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Friday, December 11, 2015

Advent 3:Prayers and Teaching for Joy Sunday

Prayer for Third Sunday in Advent:
Stir up your power, O Lord, and with great might come among us; and, because we are sorely hindered by our sins, let your bountiful grace and mercy speedily help and deliver us; through Jesus Christ our Lord, to whom, with you and the Holy Spirit, be honor and glory, now and for ever. Amen.
Prayer for Sundays:
Stir up your power, O Lord, and with great might come among us; and, because we are sorely hindered by our sins, let your bountiful grace and mercy speedily help and deliver us; through Jesus Christ our Lord, to whom, with you and the Holy Spirit, be honor and glory, now and for ever. Amen.

My Sermon for this Sunday

Zephaniah 3:14-20   Isaiah 12:2-6   Philippians 4:4-7

We are in the season of Advent, the first season of the Christian year. The season of Advent is followed by the season of Christmas, then Epiphany, then Lent, Holy Week, then Easter which is followed by the longest season of the year, Pentecost. Advent is a time of remembering the coming of Christ. It is not about one coming, but rather about three comings: the first coming is the
remembrance of the birth of Jesus of Nazareth in the flesh; the next coming which Advent calls our attention to, is a coming greater than the simple fact of a human birth. This is the coming of the presence of God in our midst, a coming which makes Jesus present in our lives… now. The final coming to which Advent points us is the Second Coming of Christ. I hope we don’t allow ourselves to become stuck in one of the above, rather than allowing all three to permeate our celebrations this season ... the remembrance of the Baby, the presence of God and the return of the King, when every knee will bow, every tongue will confess, that Jesus Christ is Lord. It's a grand season, a wonderful time, and this Sunday in particular, a JOYFUL one!

Don't answer this aloud, but do answer it in your heart: Are you joyful? For well over a thousand years the church has, on the second Sunday before Christmas, read Philippians 4:4-7

Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice! Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near. Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.

Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice!

We've only been in your midst for 6 weeks ... but that's been long enough to discover that there is as much pain, suffering, loneliness, disease, worry in Hellesdon as there is in all the other places our Lord has called and sent us into mission for His Kingdom. And I don't feel I have earned enough trust yet to be able to look you in the eye as you are experiencing, in yourself or in those you love, marriage breakdown, body breakdown, faith breakdown, job breakdown, perhaps even self breakdown ... and say to you: Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice! If the UK is like most other countries, the Christmas season is the one time in the year with more suicides and attempted suicides than any other time.

But I am reminded of Paul speaking to the Corinthians (1Cor 7) and saying: I, not the Lord, say ... . Implicit in that statement is that Paul had a deep conviction that most of what he wrote was from the Lord. Applying that principle to our text today I would say, as gently as I can, that it is the Lord, not I, who says Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice! To which your response might be Well, that's very easy for Paul, Cedric and the Lord to say, but they aren't walking in my shoes right now! I can't rejoice.

Perhaps you feel like the people who wrote and sang Psalm 137 while captive in Babylon: 

By the rivers of Babylon we sat and wept
    when we remembered Zion.
 There on the poplars
    we hung our harps,
 for there our captors asked us for songs,
    our tormentors demanded songs of joy;
    they said, “Sing us one of the songs of Zion!”
 How can we sing the songs of the Lord
    while in a foreign land?

And No, it wasn't Boney M who wrote and sang that Psalm in the 70's, it was the captive Jewish people in Babylon nearly 600 years before the birth of Christ.

It was to them that the prophets Zephaniah 3:14-20  and  Isaiah 12:2-6 prophesied 100 years before their captivity, these words, which are also set for Joy Sunday. Notice how they look forward in faith to the work of Christ even as we look backward in faith to the work of Christ ... and let them speak into your joyful or perhaps joyless situation this morning. Hear the Lord prophesy what is possible in your and my life this morning, hear Him prophesy into joylessness of the world around us.

Sing, Daughter Zion;
    shout aloud, Israel!
Be glad and rejoice with all your heart,
    Daughter Jerusalem!
The Lord has taken away your punishment,
    he has turned back your enemy.
The Lord, the King of Israel, is with you;
    never again will you fear any harm.
On that day
    they will say to Jerusalem,
“Do not fear, Zion;
    do not let your hands hang limp.
The Lord your God is with you,
    the Mighty Warrior who saves.
He will take great delight in you;
    in his love he will no longer rebuke you,
    but will rejoice over you with singing.”
“I will remove from you
    all who mourn over the loss of your appointed festivals,
    which is a burden and reproach for you.
At that time I will deal
    with all who oppressed you.
I will rescue the lame;
    I will gather the exiles.
I will give them praise and honor
    in every land where they have suffered shame.
At that time I will gather you;
    at that time I will bring you home.
I will give you honor and praise
    among all the peoples of the earth
when I restore your fortunes
    before your very eyes,”
says the Lord.

