The Sunday Sermon – 3 Advent 2014 – “Rejoice in God’s Mercy”
+ In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
Last week, we talked about the prophets. And we talked about how the prophets were the messengers of God; people whom God has sent to his people with his messages for them.
And we talked, also, about how John the Baptist was a prophetic voice, and how unique he was because it had been such a long time since God had sent a prophet to his people. And we learned that the message God had given John was a message to “Make straight a highway for our God.”
And we learned that the location of that Highway for God – the place where a straight path was to be made for God’s entry into our lives – was not a geographic place, but rather in the desert wastelands and wildernesses within our souls.
That’s the place where God wants to be – in our hearts and minds cleansing us, purifying us.
And we learned that the way to create that pathway for God into our souls was by repenting of our sins. God calls us to turn away from the things of the world, the flesh, and the devil, and to turn our whole selves, our hearts and minds to him.
This morning, we hear again that message from John the Baptist. But whereas we heart it last week from Mark’s gospel, we hear that very same message as John’s version of the Gospel tells it.
And what is wonderful, what is significant, what is beautiful is simply this: the message is the same, unchanged: “Make straight the way of the Lord”
An older priest friend of mine once told me a story of going to a Greek Orthodox liturgy. At one point during the worship, the congregation and the choir and the clergy all kept repeating this one phrase: “Lord, Have Mercy” Kyrie Eleison. And they repeated it over and over and over. And finally one of the other visitors turned to his friend and said “Why do they keep repeating that phrase over and over again?” To which the man replied “Well, maybe if we say it enough, we’ll finally get it.”
It took me a long time to figure out the meaning of that Story.
When the man said, “we’ll finally get it”, he didn’t mean that all of the sudden God would finally turn his face to us and starting having mercy on us. No, I think what he meant is that maybe by repeating that one petition over and over again, we’d finally realize two things: How important the mercy of God is for us, and secondly, that God is a God we know WILL and DOES have mercy upon us, and maybe, just maybe, we’d begin to see all the ways God does have mercy on us.
Now, today is Guadete Sunday. And in many churches around the Western world you would be seeing the priest and altar vested in rose-colored vestments.
We don’t, because we use blue vestments instead of purple, but we do have a rose color candle burning in our Advent Wreath to remind us that today is a little bit different than the rest of the Sundays of Advent.
Gaudete means “Rejoice” and it comes from the opening lines of the ancient Introit, or entry music, of the Mass.
And I mention that because I want us to think about these two key words I’ve have just been talking about: Mercy and Rejoice. Because our theme for this morning is this: God’s Mercy and our Rejoicing.
And I think it’s because our theme is “God’s mercy and our rejoicing,” that we have come back to hear again the same message in the Gospel this week from John the Baptist that we heard last week.
John’s Message to us is a message that God wants us to hear, and maybe, if we hear it over and over again, we’ll start to get it. And that message is that he wants to be involved in our lives. He wants to get into our lives.
But he doesn’t want to get involved in a superficial way. He wants to get into our lives in a real and meaningful way: He wants us to prepare for him a highway into our lives – into our hearts and minds – our very souls.
And the reason he wants to be there is to have mercy on us. To show us his love for us. To be light in a dark world, so that we may rejoice in his mercy.
This last week, I was walking my dog during one of the snow storms. It was a heavy and wet snow. And it laid heavy on the cathedral pines out back. As I walked Lucy, I could hear the trees creaking and the branches snapping off in the woods. I was more nervous about a tree falling down on me than I was concerned about where Lucy was dragging me.
And so I anxiously shined my flashlight into the woods, up and down the trees. Looking, watching, waiting, and hoping that nothing bad would befall me, literally.
I don’t know if this is a good analogy of what God wants to do within us. But as I stood there in the snow and the cold, with that flashlight, I had this thought.
In our lives, we too frequently stand in the dark places with our flashlights, afraid of the sounds and the noises, afraid that something is going to come out of that darkness and crush us.
And it seems to me that what we need to do, as we stand in those dark places in our lives, is remember the message of John the Baptist, to remember the Mercy of God. John came to testify greatness and wonderfulness of to that mercy. And he told others about that mercy, he called it the light of God coming into the world.
And that Light which John testified to is none other than Our Lord himself, who came so that we don’t have to stand there in the dark, anxious, or sad, or afraid.
What John tells us over and over again is that we need to make a path by repentance, by turning to him with all our heart, all our mind, all our strength, and yes, all of our mistakes, our fears, our anxieties, too, and to let him shine his light on us.
When I took Lucy out the next morning, it was still snowing. But as I looked up into the woods, with those trees, I saw how beautiful they were in the light. The trees still cracked and they still creaked. But in the light of day, I wasn’t afraid of them.
You and I are made to have God’s light shining on us, and in us, and through us. And when it does, there’s beauty. A beauty we can’t describe, but we can be thankful for it, because we receive it by the mercy of God, and in that light we can rejoice.
Just like when we see those tall, towering, snow covered trees in the daylight, & realize how beautiful they really are.