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December 17, 2006 (Advent III)—“Rejoice”

Rev. Dr. J. P. Sabbithi

Zephaniah: 3:14–20, Philippians 4:4–7, Luke 3: 7–18

(Webmaster’s Note: The Rev. Dr. Sabbithi, a third-generation Lutheran from India, whose grandfather was that country’s first Lutheran bishop, currently serves as chaplain at Kaiser Medical Center, Moanalua.)

A week before Christmas, a single parent with two little children was trying to finish up her shopping. She had two bags on one hand and two bags on the other and was trying to get her kids under control. She was overwhelmed, frustrated and yelled with anger, “whoever started this Christmas must be killed.” Some one passing by, shouted, “Yes, ma’am, we crucified him already.”

I am sure in the midst of the excitement of the festivity, many of us may even identify with that woman. It is but natural for us to overlook, if not forget, the reason for the season when the Santa Claus becomes the center of our celebrations.

It is in this context, the scripture readings for today, the 3rd Sunday in Advent, remind us that the reason for us to rejoice is our relationship with Christ, as we anticipate his coming.

The Prophet Zephaniah exhorts:

Sing aloud, O daughter of Zion; shout, O Israel! Rejoice and exult with all your heart, O daughter of Jerusalem! ... The Lord, your God, is in your midst. ... He will rejoice over you with gladness, he will renew you in his love; he will exult over you with loud singing as on a day of festival.

St. Paul writing to Philippians reminding them to “Rejoice in the Lord always; again I say, rejoice.”

And John the Baptist tells us what this rejoicing is all about: The rejoicing is all about the anticipation of the coming of Jesus Christ. He announces, “I baptize you with water; but he who is mightier than I is coming, the thong of whose sandals I am not worthy to untie; he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and with fire.”

Rejoicing is not about having a good time. It is not about getting busy to make us feel good and help us make others feel good. We might get very busy during Advent to prepare for Christmas, and we might even ignore the real meaning of Christmas!

Rejoicing is also not about being happy and joyful during this festive season. Though, it is okay to be joyful and celebrate. We tend to do many things to make us happy. Some even do things that are not socially accepted in order to make them happy. Ironically, the more we have, the more we seem to worry about not having enough. The more choices we have the more we tend to complain. It might be because of that, John the Baptist proposed a way of life ‘simplicity’ or rule of life, ‘less is more.’ John the Baptist told them to give away one if they have two, so that we might have less. It’s a kind of spring cleaning, isn’t it? There’s nothing wrong with that. It is important to give away. But remember this: there may not be a limitation to some people to get what they want and in how much you want. But every one is limited by God in how much we can use these things. Let me explain: you might have two shirts, but you can wear only one at a time, right? You might have two houses, but you can only live in one at a time. You can have any number of bedrooms, but you can only sleep in one. You can have half a dozen cars, but can drive only one at a time. See the kind of hold God has on us. The more we have, the more worry we bring. John the Baptist warns them to be content with what they have. It’s the season to give away. I am sure many of you do that. There is a joy in giving as God gave his only Son as our savior. However, the question for me is not what we give to the poor, but what we don’t take away from them.

We learn from today’s readings that rejoicing has to do with having a relationship with the Lord. It is a choice that we make as people of faith. That’s what happened to St. Paul, sitting in the prison. He was waiting for a death sentence. His hands and legs were tied. Yet, he was not anticipating a savior to come and release him; rather he was waiting to see the Savior when he died. Therefore, he was able to say, “Rejoice, and again I say rejoice.”

The people of Israel forgot their story of redemption. They went after other gods. The Prophet Zephaniah reminded them how they were redeemed from their bondage. That’s when they sang the song of joy reclaiming their relationship with God, which was our today’s Old Testament reading.

John the Baptist warned the people not to take this relationship for granted. “Do not begin to say to yourselves ‘we have Abraham as our ancestor’: for I tell you, God is able from these stones to raise up children to Abraham.” (Luke 3:8) What does this mean to us Christians? It means that simply because we are born into a Christian family, don’t take Christ for granted. One of the missionaries to India, Stanly Jones, writes that God doesn’t have grandchildren. We need to remind ourselves how we became part of the family by the sacrament of baptism. We need to renew our relationship with Him each day.

Let me share with you a story: Once upon a time, there was a fair in town. The little girl asked her mother if she would like to go to the fair. The mother, being financially poor, told the daughter that she couldn’t take her. Oh, well, you know how we parents change our mind. Finally, she was able to get some money for the entrance fee and both of them went to the fun fair. Now what? The little girl saw ice cream and she wanted it. Mother said, no, it is not good for your health. Then she saw a teddy bear and she wanted it. Mother said the fur comes out easily and it’s no good. Then the little girl saw a beautiful balloon and she wanted it. Mother said it will pop and the air will be gone. The fact was that she didn’t have the money to buy them. As they were going back and forth with this, they some how went their separate ways in the crowd. When the little girl realized that her mother was no longer with her, she started crying, “I want my mommy!” The police came and took her to the customer care center. The little girl was crying very loudly, asking for mommy. They tried to offer her ice cream, the teddy bear, balloon etc. Nothing worked. Hearing the announcement, the mother rushed to the counter and they rejoined and rejoiced.

And to me, my friends, that is the meaning of rejoicing. In the absence of the mother, all that the little girl wanted had no meaning. She was able to rejoice with her mother, even when the other things in life were not present. My friends, such is our relationship with our Lord. If Christ is absent in our lives, what do all these festivities mean? As we prepare for the coming of our Lord, the good news is that he cares more about you than what you have to give him.

We rejoice because, we not only anticipate the coming of our Lord, but also acknowledge his presence with us today in our difficult times, in our sickness, in our separations, in our loss and in our lives. May the coming of our Lord bring peace that passes all understanding, joy that no one can take away and love that fills your lives and help you to rejoice with Him.


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