Sunday, 16 December 2012

An Homily for Advent III with reference to Zephaniah 3:14-20, Philippians 4:4-7, Luke 3:7-18 and the Tragedy in Newtown, Connecticut

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Today is Gaudete Sunday. Gaudete is latin for rejoice.
Zephaniah 3:14 (ESV) Sing aloud, O daughter of Zion; shout, O Israel! Rejoice and exult with all your heart, O daughter of Jerusalem!
Philippians 4:4 (ESV) Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice.
But how can we rejoice in anticipation of Jesus’ return, or for any other reason, at a time like this? Twenty-seven people, mostly six year olds, murdered in Newtown, Connecticut the day before yesterday—all manner of carnage going on in Syria and the Congo—a plague of battered and missing women in our own country.

And even when Jesus himself, who’s birth we are about to celebrate, was born,
Matthew 2:18 (ESV) “A voice was heard in Ramah, weeping and loud lamentation, Rachel weeping for her children; she refused to be comforted, because they are no more.”
I'm not going to try and soften any of that for you this morning. Life is real and so is death and it comes hard sometimes. I'm not going to try and tell you that if you just hold your mouth right everything's really okay.

The fact is that there are times when things are very clearly not okay, and this is one of them.

The people that were murdered in Newtown, Connecticut a few days were victims of an evil, brutal, sinful, commandment breaking act. It is a tragedy—a disaster.

What are you and I supposed to do with that? First, I grieve and pray for the people who are mourning today. (Prayer)

And I do my best to grab hold of the fact that, as Paul writes in this morning’s reading from Philippians:
Philippians 4:5 (ESV) …The Lord is at hand.
So, I need not
Philippians 4:6(ESV) …be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let my requests be made known to God.
I give thanks for my own family, my children and grandchildren and for their safety and security. I let my requests be made known to God as I pray for them and their teachers and schools, for our city our governments, the health system, and especially that those who are suffering from mental illness can get the help they need when they need it.

Tragic and sudden death like this is a blunt reminder that we, too, are mortal. There is an ancient prayer in our Anglican Prayer Books called The Great Litany. Part of it goes like this: “From earthquake and tempest; from drought fire and flood; from civil strife and violence; from war and murder; and from dying suddenly and unprepared, Good Lord deliver us.”

These last few days we’re experiencing a sharp reminder of the reality of murder and sudden death. Can one ever be prepared for that? I think so, although no one really knows until they find themselves placed in that kind of situation. I think those brave Sandy Hook Elementary School women, who placed themselves in harm’s way to protect those children, suggests they were prepared in a deep way to do what needed to be done in the circumstances. Their preparation wasn’t a conscious, intentional thing. It must have been the fruit of their upbringing, character and values.

I think we’ve been hearing about some helpful preparatory things through Advent—work that, when properly and honestly done, grows that kind of character. Things like, as we’ve heard over the last couple of Sundays, being alert, being on guard—not just for danger, although that can be important—but for how things are in our relationships. Am I all clear with God? Do the people I love know it? Are there issues that should be resolved before it’s too late? Is there anyone I need to forgive, or from which I need to ask for forgiveness?

Is there some way in which I am being called to prepare a new way for Jesus into my own or someone else’s life? Any things hindering love of Him?

Is there some preparatory work I need to do along the lines of the things John told the nervous and expectant crowds who came out to be baptised and to learn from him?

Lk 3:8 Any fruits I need to bear that are worthy of repentance?—in other words, have I personally made things right with and made restitution for the one I’ve sinned against?

V11 Anything I need to share?

V12 Is there any part of my life in which I’m collecting more than my due?

V14 Am I involved in any extortion? Making threats, falsely accusing? Is there inappropriate discontent in my life with wages or anything else?

Luke 3:15 (ESV) As the people were in expectation, and all were questioning in their hearts concerning John, whether he might be the Christ,
What am I expecting? What am I looking forward to? V16: a mighty one is coming again. One who baptises with the Holy Spirit and fire and who placed himself in harm’s way for me and you. Jesus.

When what we're going through is too hard, too dark, too painful. Jesus replies in John 6, trust in God, trust in me, and "I am the way, the truth and the life." What he's saying is if you want to be prepared for anything, and to safely negotiate awful times like this, keep your eyes on me. That there is ugliness, pain, sin and hopelessness in the world, doesn’t mean you have to let your life be defined by them. (Julie's Facebook post). If you let me, I will be your way through life's darkest moments. I know the way Home. I'm the only one who does. I love every one of those victims and every one of their families, and I love you. Come to me and you will find rest.

Rejoice in The Lord always, and again I say rejoice!