3rd Sunday of Advent: Newness of Joy
Today is Gaudete Sunday. Gaudete means rejoice! It is an appropriate and fitting time to be able to see that the purplecandle, which may mean a little sadness, a little somberness, turns to a rose candle signifying a blossoming. It is time to realize that we have entered into a more intense, deeper, passionate time in this Advent season.
We are living in an age where we do not want to wait. We want things instantly. Yet, in the kingdom of God, Jesus uses the seed in His parables. There is the planting, the waiting for the crop to grow, guarding it, protecting it and cultivating the soil. These are times where we must wait. In Advent, we have to develop character and virtue that we lit three candles until the time we can light the Christ candle. It is the fullness of what Christ has done in our lives.
For three Sundays, we have been talking about “Newness” – of hope, faith, and today, that of joy. Newness is the quality and state of being new. New, in this context, is not with respect to time or of something being recent but new in form and quality. In a few weeks’ time, many will be making their New Year’s Resolution but just in a short time, they may forget it because there is no substance. God gives us form and quality. It is about something that is unused that has been given to us for 2000 years, but many of us have ignored and allowed it to come into our lives without changing and affecting us.
We look into what “Newness of Joy” means. Philippians 4:4 says, “Rejoice in the Lord always, and again I sayrejoice.” We rejoice in the Lord, not in material or temporary things. The world’s fun and revelry at this time of the year – parties, gifts, shopping, bonuses – drown out the message of joy. Many think, “We know that. You don’t need to tell us to rejoice. We are having lots of fun.” There is more to it. This is where we miss it. Fun is temporary; joy is everlasting. Fun is emotions and feelings; joy is truth and reality.
Last Friday, we were having our school party. In the midst of the gathering, I received a text message from our dear Church counselor. I called her only to find out that her husband passed away. His youngest son, barely a teenager, was in the party. My first reaction was to immediately leave and go to the hospital where the family was. I got advices not to tell her son first so as not to take away the fun that he was experiencing.
I was also in panic because there was no transportation that could bring me immediately to the hospital. I asked the Lord, “How can I share to young boy that his father has passed away? What words will I be able to utter that will assuage or alleviate his pain?” The Lord brought me then to an event 36 years ago in my life where I was in a hotel room in Kyoto, Japan. I was there as part of my engineering training. My Japanese host knocked at the door of my hotel room. He came in and sat down with my other engineering friends to say, “Your father has passed away.”
I was devastated. I was 24 years old then, and I had a mother to take care of with three other young siblings who were still studying. More than the financial concerns, I began to see the loss of a father. I opened my Bible and began to search God’s Word and He led me to Isaiah 26 which ministered to me, “Son, the steadfast of mind will be kept in perfect peace whose mind is set on Me.” I began to be flooded with the comfort of Jesus in my hotel room.
This thought when back to me when I was taking the young man out of the room and I told him, “Joshua, your father has passed away.” I had to tell him straight and simple, putting my trust in God for the Spirit to move, just like it happened to me 36 years ago. Of course, the young man was shocked and in grief. We had to hurry to go to the hospital but transportation was difficult that morning. A miracle happened because suddenly, one of our Deacons passed through our way, and he offered us to be brought to the hospital after we asked him if could do so. When we got to the hospital, it was the comfort of Jesus that took over.
Joy is not a feeling. At that point, how can I explain joy to this young man? How can I explain joy to his grieving mother? How can I explain joy to the siblings surrounding them? As we went to the morgue, how can I explain joy to them, so I cried to the Lord, “Show me, Lord! How can we begin to see and understand that today is the week of joy?”
What I am sharing today is borne from this situation. Advent is a time to live in expectation that God would break through our lives’ difficulties. This is the source of true joy – the expectation, the anticipation, the reality. It is not just a fantasy, but it is God's joy is with us. In our Advent journey, before joy was faith; and faith is the substance of things we hope for, and things which we do not see. When Christians begin to walk in that hope, having that faith, and with the joy to be able to see the result, then we will see Christ not just one day in a year, but every day of our lives.
I would like us to look at a personality in Scriptures whose character demonstrate the character which Advent talks about; a trait that demonstrate to us the hope, faith and the JOY of Advent. I am talking about John the Baptist. He is the model of true joy. He understood pure joy. When he was still in the womb of Elizabeth, he leaped with joy. I cannot explain that medically, but God is a God who can cause even this thing to happen. Even when we are pregnant with hope, with desire and anticipation, when joy comes in and we see Christ, the hope will leap in our hearts. It will leap with anticipation and joy.
John the Baptist comes in a very appropriate, right point of history. Remember that the nation of Israel was surrounded with misfortunes and for 400 years, there was “silence” from God. From the prophet Malachi, which is the last book of the Old Testament, to Matthew, which is the first book of the New Testament, it is a span of 400 years. This is a long for God not to say anything to the nation. So where is there hope now? God was silent until John came. John comes into the scene with a newness of message that brought life to the stale religious practices of the Jews. God wants us to leap with joy in our hearts for us to see the result of the hope that we have.
