Now & Not Yet Joy

A sermon preached at St. Francis by the Lake Episcopal Church, Canyon Lake, Texas.
The Lectionary readings for the Third Sunday of Advent are here.

Joy. Joy to the World. All the boys and girls. Joy to the fishes in the deep blue sea, Joy to you and me … oh, wait, that’s the wrong song. Let me start again.

Joy to the World, the Lord is Come. Let Earth receive her King. Let every heart prepare him room. And heaven and nature sing. I’m not sure why we save this particular carol for Christmas because to me it is very much an Advent song. It is about the now and not yet joy of Jesus’ coming – the very definition of Advent. Isaac Watt’s carefully chosen words speak of Jesus as being with us in the present tense even as we continuously prepare for him to come to us daily and more fully at some undisclosed time.

And while some Advent observing folks may get bent out of shape with the world putting up Christmas decorations before December 24, I see the appearance of tinsel and lights and ornaments, and my favorite, red and white candy canes, as a more than suitable illustration of the anticipatory joy that Advent is about. The Now and the Not Yet. The past, present, and future all wrapped up together.

I enjoy the excitement of Christmas even though I know the calendar says it’s only December 11. I don’t see it as a symptom of the instant gratification malady that has infected our culture, I see it as a – and yes, I intend every pun here – a pregnant anticipation of what is to come. When a woman is pregnant, we don’t wait until she goes into labor to get the clothes and diapers and all the paraphernalia necessary. We are excited and we begin preparing now. We live in the now and not yet of what is to come.

Because of what all has been going on in our household these past few weeks, Jim and I haven’t gotten our tree and decorations out yet, but I did get the Advent wreath put in the center of the dining table. And, while out and about with my granddaughter Jacey recently I purchased a few new ornaments for the not yet put up tree and I couldn’t wait to put them out, so you know what I did? You might want to move back some, there might be a lightening bolt come through on this confession – I unwrapped them and set them around the Advent Wreath! And, the display brings a smile to my face and to my soul with the now and not yet joy of Advent.

Mary knew this joy. She sings of God’s Kingdom already in place even though the events the angel has spoken to her about haven’t yet occurred. Her joy is too much to contain.

Jesus tried to get John’s disciples to understand it. But I think they are too hung up on how they have decided things are supposed to be that they can’t grasp what actually is. Jesus doesn’t answer their questions directly but asks them what they see and hear. The lame are walking, the blind see, the sick are restored, the hungry are fed! How can this not be joyful, how can this not be the will of God whose deepest desire is for all people to thrive in the Kingdom!?

And then he turns to the crowds and says just because things are not what we expect them to be doesn’t mean we are right and whatever happening is wrong. Jesus was not what the majority of folks expected in a Messiah and so they struggle to see what is right in front of them, John’s proclamation of the Kingdom, Jesus’ signs and wonders didn’t seem to be enough to convince them because they were looking for something else.

More often than not, God’s plan isn’t what we expect by our human standards. And so, Jesus’ question is also for us – what do we expect to see? Can we let the reality of God’s now and not yet Kingdom reset our expectations of, well, everything and everyone?

When we let go of our expectations and see God’s Kingdom as it is, we discover it is so much more that we expect. I don’t mean ‘more’ in a materialistic way but more in that we discover what it is to be more fully alive, more human than we can ever experience by settling for our own expectations. When we let God reset our expectations, we discover what it is to know we are invaluable to the loving God who created us and chooses to be in relationship with us.
We discover what it is to know we are unconditionally loved even in the midst of the pain and suffering of this world, that God is willing to walk through the most difficult of situations with us, holding and comforting us.
We discover that joy doesn’t come from getting whatever we want when we want it but from the understanding that God is true and faithful and loving so that we trust God’s Way and have faith that God will set all of Creation to rights.
We discover the peace that comes from understanding it isn’t our job to perfect or fix the world or ourselves or anyone else but to simply be who God created us each to be, in his image.
We discover that hope isn’t wishful thinking but trusting that God will bring about all that has been promised, even when we mess up so badly we can’t seem to forgive ourselves.

We are called to be living proclamations of this now and not yet Kingdom. This is the reason Jesus extends the invitation to follow him. We are called to live Sacramentally – the outward signs of the the inner grace. Do we shine like the Joy candle in this world or do we get so hung up on how we think things should be that we become the extinguishers of other people’s candles? Do we look for the image of God in everyone we encounter or do we get distracted by whatever behavior or appearance we disagree with and behave more like the Pharisees than Mary? Do we proclaim the Good News with the open eyes and ears necessary to experience the joy of God’s Kingdom or suck the joy out of the season?

What did we come out to see? The world through the lens of God’s light and love or for something we can judge or complain about in order to appear more righteous than our neighbors?

Advent is about knowing that God is present with us in the here and now and yet there is so much more to come! James puts it plainly – be patient and don’t grumble against one another. Don’t grumble at those who put Christmas ornaments around their Advent wreath and can’t wait to hang candy canes on the tree. Don’t grumble at those who say Merry Christmas during Advent or Happy Holidays at any time. Have the eyes to see them as God’s children, the ears to listen their story, respecting the dignity of every human being. Proclaim the Good News. Share the Hope, Peace, Joy, and Love we say that not just this season is about but what our life following Jesus is all about. These words aren’t just four candles in a circle or words on a church banner that we put out for a season and then store away. These words, Hope, Peace, Joy, and Love, are the foundation of life in the now and not yet of God’s Kingdom on earth as in heaven all 365 days of each year.

Joy to the World the Lord is come. Let Earth receive her King. Let every heart prepare him room. Joy to you and me. Amen.

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