Surely God is my salvation;
    I will trust and not be afraid.
The Lord, the Lord himself, is my strength and my defense;
    he has become my salvation.”
With joy you will draw water
    from the wells of salvation.
In that day you will say:

“Give praise to the Lord, proclaim his name;
    make known among the nations what he has done,
    and proclaim that his name is exalted.
Sing to the Lord, for he has done glorious things;
    let this be known to all the world.
Shout aloud and sing for joy, people of Zion,
    for great is the Holy One of Israel among you.”


Joy: God can command it because He gives it.

I'll ask you again: Are you joyful? If I wanted the answer to that question, Are you joyful, is your overall demeanour, one of joy?, I wouldn't ask you, I'd ask the people around you, those who live with you, work with you, travel with you ... is so and so joyful? And I'd probably get the answer ... well, what answer would I get? Perhaps I'd get the answer: Mind your own business or Ask her/him yourself. So, on Joy Sunday, I do. 

Are you joyful?

Now, many confuse joy with happiness. Are joy and happiness the same thing? How are they different? How does the Bible delineate the differences between joy and happiness?
I think most people would agree that happiness is a goal. Doesn’t everyone want to be happy? The truth is the Bible never promises happiness, however it does promise joy. There is a difference. You can have joy and be happy but you can’t really be happy without joy; at least lasting happiness. It’s easy to be happy when you have freedom from suffering, you’re financially secure, and all your relationships are good, but when you have trouble with one or more of these, what happens to the “happiness?” It’s probably gone but ... this is the good news ... the promise of God is that  you can still have joy. Happiness is based upon “happenings,” meaning if things happen to go well, you’re happy, but if it happens that something bad occurs then your happiness is probably gone. Not so with joy.

As I have said, you can be happy and have joy but happiness is dependent upon circumstances; joy is not. Here’s why. Before Jesus went to Calvary He said “These things I have spoken to you, that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be full” (John 15:11). You will have “sorrow now, but I will see you again, and your hearts will rejoice, and no one will take your joy from you” (John 16:22). Jesus promises the disciples that their joy will be full or complete. Filling a glass of water to the brim makes it full or complete. Jesus went to the cross to make sure that joy would be complete. Next, Jesus reassures them that no one’s going to take their joy away. That is a permanent possession, not a fleeting moment like happiness is. Jesus says to them and He says to us, today you might “be sorrowful, but your sorrow will turn into joy” even though it is still today. I have often presided over funerals where sorrow and joy were felt at the same time. The departed is born again and we are joyful knowing where she is, but we are all still sorrowful about losing her. Happiness is not much help under these circumstances but joy is! Some of those standing at her grave know we’ll be seeing her/him again and that gives great joy, a joy that no one and no thing can take from us. 

And even though mixed with grief, or illness, or marriage breakdown, or disease, or death itself ... joy remains.

Are you joyful? ... or do you cry out with David in Psalm 51:

Create in me a pure heart, O God,
    and renew a steadfast spirit within me.
Do not cast me from your presence
    or take your Holy Spirit from me.
Restore to me the joy of your salvation

Are you joyful ... or do you want to ask the Lord to restore the joy of His salvation in you. You see, while this joy is our "birth right" through Christ ... we can lose it, especially through unconfessed sin, but also through fear and anxiety, and through the separation from God that occurs when we distance ourselves from prayer, from Scripture reading, from communion and the fellowship.

So what? Well, you know if joy describes your life right now ... you know ... and your friends, family, fellow workers and fellow travellers know as well, as they are astounded at the joy we have in the midst of our heartbroken sadness. Sometimes they even ask how it is that you feel the way you do. With the Apostle Peter, I would say to you: 
... in your hearts revere Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect, ...

If you have this joy, you know it ... likewise, if you don't have it, you know it, and hopefully there is the first stirring of joy within you at the realisation that God wants this for you ... NOW! 

Paul in Romans reminds us that the kingdom of God is ... about righteousness, peace and joy in the Holy Spirit.

I close with a prayer from Psalm 86, just verse 4, because when we are joyless, we haven't the energy or heart for long prayers. This is what David prayed on another occassion:
Bring joy to your servant, Lord,
    for I put my trust in you
and if you have this joy, then let's just add one word:
Continue to Bring joy to your servant, Lord,
    for I put my trust in you

Amen.

1 comment:

Alistair Gunn said...

Well Cedric, first Session delivered at MWC... A great message put across with balance and sensitivity thank you a great start and good to have your blog to look at too. :-)
Ali G