Third Sunday in Advent C 2013
(Zephaniah 3:14-18; Philippians 4:4-7)
The Rev. Leonard Oakes
Our Advent waiting and preparation for the birth of Christ have been visited by the spirit of sorrow at the early end of this week. It’s hard for us to be happy and joyful today as the whole nation is in deep shock because of the Massacre at Sandy Hook elementary school in Newtown, Connecticut. Twenty children and six adults were killed when the shooter opened fire Friday morning. We are all deeply saddened and we remain speechless as the news continues to unfold. I ask for a moment of silence and sound 26 bells in memory of the victims. May the souls of the faithful through the mercy of God rest in peace!
In the midst of our sorrow, the prophet Zephaniah announced to God’s people, in the midst of difficult time in their history, to “sing, shout, rejoice and exult for joy”. They should sing for joy not because things were wonderful, but because God was in their midst. We sing for joy today because God is with the people of Newtown in Connecticut. God is in their midst of suffering and pain. We heard Paul in the second reading affirming this act, while in prison, tell the Philippians to rejoice always. The scriptures give different ideas about joy than our culture does. Our society seems to tell us joy stems from what we have. The scriptures tell us our joy comes from what we have now but it also comes from what we will have in the future, something we can trust in because God is faithful to his promises.
We may find it hard to do what Zephaniah and Paul ask us to do because of self pity, constantly putting other people down to make ourselves look smatter or better; holding on to anger and resentment. It only eats us up inside and does not produce joy. We have to forgive.
And then there’s fear and worry. Paul advises us to have no anxiety at all. That might sound impossible but there are so many things that cause us anxiety, which only God understands. If self-pity, guilt, anger, unwilling to forgive, resentment, fear, and worry work against our having joy, then what will lead to joy? We must decide to be joyful. Paul tells the Philippians “rejoice’ as if it is something for them to choose to do rather than it being something that just happens to them. “Rejoice in the Lord always” and “Do not worry about anything”
With that, I want to play you this singing bass fish Rev. Lynn gave me as a gift which helps me cope up with stress. The song was from Youtube sensation Bobby McFerrin, “Don’t worry, be happy.” I like it when its tail wiggles. In times when I think that even though we live in a world that is full of toys, comforts and luxuries yet fewer and fewer people seem to experience true peace and satisfaction in their lives, and in times when life is full of problems and we continue to experience more and more worry and anxiety, I still have time to sit down and take a deep breath and sing this song:
In every life we have some trouble/ When you worry you make it double/ Don’t worry, be happy.
Ain’t got no place to lay your head/ Somebody came and took your bed/ Don’t worry, be happy.
The landlord say your rent is late/ He may have to litigate/ Don’t worry, be happy.
Ain’t got no cash, ain’t got no style/ Ain’t got no gal to make you smile/ But don’t worry, be happy.
I like it when Bobby just whistles his problems out. Yet, when we look deeper to compare the song with our readings today, there is a big difference between St Paul and Bobby McFerrin on this issue. Bobby McFerrin tells us “Don’t worry, be happy” without telling us why we should be happy or more importantly how to not worry. Paul, on the other hand tells us both why we should be happy and how we can dissolve our worries and attain happiness. Here we have Paul’s key to happiness.
Paul tells us why we should not worry when he said: “Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, Rejoice. Let your gentleness be known to everyone. The Lord is near”. We should be happy not because everything is going well with us right now, not because our health and finances are in great shape, not even because the Church Women bought you your favorite computer this Christmas, but simply because the Lord is near. We should be happy not because of what the past and the present have shown but because of what we shall see tomorrow. It is a happiness that springs from the faith and the hope that our Lord is coming to save from our sinfulness and become inheritors of God’s kingdom.
Paul today reassures us that the coming of the Lord will be a happy surprise for those who believe and hope in Him. We have to remember that Paul was writing these words from prison where he was not sure if he will come out alive. So here he is teaching us not only by word but by example as well. “Rejoice. Let your gentleness be known to everyone. The Lord is near.” The Lord is coming.
Why and how not to worry could be difficult to explain to the family of the victims in Connecticut at this time of grief. How could one keep from worrying when one is surrounded by apparently gargantuan problems and difficulties? Yet, Paul gives us an answer in the second part of the reading. “Do not worry about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God.” In every situation, in every difficulty or problem, in all circumstances, Paul knows one thing we should do rather than worry, and that is: take it to the Lord in prayer. Paul does not ask us to deny that we’ve got problems or to pretend as if they are not there. He urges us rather to face our problems squarely, not with worry but with prayer.
Turn your worries into prayers and have peace in your heart “And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus”. It is the peace that God gives, the peace that nothing in the world can give, and all because we have learned to trust God in everything and in every situation. We have learned to bring everything to God in prayer no matter the magnitude of the problems facing us at this time. Take it to the Lord in prayer.
I have another song for you today. Nine more days before Christmas, I still have time to sing: Maestro, take it to the key of D. “I’m still dreaming of Imac computer, it’s been a year since I last asked. My old computer is 13 years old now, and it’s giving me headache every time.” I know, I don’t have to worry for there are people like you who are blessed to give. Lord, hear my prayer. Amen.