In the movie, “A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood”, Fred Rogers helps Lloyd Vogel process his relationship with his father and re-connect with him after decades of cutoff on both sides…. It leaves us thinking we can’t change the past, but maybe we can give the story a different ending….** If only we could be just a bit better than we are, a lot less anxious, helping others trust God just a mite more, so that our stories could have a good ending. **adapted from Healthy Congregation Words by Rachel Tune, Pastor Wittenburg University***
Joy Sunday Contrasts with Advent Blues
Today, the third Sunday of Advent, is the Sunday of Joy. Advent was historically a time to prepare for Epiphany baptisms, a time to take in Jesus’ costly journey of bringing faith to us. During the rest of Advent we get ourselves alert, reflect on the cost of our faith, prepare for, but wait patiently for, Christ’s coming and our celebration that he has come, and is present.
Joy is out of step with the Lenten-like mood of waiting. Our wreath has one pink candle among the blue candles of hope. In this season of waiting to celebrate, how did the Joy Sunday and the pink candle get into the mix? Except this contrast makes our Christmas joy that much more intense.
Today we highlight the opposite of the rest of Advent, making our preparations and joy all that more vivid. Only blue on the dark black of the long nights won’t do, neither would all pink be great. If Advent were all joy, then it’d be hard to celebrate Christmas; it’d be as if we’d nibbled at the turkey, dressing and all, and gobbled up all the Christmas cookies for weeks. The celebration would be just more of the same, if anything were left for the feast. But on the dark background of real life, pink decorates blue spectacularly, and since it denotes God’s joy then the best pink would be hot-pink on deep sea blue rising to sky blue.
Today, though, we also remember that Christmas, more so because it’s supposed to be such a joyous time, can actually be the most painful, sorrowful, lonely and despairing time of the year. It can be all so blue. For this reason we offer Blue Christmas Services.
Insert here Niel Diamond singing Song Sung Blue YouTube – Song Sung Blue or your favourite song about the blues, our old friend the blues, or your favourite song about the blues, our old friend the blues.
The New Ending Needed
In the name of Jesus we can’t change the past, but we know the story needs a different ending….
Biblical Images of Life Dried Up
Images of dried up creation abound in today’s lessons: wilderness, dry land, desert … weak hands, feeble knees, fearful hearts … blind, deaf, lame, speechless people … burning sand, thirsty ground, haunts of jackals, dry grass … lions, ravenous beasts … sighing and sorrows.
The New Ending, Possible?
That is the past. We can’t change the past, but can we really give this story a different ending?
Dark, Cold Tunnel of Real Life
It’s dark. The sun rises but stays below the southern roof- or tree-tops. It’s cold. In the city it’s dipped into the minus teens. Not far away, on a little lake that’s as much home as anywhere, it’s been below -30⁰C and not over -15⁰ for days. Most everyone is affected, some a bit more as they struggle with mild to severe depression because of the lack of sunshine. Too often this season can seem like a cold, dark tunnel that we get thrust into, whether we choose it or not.
In Alberta now, after the oil bust of 2014 and lately Premier Kenny’s cuts, 20% of young men are unemployed. That does not count those who have given up trying to find work, or those who are back at school trying to increase their odds of finding a job (going in debt to do so), or those who have part-time jobs where they work pitifully few hours, so that it’s less a job, and more a hindrance to finding real work. Employers more cheaply employ 10 part-time workers 8 hours each week than 2 full-time employees 40 hours each.
This is real. These young men face hunger, homelessness, losing their vehicles. Forget about having anything for health and dental care.
Chaplains in hospitals write up verbatims: formerly well-paid men are hounded by their spouse (or not-spouse) to bring home the same money for the pricey lifestyle they’ve spent themselves into. Turning to crime or not, the stress eats away at the men’s health. For some, physical or psychological violence at home puts them in the hospital. Women know the courts will likely believe any lie they tell and the men will be convicted and jailed, even when they are the victims.
The Booby-trapped Tunnel
The dark tunnel we find ourselves in can, in this or other ways, turn out to be full of traps set by people we would trust. People point us to the light at the end of the tunnel, but it seems a long ways off through the dark and dangerous cold.
The New Ending Beyond Us.
We know full well we can’t change the past, but even trying to give the story a different ending seems beyond us.
Epidemic of Senior Loneliness
The severity of the seniors’ epidemic of loneliness increases at Christmas. 25% percent of seniors live alone often not by choice. Living alone or not, an unknown number of seniors are severely lonely, cut off from meaningful engagement in life. Loneliness affects health and precipitates death as quickly as any disease. Two of life’s necessities are missing: a meaningful contribution to life and an ability to love and be loved.
There are walls to stare at, perhaps paths to walk. But one is alone even in crowds. Few reach out with kindness and understanding, and time. Everyone has their own busy agenda to help them ignore the emptiness that threatens.
Worse still are the seniors that experience elder abuse. Seniors can be more vulnerable than young children and become targets because they may appear to have wealth, and the taking appears to be easy. This month we collect for “No Room In the Inn” to create a safe place to which they can escape.