I chose three C’s that characterizes the newness of joy in John’s life. The first C is that John had a clear vision of God. John knew his God. In Luke 3:18 (NIV), it says, “18 And with many other words John exhorted the people and proclaimed the good news to them.” John exhorted the people because he had a clear vision of the Lord. God is the great Exhorter. God is there to pick us up in the midst of our hopelessness. When the Deacon kneels before the Celebrant prior to reading the gospel, the Celebrants prays, “May the gospel be proclaimed that those who are without hope will find hope and people see the favorable year of the Lord.”
In Luke 3:2, it says, “The word of the Lord came to John.” John 1:6 says, “There came a man sent from God, whose name was John.” John the Baptist was a man sent from God. Advent is about seeing God. It is about having a clear vision of the life that God brings to us that we should not ignore.
In Zephaniah 3:14-20, New Living Translation (NLT) it says, “14 Sing, O daughter of Zion; shout aloud, O Israel! Be glad and rejoice with all your heart, O daughter of Jerusalem! For the Lord will remove his hand of judgment and will disperse the armies of your enemy. And the Lord himself, the King of Israel, will live among you! At last your troubles will be over, and you will never again fear disaster.16 On that day the announcement to Jerusalem will be, “Cheer up, Zion! Don’t be afraid! 17 For the Lord your God is living among you. He is a mighty savior. He will take delight in you with gladness. With his love, he will calm all your fears. He will rejoice over you with joyful songs.”
Now God promises, “18 “I will gather you who mourn for the appointed festivals; you will be disgraced no more.19 And I will deal severely with all who have oppressed you. I will save the weak and helpless ones; I will bring together those who were chased away. I will give glory and fame to my former exiles, wherever they have been mocked and shamed.20 On that day I will gather you together and bring you home again. I will give you a good name, a name of distinction, among all the nations of the earth, as I restore your fortunes before their very eyes. I, the Lord, have spoken!” God says, “One day, we will all come home to His home.” If it is fulfilling to come home to our own physical homes, what more it is to come home to the place the God promised for us. Christ said, “In My Father’s house, there are many dwelling places, and I will go there to prepare a place for you so that where I am, there you may be also. Come home.”
The second C in the newness of joy in John the Baptist’s life is: certainty of his mission. There is purpose and meaning in his life. His mission was to prepare the people for Christ’s coming. In Luke 3:16 New Living Translation (NLT), it says, “16 John answered their questions by saying, “I baptize you with[a] water; but someone is coming soon who is greater than I am—so much greater that I’m not even worthy to be his slave and untie the straps of his sandals. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and with fire.” This is the God that John saw. This is the God who gave the certainty of his mission.
Many people don’t have the peace and the joy in their lives because they want to be another person. We are envious of what others have that we don’t have. We need to know who God made us to be. John the Baptist had joy because he was certain that people need to know what God wants them to do. As I begin to see John the Baptist, I am happy where I am even if I do not have the degrees that accomplished people have. During a reunion, my cardiologist friend asked me to lead the opening prayer and he said, “Father, you lead us in prayer because you have what we don’t have.” We need to know why God created us. Why are we here on earth? John the Baptist was certain of his mission, and he said, “I am not the Christ. I don’t have the answer to your problems, but Christ has.”
The third C in the newness of joy in John the Baptist’s life is: conviction. Conviction is the firm and convincing belief in what we say and do. Acts 4:13 New Living Translation (NLT) shows the conviction of Peter and John in going to the temple to pray. When they healed a lame man, they were arrested to be put in jail. “13 The members of the council were amazed when they saw the boldness of Peter and John, for they could see that they were ordinary men with no special training in the Scriptures. They also recognized them as men who had been with Jesus.”
In Acts 14:19-20 New Living Translation (NLT), this shows the conviction of Paul, “19 Then some Jews arrived from Antioch and Iconium and won the crowds to their side. They stoned Paul and dragged him out of town, thinking he was dead. 20 But as the believers[a] gathered around him, he got up and went back into the town. The next day he left with Barnabas for Derbe.” All that Paul wanted was to preach the good news in Antioch, but he was stoned.
How can we have a clear vision of God? How can we have a certainty in our mission and a conviction? How can we live in purity and walk in true newness of joy? Philippians 4:6-9 says, “ Don’t worry about anything; instead, pray about everything. Tell God what you need, and thank him for all he has done Then, you will experience God’s peace, which exceeds anything we can understand. His peace will guard your hearts and minds as you live in Christ Jesus. And now, dear brothers and sisters, one final thing. Fix your thoughts on what is true, and honorable, and right, and pure, and lovely, and admirable. Think about things that are excellent and worthy of praise. Keep putting into practice all you learned and received from me—everything you heard from me and saw me doing. Then the God of peace will be with you.”
Joy is not automatically felt. We need to cultivate it. Proverbs says, “Abundant food is in the fallow ground of the poor.” Newness is with us, but it is not cultivated. We need to see the life of God. Our desire is to bring us closer to God. May the hope, the faith, the joy and peace of Jesus be with us all.