangible salvation
sent to bring forgiveness,
jubilee into the midst of our suffering.
This is the one for whom we wait, and prepare,
and greet with:
Joy to the world
The Lord is come!
Let earth receive her king’
Let every heart prepare him room
And heaven and nature sing,
And heaven and nature sing,
And heaven, and heaven and nature sing. Amen
Pastor Emily Johnson preaches weekly at Christ Lutheran. These are manuscripts of her sermons given at Christ Lutheran. Feel free to engage with them in the comments section of the blog.