December 1, 2019, Living Through the Dark: 300 years of Joy to the World, by Reverend David Tatgenhorst
Romans 13: 11-14 (message) “… make sure that you don’t get so absorbed and exhausted in taking care of all your day-by-day obligations that you lose track of the time and doze off, oblivious to God. The night is about over, dawn is about to break. Be up and awake to what God is doing! God is putting the finishing touches on the salvation work [God] began when we first believed. We can’t afford to waste a minute, must not squander these precious daylight hours in frivolity and indulgence, in sleeping around and dissipation, in bickering and grabbing everything in sight. Get out of bed and get dressed! Don’t loiter and linger, waiting until the very last minute. Dress yourselves in Christ, and be up and about!”
We sit for a moment this morning in a darkened sanctuary, ready to enter a new season, ready to leave behind the last year, getting ready to leave the last decade. What is before us? Where will we find a wellspring of sustaining joy for all that is before us? Let’s find that truth in this space.
God is up to something. Something big is happening. Paul in Romans says “God is putting the finishing touches on the salvation work God began when we first believed.” God is up to something. Do you know how to hope for that new day that God promises? Do you know how to stay awake for it? If you do, let me know, because I would be glad to know how you do it. I don’t mean to say I don’t have a clue. I will tell you what I know about living in hope, and living awake, but I would be glad to hear what you know.
A lot of the time, I’m oblivious, half-conscious of the beauty, the power of the divine work going on just beneath our everyday awareness. Every now and then I wake up and open my eyes and live into the wonder of this beautiful world and I think, “why haven’t I been paying more attention? Why would I despair or fall asleep when there is all this beauty around, all this love?”
Today is a day to hope for what is coming – to long for and anticipate, to live into expectation of the birth of the Living God. Here’s what I know about getting ready/awake.
1. Don’t ignore the hard stuff. Pay attention to the hard places as well as the happy places, the darkness as well as the light. One of the leading causes of deadened desires is our determination to avoid pain at any cost. If you don’t have any time for the pain, you don’t have any time for the joy either, the desire for life.
I give you the simple example of this week – getting to be with Virginia just before her mother died. The day before Irene died, I spent some time over in Bryn Mawr hospital with the two of them. It was a precious time with both of them, a connecting and loving time. I felt blessed to be there and feel Virginia’s love for her mother and Irene’s love, even in her unconscious state, for her daughter, to hear about Irene’s desire to make sure that her last words to Virginia were “I love you.” What a gift, a lifetime gift.
So, don’t ignore the hard places, the darkness in our lives. There is joy even in those tears of sadness. Joy is not the same as happiness. Happiness is temporary, comes from the outside, something we create. Joy is permanent. It’s always there in happy or sad times. It comes from the inside, from a connection with the divine. We look for happiness. We uncover and connect with joy.
2. Here’s the second thing I can recommend about living toward hope and hopeful joy. One, don’t ignore the hard stuff. Two, is related: Turn off distractions. Christians used to be a lot stricter about distractions. You may have heard that the generation of Protestants before us was pretty strict about playing cards, drinking, dancing, because they felt like those activities pulled your mind away from God’s presence and activity.
Paul talks about ‘Not squandering precious daylight hours in frivolity and indulgence, in sleeping around and dissipation, in bickering and grabbing everything in sight.” We tend to be less worried about playing cards and dancing, less strict and less puritan than our ancestors. And I agree that that Puritan work ethic and morality code was aimed at serving owners rather than workers, trying to get people to be very serious about their work and their faith.
Just the same, in the interest of living into hope, I would encourage us to think about what we need to do to be more aware of what God is up to around us. Think about what you use to numb yourself, to keep from feeling sad or hurt. Going back to number 1, don’t ignore the hard stuff. Some of the beauty of our world comes in through the cracks, so let yourself be cracked, and don’t work so hard at the distractions. If you’re working too hard, slow down a little so you can notice the beauty as well as the hard things. If you are drinking too much, stop. If you watch too much TV, turn it off.
I could preach a whole sermon about screens & TV. It really gets in the way in our spiritual lives. You know how you have the little doohickey now that turns the TV on and off. Use the remote control to turn the TV off. Only watch stuff that gives you joy, that inspires you or makes you laugh or feeds your spirit. Granted there’s are lots of things like that on television. But then you get sucked into watching something else, and more ads and more shows.
Only watch what you intended to watch, and even during that use the remote to mute commercials. And don’t watch the commercials either. I even mute commercials on the radio. I’ve been surprised how much more peaceful that makes the experience. Try it.
3. OK, this is a three part sermon about living toward hope and hopeful joy: one, don’t ignore hard feelings. two, turn off distractions; and three, notice God is up to something – not just out there but in here. When Paul talks about being up and awake to what God is doing, getting dressed and paying attention, he’s talking about today. He’s saying tomorrow is too late for today’s joy. Pay attention right now, today, this precious moment – with family, with friends, in this community.
As Paul invites us to wake up, we might sense that it is our whole person, our deepest desires, our love, the core of who we are that is waking up. As we sit in hope today, we are not about sitting and hoping for some day in the future, when everything is all right, some day circled on the calendar when everything we will be better. No, Paul is calling us to circle this moment, right now – to live now – with all our pain and all our joy – all bundled up together.
Some of you know that I’ve been going through a tough patch the last few weeks. I am on the POWER board & the board decided to make a personnel shift, to get a new executive director. It was a wrenching decision for the whole, and for me because I was close with the director we had. I just felt awful. I felt like I betrayed my friend and didn’t do enough to help him out. I had to call friends & ask for help, to get reminders that I’m not a bad person, that I know what I’m doing, most of the time, that I’m loved. It was so helpful. But I had to accept the help, admit how hard it was and accept the help. It took me about 3 weeks here to be able to notice again that God is up to something.
Here’s what I think God is up to – 1. showing that God is present even during the hard times, 2. that the divine will be present to us through our friends and loved ones even if we try to distract ourselves, and 3. that God is up to something here and now – in all of our lives when we are receiving help or giving it.
Paul really believes that the birth, life, death, and resurrection of Jesus is God’s sign that the promises of God, all those promises about life and wholeness prevailing over death and brokenness are true. Paul knows what time it is. It is time to wake up and live in hope, to live forward toward what God has promised, to live into what is beginning to happen in your life and in mine and in our world, to live in joy. Watch, notice, be aware and woke. The time is now. God is being born into our lives now. God is being born even in our messiest, darkest, hardest parts of our lives. Joy to the World.
This is God’s good news.
Offering: Communion offering goes for cards and gifts for Methodist Home for Children
Responsive Hymn 196 Come, Thou Long-Expected Jesus