St. Matthew’s Sermon 12-23-2018


St. Matthew’s Sermon 12-23-2018

Leaping for Joy!

Fourth Sunday in Advent: Joy

Micah 5:2-5a, Hebrews 10:5-10, Luke 1:39-45

May the words of my mouth and the meditations of our hearts be acceptable in your sight, O God. Amen

I’m sure all the adults in this room know how joy just pours out of children in the Christmas season; we see it every year in the smiles, laughter, excitement, and exuberant activity of the little ones; often we see them get so enthused that they literally leap for joy! And we all know how contagious their joy is! Is there anything that can lift our spirits more effectively than a happy child?!

I’m equally certain that each of us remember the joyful excitement of the season in our own childhood and I’m hopeful that all in this room still experience great happiness in the giving and receiving of gifts and the extravagant hospitality that comes with the celebration of the birth of our Lord and Savior even if we don’t lose our self-control and run around screeching in the thrill of anticipation!

It’s all so wonderful to see the level of joy in both young and old rising to a higher level at Christmas time; and I always wish the effect of the season could be seen throughout the year! And, as I pondered this, I began to realize that by-and-large, for the children, it does; but for us grownups, maybe not so much so.

Then, as my wondering, wandering, mind often works, I began to think about what could cause such a difference; why there is such a gap between the children and the adults when it comes to experiencing and expressing joy, especially when there is no particular reason, no special season, for doing so?

There are lots of standard answers to this question, like; “adults have too much responsibility to spare time for childish activities”. Or “somebody has to work to buy the groceries”. Or the one I often heard in my younger days, “you’re a grownup now, act like it” complete with the biblical justification written by Paul; “When I was a child, I spoke like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child; when I became an adult, I put an end to childish ways”. (1 Corinthians 13:11) But are these valid excuses?

Children have responsibilities; chores and school and homework. Oh, we could argue that their responsibilities are nowhere near as much a burden as ours. Yet if we consider how our life experience has given us the skills and the strength to deal with a heavier load, is there really a difference. And if so, in whose favor?

Yes, Children have some growing up to do, some maturing; but are any of us ever finished with that work?

And, in its context, Paul is addressing the childish behavior of adults who are thinking that their particular spiritual gift is more important or indicates greater faith than anyone else’s. It’s not related to finding joy in life; in fact quite the opposite as the Corinthians had lost sight of the importance of having love for each other; love that would bring joy to all.

Looking from another angle we might say that adults just don’t have the energy to express joy as a child does; that our bodies are worn down from living. But, here again, shouldn’t the exercise we receive in living life give us an advantage? OK, we might not literally leap for joy; but our laughter can still be just as enthusiastic!

And, from that same angle, we might say that children are just more resilient than us grownups. That might be so, Children can get knocked down, physically or emotionally, and after shedding a few tears be right back on their feet; playing, running, and laughing like nothing ever happened! But, again, is there a valid reason why we can’t do the same?

 

My wondering mind continued to wander in the metaphoric darkness until I tripped over one more thought; the one thing I could find that is different when comparing children and grownups in terms of experiencing and expressing joy.

What I noticed in observing children’s behavior, and remembering what I can of my own childhood, is that the youngest just don’t care what anyone else is seeing or thinking about their joyful exuberance. Simply put, they’re happy and they express their happiness uninhibited! Children can dance like no one’s watching, laugh like no one’s hearing, and sing like no one’s listening! And, they don’t need an excuse to do so; any joyful moment is reason enough!

 Why is it, then, that grownups can’t feel the same; act the same, when we’re feeling joy in our lives? It’s not about our age, our advanced brain development, or our weakening bodies; it is because we’ve become too self-conscious.

We start out ok, but as life experiences count up so do the criticisms. A remark about our loudness; a comment about our silliness; something negative said about “wrong time” or “wrong place” and we’re soon questioning ourselves, checking ourselves, reining ourselves in, and constantly evaluating the appropriateness of our movements and our words.

The cycle continues and before long we’re censoring our every movement, and every sound; we’re judging ourselves through the eyes and ears of everyone around us and we’re doing it so subconsciously that we’re not even aware how severely we’re suppressing all of our emotions, including our joy, unless we’ve first determined that it’s an appropriate time, place, and occasion to let our joy be seen.

Just like the world needs more hope, peace, and love; it also needs more joy. My challenge to you, then; to us; is to reawaken our hearts and our minds to the experience and free expression of joy; not only in special occasions like Christmas and New Years Eve; but throughout the year! And not only in appropriate times and places, but in every time and place where joy is found!

Dance like no one is watching, laugh like no one is hearing, and sing like no one is listening; yet know that they are, and soon they will be dancing and laughing, and singing with you! Then be amazed at how quickly joy, along with hope, peace, and love spread throughout the world!

Amen.

 

Micah 5:2-5a
5:2 But you, O Bethlehem of Ephrathah, who are one of the little clans of Judah, from you shall come forth for me one who is to rule in Israel, whose origin is from of old, from ancient days.
5:3 Therefore he shall give them up until the time when she who is in labor has brought forth; then the rest of his kindred shall return to the people of Israel.
5:4 And he shall stand and feed his flock in the strength of the LORD, in the majesty of the name of the LORD his God. And they shall live secure, for now he shall be great to the ends of the earth;
5:5 and he shall be the one of peace.

 

Hebrews 10:5-10
10:5 Consequently, when Christ came into the world, he said, “Sacrifices and offerings you have not desired, but a body you have prepared for me;
10:6 in burnt offerings and sin offerings you have taken no pleasure.
10:7 Then I said, ‘See, God, I have come to do your will, O God’ (in the scroll of the book it is written of me).”
10:8 When he said above, “You have neither desired nor taken pleasure in sacrifices and offerings and burnt offerings and sin offerings” (these are offered according to the law),
10:9 then he added, “See, I have come to do your will.” He abolishes the first in order to establish the second.
10:10 And it is by God’s will that we have been sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all.


Luke 1:39-45
1:39 In those days Mary set out and went with haste to a Judean town in the hill country,
1:40 where she entered the house of Zechariah and greeted Elizabeth.
1:41 When Elizabeth heard Mary’s greeting, the child leaped in her womb. And Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit
1:42 and exclaimed with a loud cry, “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb.
1:43 And why has this happened to me, that the mother of my Lord comes to me?
1:44 For as soon as I heard the sound of your greeting, the child in my womb leaped for joy.
1:45 And blessed is she who believed that there would be a fulfillment of what was spoken to her by the Lord.”