Choosing Joy:  Testifying to the Light


Historically, in the life of the church, the third Sunday of Advent is Gaudete Sunday.  The season of Advent used to look a lot more like Lent.  Advent commenced on the feast day of Saint Martin (November 12) and after this day of feasting would follow a season of 40 days of fasting.  These 40 days were part of the preparation for Christmas, of preparing for the coming of Christ.  Because of when Advent started, it was often called Saint Martin's Lent,  This practice dates back to as early as the 5th century.  Gaudete Sunday (now the 3rd Sunday of Advent) was a time to break this fast.  Gaudete come from the Latin meaning to "rejoice."  On Gaudete Sunday there was a shift from the emphasis of repentance to an emphasis of celebration and rejoicing. 

Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.  Do not quench the Spirit.  Do not despise the words of prophets, but test everything; hold fast to what is good; abstain from every form of evil. 

May the God of peace himself sanctify you entirely; and may your spirit and soul and body be kept sound and blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ.  The one who calls you is faithful, and he will do this. 

1 Thessalonians 5:16-24

As we look at the world around us, it is some times hard to find cause for joy.  As we look toward Christmas, and we look toward the 2nd coming of Christ, we become keenly aware of the inbreaking of the kingdom of God, only if we have eyes to see.  God is about the work of continually breaking in the earthly realm.  Every time we see God's work being done here on earth as it is in heaven, there is cause for great rejoicing.  Every time we see justice, we see love, we see peace, we see hope, these are all causes for rejoicing.  Rejoicing means choosing joy even when the circumstances of life are not ideal.  Rejoicing means choosing joy because of trusting in who God is and knowing that God wants what is best for us.  As we look toward when Christ came and when Christ will come again, there is cause for continued rejoicing.  We are not alone.  We live knowing that God is with us, Immanuel.

In the midst of choosing joy, the way we are strengthened to keep choosing joy is through learning to pray continually.  Prayer should be, at its core, as natural as breathing.  The Advent season is a time of deepening our prayer life so that prayer becomes more integrated into our way of life.  Are we making space for grace?  Are we taking times out for solitude, reflection, and connecting to God?  Are we living in gratitude or has that already become a relic of November?  Are we tapping into the Spirit that is at work in our lives or are we cramming out the Spirit with busy-ness and cluttered lives?  What spiritual disciplines are you practicing this Advent season?  How are you making space for the holy amidst the commercialization of Christmas?

Especially during the Advent season, are we in tune with the prophets who have come before, and the prophetic words still at work in our midst?  Whose words are still calling you to action and challenging your complacency?  Have we practiced an Advent fast?  What would it mean to give up something in order to make space for and deepen our connection with Christ.  What do we need to do in order to make room in our inn, to make space in our hearts, minds, and lives for the One who continually knocks at our door?

How are we preparing for the return of Christ?


There was a man sent from God, whose name was John.  He came as a witness to testify to the light, so that all might believe through him.  He himself was not the light, but he came to testify to the light. 

This is the testimony given by John when the Jews sent priests and Levites from Jerusalem to ask him, “Who are you?”  He confessed and did not deny it, but confessed, “I am not the Messiah.”  And they asked him, “What then? Are you Elijah?” He said, “I am not.” “Are you the prophet?” He answered, “No.”  Then they said to him, “Who are you? Let us have an answer for those who sent us. What do you say about yourself?”  He said,

“I am the voice of one crying out in the wilderness,

‘Make straight the way of the Lord,’” 

as the prophet Isaiah said. 

Now they had been sent from the Pharisees.  They asked him, “Why then are you baptizing if you are neither the Messiah, nor Elijah, nor the prophet?”  John answered them, “I baptize with water. Among you stands one whom you do not know, the one who is coming after me; I am not worthy to untie the thong of his sandal.”  This took place in Bethany across the Jordan where John was baptizing. 

John 1:6-8, 19-28

This Sunday's Gopel lesson points to one who was preparing for the Christ.  John the Baptizer comes as a voice crying out in the wilderness.  John begins to prepare people to receive the Christ, the Messiah.  The beauty of this passage is it reminds us that, just like John the Baptizer, we are not the Messiah, we are not meant to be the savior of the world.  When we look around us at the world in which we live or when we get discouraged by war, famine, poverty, pain, suffering, and illness, we realize we are to testify to the light that is Christ.  We are meant to be bearers of the light in a dark and hurting world.  We are like lighthouses meant to shine the love, hope, peace, and joy of Christ in the midst of the world.  We are not meant to be the answer, but help people find the answer in Christ. Our lives are meant to testify to the light to bear witness to Christ at work in our lives.  We are to be a prophetic voice calling out in the wilderness of life.  

When we see people who are homeless and hungry we are meant to help them find sanctuary and sustenance.  

You may have heard it said:  “Give a man a fish; you have fed him for today. Teach a man to fish; and you have fed him for a lifetime.”  

As Christians, we go beyond this principle, we are not only called to teach people how to fish, (or to help people learn how to provide for themselves), we also need to work toward the systemic issues that have prevented said person from being able to fish, to discovering who may have polluted the waters where they might find fish, and to get to the bottom of who may be hogging all the fishing holes, etc. 

As Christians, we are meant to give people food.  We are meant to teach people how to live so that they can provide food for themselves.  And we are meant to work toward justice where there may be systemic reasons why someone does not have access to food, or a way to provide for themselves, or the same opportunity for education, etc.  As Christians we are to be kingdom workers.  We are meant to be about God's work here on earth as it is in heaven.  It is when we are working out of love for justice, peace, hope, and joy in the world that we are testifying to the light.   

As we work to "make straight the way of the Lord," we are working toward God's will on earth.  Through being connected to Christ in continuous deep prayer, we, as Christians, strive to live into the ways that Christ modeled for us.  This way of life is how we prepare for him to come again.  it is through a balance of personal holiness and social justice that we prepare for the coming of our Lord.

Light of the World, may our lives reflect Your light and witness to Your presence in our midst.  Use us as Your vessels.  May Your light shine through us.  Give us courage to be an advocate for the least of these.  May we be sustained by abiding in You.  May we make space for You.  May our lives be deeply connected with You so that we can connect with others in real and authentic ways.  May we keep choosing joy because we trust in You.  Amen.    

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