December 13, 2020 Embodiment of Joy, Pastor David Tatgenhorst
John 1:6-8, 19-28 There was a person sent from God, whose name was John. 7 He came as a witness to testify to the light, so that all might believe through him. 8 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?” 20 He confessed and did not deny it, but confessed, “I am not the Messiah.” 21 And they asked him, “What then? Are you Elijah?” He said, “I am not.” “Are you the prophet?” He answered, “No.” 22 Then they said to him, “Who are you? Let us have an answer for those who sent us. What do you say about yourself?” 23 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. 24 Now they had been sent from the Pharisees. 25 They asked him, “Why then are you baptizing if you are neither the Messiah, nor Elijah, nor the prophet?” 26 John answered them, “I baptize with water. Among you stands one whom you do not know, 27 the one who is coming after me; I am not worthy to untie the thong of his sandal.” 28 This took place in Bethany across the Jordan where John was baptizing.
We take a moment now to breathe in the words of scripture and the beautiful music we have heard. Breathe deeply into this peaceful moment and feel the joy of God’s love surround and hold us all.
December 13, 2020 Embodiment of Joy St. Luke UMC
In the beginning.
In the beginning God.
In the beginning God created delight.
Delight. Joy. Can you imagine joy and delight being really as foundational to God’s creation as light, hope, peace and love? Joy, delight - it is from the beginning, part of God’s creation and part of who we are.
I had a friend once who always seemed to be in a good mood. She was British and if you asked her how she was she would answer “Wonderful!” in a way that was so authentic, you wanted to ask her just to here it. And you wanted to know how she was dipping into such joy. Not that I didn’t see her sad at times. When she was sad, she was really sad. She lived her life with deep authenticity.
It may be awkward to put this comparison in here, but I think about my dog. When I would come home from work - or even from a short walk - she would greet me like she hadn’t seen me for months! She would run around in circles, yelp and lick and act like I was her best friend in the universe - which of course I was, along with a few other people, and dogs. When you observe that kind of delight and joy, how can you doubt that joy is foundational to the order of the universe?
Think of friends you have had who when they see you, you can tell, they really are glad to see you. You make them happy and they make you happy. Mothers, siblings, best friends, pets, - their joy makes life worth living. And, when we are not able to access that joy in person during this crisis, it hurts more than we even want to acknowledge. That joy is so much a bodily thing - a connected thing. I think about my tailless dog, wagging her little butt to beat the band. Even now it makes me laugh to think about it.
There are a lot of books out today about how to be happy, about a happiness index, which countries have the happiest people, how to have a happy family and on and on. During this pandemic, we might want to pay attention to some of the advice in these books. Because it’s easy to get depressed about this situation. I notice some of the common advice has been to put out Christmas lights early. Of course now is not early, but the advice was “Why not? whatever makes you happy.” And I’m all for it - whatever helps keep your spirits up.
When we were talking about this in our Bible study though, Tom Lank gave a different example. He talked about the Olympics in Atlanta a few years back. Think about it, in preparing for the Olympics, Atlanta had to build stadiums and buildings. They had to prepare for years. And they didn’t just build all that infrastructure to be used and then thrown aside. They built them to used from then on!
That’s different than preparing for Christmas by putting up some lights and then taking them down later, isn’t it? Yeah, what we’re talking about here in Advent is talking about preparation for permanent joy - for recognizing joy at the root of all creation, for a joy that keeps us going through pandemic or loss or hurt or crisis. We’re talking about recognizing God’s delight in all of creation.
And that is what John was preparing us for. The gospel portrays him as the announcer, the herald, the witness. Any great act coming to the stage has to be announced and heralded. Any fantastic act needs a witness to testify that what is too good to be true, is true. That’s the role that John plays - especially in the gospel of John. In this gospel, John isn’t called the Baptist, as in Mark and Matthew. John isn’t called, son of Zechariah, as in Luke. He’s just John, and the gospel tells about him right here in Chapter One in the midst of this prologue that echos Genesis, “in the beginning.” “in the beginning there was the word, and the word was with God.” This is about something foundational to our existence.
And this gospel has John say “No” and “not” over and over again. “No, I’m not the Messiah. No, I’m not Elijah. No, I’m not the. prophet.” Well who the heck are you then? “I am the voice of one crying out in the wilderness. Make straight the way of the Lord.” The voice cries out in the wilderness - good news of great joy for all of us in the wilderness, for all the poor, for all oppressed, for all hurting or ill or mourning. Good news of great joy for all of us wandering in our own kind of wilderness.
There is One coming. One is coming who is greater than I am. We have to know, of course, that people thought that John was pretty great. The One who is coming will baptize with more than water - This One will baptize with Spirit and Joy - will help you know the truth about this world of wonder - that it is wonderful, that it is full of joy, that it is created for delight, awe and love - not just for a moment of enjoyment, but for a lifetime.
This Gospel does not have a story of the birth of Jesus. Christ in this Gospel is the Cosmic Christ born with the Universe. But you know if there’s anything more delightful than a puppy wagging her tail and greeting you when you come home, it’s the smile of a little baby. We are celebrating in this season that kind of joy, not just in an ephemeral smile, but the joy that is being incarnated into our world, the gift of Joy born into a real body, Joy embodied in the Christ so that all the world might renew our understanding of what the universe is really based on.
People, look east. Look for it. Joy in the abiding love of a congregation that holds together even when we can’t see each other in person. Joy in the music that echoes the joy of creation. Look for the joy that is coming despite pandemic or plague or any kind of loss. There is a joy in the universe deeper than all those hurts, or any of those worries and fears. Look for that joy in the sunrise - the promise of creation. Look for that joy in the smile of a friend - or especially a friend’s baby.
People look east. Love is coming. Love, the Guest is on the way. Love is coming to stay, built into our DNA, built into creation itself, meant to last, meant to stay. Angels announce the shouts of mirth, the one who brings new life to earth. Set every peak and valley humming with the word, the Lord is coming. People, look east. Love, our God, is on the way.
Responsive Hymn 202 People, Look East