Sermon at First Presbyterian Church Lockhart
by James Greene
Have you ever wondered what is joy? We have seen joy in the uninhibited giggle of a child. We have seen joy in the face of someone, who has received a gift that is truly beyond their expectations. There is the joy in understanding and realizing a truth, or a belief that we’ve held. There is the joy, of seeing a friend, that we have not seen in years, or a returning home after years of being over seas.
So what gives us joy? Is it the simple pleasure of playing with a puppy, or the sight of snow falling past street lights, in the cold chill of a winter’s night?
Similarly, what steals our joy? What takes the wind out of our sails, when things are going well: Like a low grade in a course in which we have worked so hard, or the notice of being laid off, that we didn’t see coming?
In Kalil Gibran’s book “The Prophet” he teaches that our deepest joy is linked to our deepest sorrow. In the relief of our doubt we truly realize joy. We see this in the readings and on this Sunday of Advent Joy.
The title of this Advents sermon is “Teaching Joy”
I Teaching of Joy– Isaiah
In Isaiah we see the joy of the wilderness and the parched land with God’s blessing. The people with fearful hearts (those who feared the Lord – who are in awe of the Lord) are called to be strong, and to remain faithful.
In V-5 we see the “prophesy of Isaiah” that the eyes of the blind will be opened, and the deaf will hear, and the lame will leap, and the mute will shout for joy. Like the wilderness (the desert) will rejoice, and will be blessed with an abundance of running water. Even the creation, will flourish and blossom with the coming of the Messiah and the return of God’s Holiness. The redeemed and the ransomed of the Lord will return with everlasting joy and gladness, because of God’s salvation. The sorrow of their fallen condition will leave them.
Isaiah is teaching about the joy, that comes with the coming of the Messiah. With the insight of Gibran, we see how the deep sorrow that comes with man’s and creation’s fallen state, turns into joy, through the redemption of and the ransoming of God’s people and the creation.
II God’s faithfulness Teaches Joy – Psalm like Isaiah
Psalm 146, teaches us the joy in praising the Lord because of His faithfulness. It reflects again “Isaiah’s prophesy” of giving sight to the blind, and lifting up those who are bowed down and crippled in body and in spirit.
It is a demonstration of God’s righteousness, in caring for the creation and His people: the fatherless, the widow, the alien, the oppressed, and the hungry.
III The Teaching of Joy in Patience Through Suffering – James
In James, we see about being patient (like the prophets) in our suffering, and in the way we treat each other as God’s people. It calls us not to "grumble against each other". It also calls us to be patient, and wait (like the farmer) for the crops to develop in their time, and bring their bounty. We are to wait upon God’s faithfulness, and timing, because the judge (the Messiah) is watching and waiting.
IV The Teaching of Joy - Matthew
In Matthew we see John, sending his disciples to Jesus asking the question:
“are you the one who was to come, or should we look for someone else?” John while in prison seems to doubt his own call to righteousness, and to be the one that is “preparing The Way” for the Messiah. He is giving into “the counsel of his fears”. Has he over extend himself, and gone overboard in his fervent teaching? Was his timing off, with God’s plan? Now, in prison, he’s not as positive, that he’s the forerunner of the Messiah.
Christ’s reply to John uses Isaiah’s prophesy to reaffirm John’s purpose and call. Isaiah 35:4-6 “The blind receive sight, the lame walk, those with leprosy are cured, the deaf hear, the dead are raised and The Good News is preached to the poor.”
He comforts John, with the words “Blessed is the man who does not fall away on account of me”, that he has patience, like James.
Jesus is confirming John’s place in history and prophesy as the forerunner, and for him not to loose faith. Again from Isaiah 34:4 John is one who fears the Lord – who is in awe of the Lord and he is calling him to be strong, and to remain faithful.
In the first question Jesus asks John’s disciples when they went into the dessert - about seeing a “reed swayed by the wind”, seems to be a reference to Psalm 118. Remember this last Palm Sunday, when we talked about the use of the Palm leaves during the Feast of Tabernacles with the celebration of the bringing in of the final harvest.
The palm branches were “shaken” during the reading of V-26 “O Lord, save us;” as part of the praise and worship. It is a symbol of redemption a symbol of God’s victory and the deliverance of His people. So here is John, who is “a reed swayed by the wind”. John is the one “crying out in a loud voice” (praising God) calling for repentance and the salvation of God’s people, and preparing the way for the coming of The Kingdom.
Jesus is teaching John. John was expecting the coming of the Messiah as one coming with power and with judgment. Jesus comes in Love, Grace, Mercy, Justice,
and Healing fulfilling the prophesy. His reaffirming word to John brings and gives and teaches John, the Joy, that comes with the confirmation that Jesus is The Messiah.
Jesus asks John’s disciples three times “what did you see in the desert?” His “Yes” is a confirmation that John is more than a prophet. He confirms to them also, the fulfilling prophesy of Malachi 3:1 “See, I will send my messenger, who will prepare the way before me. Then suddenly the Lord you are seeking will come to his temple; the messenger of the covenant, whom you desire, will come.”
In all of this, is the testimony of Jesus (as The Messiah) coming to God’s people. The one that they had been waiting for, for over 400 years. He is bringing and revealing the joy of heaven (that has come down) to dwell in the midst of the people.
It is in this season of Advent, we have Joy, because of our realized hope, in the prophesy of Isaiah, and in the faith of the Psalmist.
This joy is the signature of this season and of the coming of the Christ.
Even in our questioning, in our doubt, in our purpose, and in our call
Jesus comes teaching joy and reassurance, not only to John,
but also to all those who read and hear His Word.
In the Name of … the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Amen