Rev. Dr. Glenda Hollingshead; December 11, 2022
Third Sunday of Advent
Isaiah 35:1-10; Luke 1:46-55
This is the 3rd Sunday of Advent, or “Rose Sunday,” as it is sometimes called, because of the rose-colored candle of the Advent wreath instead of the purple. Why the change? We are moving away from some of the more somber, penitential readings for the season and moving closer to the joyous occasion of the coming of the Christ Child. Today is also known as Gaudete Sunday. “Gaudete” (Latin for “Rejoice,”) is rooted in words from texts such as Philippians 4:4-6, “Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, Rejoice. Let your gentleness be known to everyone. The Lord is near. Do not worry about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God.” Rejoice in the Lord always, and again I say rejoice.
Often we use the words “joy” and “happiness” interchangeably. Psychologists say that joy is an emotion while happiness is more of a feeling. Well, that’s clear as mud. No doubt, it is a difficult distinction to understand—the concept of joy as something deeper than mere happiness. The Bible speaks of joy or derivatives of the word some 617 times. In an article in the Presbyterian Women’s “Horizons” magazine on the topic of joy, Bruce Metzger notes,
Our biblical forebearers were eager (or at least willing, when God kept nudging them) to talk about God’s love and the joy it brings to our lives, even though that message wasn’t logical either! That we are beloved by God and an essential part of God’s plan for the world is all we need to know. Whether we’re having a good day or a terrible day, whether we’re happy or sad, we are wrapped in God’s love—whether we realize it or not.[i]
Paul knew something about all this: “Rejoice in the Lord always and again I say rejoice.” He wrote these words while facing execution for his faith in Jesus. How could he do such a thing? Paul had learned how to have inner joy no matter what his outer circumstances. Joy comes from believing and belonging and knowing Jesus as Lord.
We see joy bursting forth from the very first line of Isaiah 35, “The wilderness and the dry land shall be glad, the desert shall rejoice and blossom; like the crocus it shall blossom abundantly, and rejoice with joy and singing.” The transformation promised in our earlier Advent readings come to blessed fruition. You will remember that the First Sunday of Advent, Isaiah showed us the vision of a new heaven and a new earth where battlegrounds become gardens. Out of darkness, the poet of light called us to walk in the light of the Lord—to walk in hope that God’s light is coming into the world.
Last Sunday, through the eyes of Isaiah, we saw that in a time of darkness for the people of Israel, hope could be found in something as unlikely as a tree stump. Even when things looked hopeless because David’s house had fallen, a second David was on the way—One able to bring peace and harmony even to animals that are natural born enemies.
From today’s reading from Isaiah, we watch creation join in the celebration—glad lands and streams in the deserts, and that which is broken made right when the eyes of the blind are opened, the ears of the deaf unstopped, the lame leap like deer, and the speechless sing for joy.
As one scholar notes,
The central image of this oracle of promise is that of the people’s return through the wilderness once again to the land of promise. The journey of exodus is repeated, only this journey through the wilderness is begun with a picture of the wilderness blossoming and flourishing with life… The transformed way through the wilderness is also the sign of God’s impending new age, when all that is less than whole is restored and made new. Broken creation becomes new creation, and the shalom that God intended in creation becomes reality once again.[ii]
When we hear these great reversals, how can we keep from bringing to mind the Song of Mary, The Magnificat?
My soul magnifies the Lord… He has shown strength with his arm; he has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts. He has brought down the powerful from their thrones, and lifted up the lowly; he has filled the hungry with good things, and sent the rich away empty. He has helped his servant Israel, in remembrance of his mercy, according to the promise he made to our ancestors, to Abraham and to his descendants forever.”
What a marvelous word of hope. Advent promises a return to God’s original plan of goodness and wholeness for all of creation and for all that lives and moves and breathes. The promise is of return, of restoration, of a way where there seems to be no way, and of nothing less than “joy to the world.”[iii]
It is with joy in mind, that I offer you a poem written by Denise Levertov entitled, “Annunciation.”
We know the scene: the room, variously furnished,
almost always a lectern, a book; always
the tall lily.
Arrived on solemn grandeur of great wings,
the angelic ambassador, standing or hovering,
whom she acknowledges, a guest.
But we are told of meek obedience. No one mentions
The engendering Spirit
did not enter her without consent.
She was free
to accept or to refuse, choice
integral to humanness.
Aren’t there annunciations
of one sort or another
in most lives?
undertake great destinies,
enact them in sullen pride,
when roads of light and storm
open from darkness in a man or woman,
are turned away from
in dread, in a wave of weakness, in despair
and with relief.
Ordinary lives continue.
God does not smite them.
But the gates close, the pathway vanishes.
She had been a child who played, ate, slept
like any other child – but unlike others,
wept only for pity, laughed
in joy not triumph.
Compassion and intelligence
fused in her, indivisible.
Called to a destiny more momentous
than any in all of Time,
she did not quail,
a simple, ‘How can this be?’
and gravely, courteously,
took to heart the angel’s reply,
the astounding ministry she was offered:
to bear in her womb
Infinite weight and lightness; to carry
in hidden, finite inwardness,
nine months of Eternity; to contain
in slender vase of being,
the sum of power –
in narrow flesh,
the sum of light.
Then bring to birth,
push out into air, a Man-child
needing, like any other,
milk and love –
but who was God.
This was the moment no one speaks of,
when she could still refuse.
A breath unbreathed,
She did not cry, ‘I cannot. I am not worthy,’
Nor, ‘I have not the strength.’
She did not submit with gritted teeth,
Bravest of all humans,
consent illumined her.
The room filled with its light,
the lily glowed in it,
and the iridescent wings.
opened her utterly.
In the name of the Father, and the Son, and the Spirit. Amen.
[i] Bruce M. Metzger, https://www.presbyterianwomen.org/horizons-magazine/horizons-may-june-2019/
[ii] Bruce C. Birch, Feasting on the Word
*Cover Image: StushieArt, Used by subscription