Reflection: December 17 – ADVENT 3

Published on Dec 18th, 2017 by Rev. David Boyd | 0

         I wrote this sermon with Mel’s memorial still ringing in my ears, as it were. I wrote it also as an expression with my own struggles to find and live out joy and gratitude. One of the things I appreciated about Mel was his presence; he quite simply loved the life that was his at that moment, except perhaps this last little while. I appreciate that in others because it is a struggle for me to be in the moment.

         The idea of feeling gratitude, a deep joy no matter what is happening, is the kind of gratitude that I think is at the heart of Paul’s teaching to the whole church, heard in his note to the Thessalonians. “Rejoice always, pray constantly, and give thanks for everything.” Those are radical things to do; in other words, in the true sense of being radical, which means “rootedness,” we do what we do in church, and have done for 2000 years and more: we give thanks for God’s gift of life and love, we pray, and we rejoice. The best definition of joy that I heard came when I was in seminary when one of my professors said that joy is acknowledging and living out the love—the divine, agape love—that is present in us and all creation. Good words but a challenge to live out.

         I think Paul would agree that joy is very different from being happy. We simply aren’t always happy; it’s too much to think that we can live in happiness all our lives. But we can live in joy, because it is an acknowledgement that we were created in love, that we are called to live in love and that we share love in all we do no matter what we face.

         David Steindl-Rast’s gratefulness website had this to say about gratitude and/or joy: “Cultivating, practicing, and sustaining gratefulness as an approach to life is radical – because it flies in the face of internal and external forces which want us to believe the big lie that we need to have more and be more in order to be happy.”[1] The website blog goes on to say that we don’t just live “with gratitude, but from it.”

         Paul would agree that we live from gratitude. Gratitude is the deep well of goodwill. Yes, we will experience setbacks, losses, and perhaps feel that things don’t go our way often enough. I can speak personally about losses and frustration with political decisions, like Site C, for example or doing things when others had committed to doing them but they didn’t happen. But then I recall that we are called to live from the understanding that love will see us through. In the end, we are reminded that love grounds us and encourages us to see life in its fullness, abundance and variety and that stuff happens and we deal with it.

         It is interesting to think that Paul was addressing many of the same things in society that we are still facing; the means of expression are very different today as we use social media and other mass communication tools that weren’t available in Roman times. But still, as noted by Steindl-Rast’s website, “institutions [are] hell-bent on wanting us to crave, compare, consume, grasp, shame and judge. These systems focus on manufacturing discontent, keeping us invested in illusions of separateness and inadequacy.”[2] That’s what the Thessalonian church faced, too, in an oppressive Roman society. We face it and need to be reminded that there is another way; that’s partly what Christmas is, this reminder!

         Paul reminds us to focus on gratitude, to live from gratitude. Prayer will help that along, and gratitude is a natural spring-board for joy. Sorry to remind you again of David’s website blog, but it is very good; it said, “grateful living reminds us that life is a gift, and that there are infinite gifts within this gift: it’s invitation is to: Live as if nothing is promised you. Look around you, looking inside yourself. Appreciate the ordinary as extraordinary. Notice beauty and nourish love. Be surprised; be in awe and in wonder. Recognize your privileges [and don’t take them for granted]. Open your heart. Share your blessings.”[3] This is definitely my challenge!

         I’m never sure how the international biblical scholars put together the bible readings for reading each Sunday, but the idea of putting the teaching about light from John’s Gospel with Paul is quite brilliant. This is where it all hangs together, in light. Along with prayer, joy, and gratitude, we can light a candle and open ourselves to the light. It is not great surprise that in the Genesis story we hear that God made light near the beginning… “Let there be light.” Everything comes from light. Even physics is about light.

         I know the reading from John is more than about light; it is about John the Baptiser and the One who is to come. John came to testify to the Light. We, in our own ways testify to the Light, too. And the Light of Christ, as we will hear at Christmas, will never stop; it shines in perpetuity. The Light opens us to joy and gratitude, prayer being the mechanism by which we are open to the Light. And in turn, through prayer, joy and gratitude lead back to the Light.

         And then all will be well, as the mystic Julian of Norwich noted. All manner of things will be well, because of the Light! Amen.


[1] See  Gratitude: A Radical Approach to Life

[2] Ibid.

[3] Ibid.


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