The Light in the Tunnel is a Train
The light they told us was at the end of the tunnel looks more and more like a train coming right at us in this dark tunnel and we cannot see any way out. We can’t move fast enough to find any emergency exit that may be somewhere out there.
The New Ending Only Hoped For
We can’t change the past, and we only hope we can give the story a different ending before it’s too late.
Exactly into this dark reality, our Advent Sunday of Joy is set as a stark contrast to our Lenten-like Advent preparations.
This Sunday is exactly like the Crocus named in the OT lesson. The first flower of Spring, it pushes up and blossoms even while the snow and morning frosts keep other plants at bay.
Similarly all the desolate images serve as the setting into which God comes and transforms creation. Cool streams flow in the wilderness, over the dry land, and on the burning sand bringing them to rejoice and blossom, with joy and singing. Weak hands are strengthened, feeble knees made firm, fear is met with encouragement, the blind see, the deaf hear, the lame leap, and the speechless sing.
A highway is made upon which no lion or beast or thief prowls, and even a fool cannot go astray. Those redeemed by Christ will obtain joy and gladness. All sorrow and sighing will flee away. In a simple word, we and all creation are baptized in the water of God’s blessings. It is a marvellously new creation. We are made saints and set to live well in it!
God’s coming is already, and not yet. Like the farmer we wait patiently for the early and the late rains of God’s blessings to tumble down on us and through us. We do not grumble against each other, for grumbling against each other is caustic to life and for it we would be justly judged by the Judge at the door. There are no evidentiary rules, precedents, or arguments required. This Judge is omnipotent and all-knowing, and the judgments are fair, clearly so to all. Jesus’ every judgment is made to make life possible for all.
Jesus comes to set things right, to make people healthy, what is wrong is set right. Jesus comes in poverty, born homeless in a cow barn. Jesus comes to those least acceptable to the world of his day. Jesus comes to the blind, the lame, the deaf, the lepers, the dead, and the poor.
The Light in the Tunnel is Christ’s Light on God’s Train Coming at Us!
It turns out that the light at the end of the cold, dark tunnel is a train coming right for us. Or rather it is the Light of Christ barrelling down on us like a train. This train is not loaded with oil, grain, lumber, or other goods.
The first cars of this train have the Blue Hope of Advent spilling out in endless streams over the landscape of God’s wonderful and broken creation.
Hope is followed by cars as numerous as the stars spewing Justice, Mercy, Forgiveness, Inspiration, Gratitude, Generosity, Faith, Love in Action, and Love Universal and Unconditional. Look at all the colours streaming across the desolate landscape of our broken lives!
See the Light. Run to it. Dance to it. Sing for it with the deepest and broadest joy.
Insert here the Proclaimers singing I’m On My Way [From Misery to Happiness]. You Tube- I’m On My Way
For God intends for us, even in our sadness and loneliness, to be overwhelmed with the Goodness of life given to us by the Holy Spirit, the engine of that train. It may be cold and dark outside but the pink of joy covers the dark and decorates our blues.
God’s New Ending
We can’t change the past. And we cannot give the story a different ending. This Advent we remember, we do not have to. God has already given the story the best ending possible! What Joy!
We wait, full of anticipation for the celebration of Christmas, marking Jesus’ birth, proclaiming Jesus’ presence now, and hoping for Jesus the Christ’s return!
We pray, Let us be the blessed “who do not let the Messiah [we] are expecting blind [us] to the Messiah who is standing right in front of [us]” (Barbara Brown Taylor, God in Pain: Teaching Sermons on Suffering [Nashville: Abingdon Press, 1998]).
Our Response: We are the Pink in the Blues
Today we reflect on joy, and its roots in the dark of misery, and its place within the blues of Hope. The Holy Spirit makes us the streams of cool water flowing in the deserts of life, the crocuses springing up for those to whom Christ came. We are the patient, non-anxious, gracious, kind, and generous ones. In us others see Christ active for them even if the world frosts them out.
This is the ending to the story that God has for creation and all of us in it: that Christ came, that Christ comes, that Christ will come, and all of creation was, is and will be baptized with living water, transforming it and all of us. Therefore we follow Christ’s example: bringing real joy to those with SADS, the unemployed, the lonely, the blind, the lame, the deaf, the lepers, the dead, and the poor. This is the pink of our Advent Blues. It may not be more than a touch on the horizon in our preparations, nor need it be more. It is like the light at the end of the tunnel, giving us reason to Hope, even in the blues.
We are the pink of Advent for those in need around us.
As we get ready to sing: Let me highlight with pink and blue a few words of our hymn of the day:
All earth is hopeful, the Savior comes at last! Furrows lie open for God’s creative task: this, the labour of people who struggle to see how God’s truth and justice sets [Blue:] everybody free.
We first saw Jesus a baby in a crib. This same Lord Jesus today has come to live in our world; he is present, in neighbours we see our Jesus is with us, and ever sets [Pink:] us free.
Theme and Notes
Joy, the pink contrast to the Blues of Advent, draws us to be God’s people to bring transformation to those most in need.
*In the Pink: to be in the best of health; by Grace alone the best spiritual health.
***Wittenberg University is a private liberal arts college in Springfield, Ohio. It has approximately 2,000 full-time students representing 37 states and 30 foreign countries.