Welcome to our service for this third Sunday in Advent, traditionally known as Gaudete Sunday – a day of rejoicing. Our online service this week is brought to you as a team effort by Alex, Pauline, and Louise. Today we consider the paradox of joy in a time of challenge.
Call to Worship (from Psalm 30)
I praise you, Lord, because you have saved me
and kept my enemies from gloating over me.
I cried to you for help, O Lord my God,
and you healed me;
Sing praise to the Lord,
all his faithful people!
Remember what the Holy One has done,
and give him thanks!
His anger lasts only a moment,
his goodness for a lifetime.
Tears may flow in the night,
but joy comes in the morning.
Hear us, Lord, and be merciful!
Help us, Lord!”
You have changed my sadness into a joyful dance;
you have taken away my sorrow
and surrounded me with joy.
HYMN 277 Hark the glad sound! The Saviour comes
(from First Plymouth Church, Lincoln, Nebraska)
(Based on The Magnificat, Luke 1: 46-55)
Let us pray:
We gather in Your presence, Lord,
to proclaim Your greatness,
and to rejoice in Your salvation,
for You have looked upon us in grace.
In Your love You have blessed us,
doing great things for and through us.
You have shown Your mercy to us,
bringing us through times of darkness.
In mercy You look upon the humble,
calling them to Your presence,
filling them with good things,
and placing Your seal upon them.
You, Lord, have come to the aid of Your people,
through Your mercy granting us forgiveness.
You keep Your promise to all people,
generation by generation.
Now we come before you in joy,
in hope, and in thanksgiving.
We lift high Your Holy Name,
through Christ, our risen Lord.
Hear us, we pray, as we come to you in His words, saying together:
Our Father in heaven,
hallowed be your name,
your kingdom come,
your will be done,
on earth as in heaven.
Give us today our daily bread
Forgive us our sins
as we forgive those who sin against us.
Save us from the time of trial
and deliver us from evil.
For the kingdom, the power, and the glory are yours
now and for ever. Amen.
Zephaniah 3: 14-20
Sing aloud, O daughter Zion;
shout, O Israel!
Rejoice and exult with all your heart,
O daughter Jerusalem!
The Lord has taken away the judgements against you,
he has turned away your enemies.
The king of Israel, the Lord, is in your midst;
you shall fear disaster no more.
On that day it shall be said to Jerusalem:
Do not fear, O Zion;
do not let your hands grow weak.
The Lord, your God, is in your midst,
a warrior who gives victory;
he will rejoice over you with gladness,
he will renew you in his love;
he will exult over you with loud singing
as on a day of festival.
I will remove disaster from you,
so that you will not bear reproach for it.
I will deal with all your oppressors
at that time.
And I will save the lame
and gather the outcast,
and I will change their shame into praise
and renown in all the earth.
At that time I will bring you home,
at the time when I gather you;
for I will make you renowned and praised
among all the peoples of the earth,
when I restore your fortunes
before your eyes, says the Lord.
Philippians 4: 4-7
Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, Rejoice. Let your gentleness be known to everyone. The Lord is near. Do not worry about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.
HYMN 281 People, look East
(from Borodino Methodist Church)
The third Sunday in Advent is traditionally known as Gaudete Sunday. The day takes its name from the Latin, Gaudete, or ‘rejoice’, the first word of the passage we read from Philippians this morning: Rejoice in the Lord always. Perhaps you were not surprised that the theme of our service this morning is joy, or rejoicing. Most people in the secular world in which we live think of December as Christmas, a time for laughter, happiness and celebration. But for Christians, this time is not Christmas. We are in Advent and we are not yet celebrating the birth of Christ. And, amid continuing concern over the spread of Covid 19, and our worries over climate change, are we mad to celebrate and rejoice after the two years we have had and the new threats we are now facing?
The passage from Zephaniah is a shout of joy and you may well have felt that you could not share in that emotion. However, the passage comes at the end of a book that is largely about disaster and distress. It is full of prophecies of judgement and reproach, as the people are warned that God is unhappy with their behaviour and intends to punish them. And yet that period of difficulty and trauma ends with this outburst of joy.
For us too, the world can seem dark. Maybe we too feel cut off from God. Are you cross that ‘everyone else’ is preparing to celebrate Christmas and you don’t feel like it? Rather than feel joyful, do you in fact feel low? Grief-stricken, lonely, confused, fearful? You are not alone. We know from our readings of the Bible that sorrow and grief have been part of the human condition for millennia.
So, what causes us to rejoice? There are glimmers of hope in our current situation. The scientists are working flat out to counter the threat of new Covid variants and our vaccination programme has been a success. We have not yet fully returned to ‘normal’ life but we are able to worship together and to meet family and friends. Governments have agreed to tackle climate change and there may be progress. Some of us may indeed have had moments this year when we have felt truly joyful. Not just content, not just happy but downright joyful. Take a moment to think about what that felt like.
Paul, in this extract from his letter to the Philippians, calls his readers to joy and confirms that the peace of God will then be vouchsafed to us. He wrote this when he was a prisoner, suffering and perhaps already expecting death. We can be comforted by this realisation that, for us too, joy can emerge from times of grief and struggle.
Why is this? It is not anything we do ourselves but the presence of God that determines the joy we feel. Like Paul and like the ancient Israelites, we will face challenges in our lives and, like them, we are called, with God’s help, to face them not with weariness, self-pity or even anger, but with songs of joy.
What does that mean for us, on this day, in this year? Don’t misunderstand ‘joy’. This is not the pleasure you may take in turkey and gifts and hugs from your nearest and dearest. Henri Nouwen, a Dutch Catholic priest and theologian, spoke of joy not being the same as simple happiness. It comes from the knowledge “that you are unconditionally loved” by God. It is a deeper emotion – sometimes even co-existing with unhappiness. Our passages today both speak a message of hope to those in difficult situations.
The period of Advent shows us that God was to answer the general lament of humankind in a spectacularly generous way. We know that something special is about to happen. We know that someone is coming, someone important. God answered the prayers of those early Israelites – and our prayers too – by sending Jesus to live among us, and to die for us. The Light transforms the lives of human beings and turns grief to joy.
The period of Advent is – or should be – a time of preparation for us, and not just for a long weekend of family and presents. We need to be ready for Jesus. We cannot enter fully into God’s promise of joy unless we open ourselves to change, to new priorities, renewed relationships with each other and with our neighbours near and far.
Jesus’ birth, his life, his death and his resurrection reveal God’s love for the world – for all of us. His incarnation – his physical presence on earth among ordinary people like Paul, and you, and me – is a source of hope, love, peace and deep, abiding joy. Light is about to break again into our lives, whatever the challenges we face. Be ready. Rejoice! I will say it again; rejoice!
HYMN 286 Tell out my soul
(Songs of Praise from St. Anne’s Cathedral, Belfast)
Let us pray.
My soul magnifies the Lord,
and my spirit rejoices in God my Saviour,
for he has looked with favour on the lowliness of his servant.
God of Love,
who seeks to fill us with true joy,
teach us to be bearers of your light in times of darkness.
In doing so, may the lonely know friendship,
the grieving, comfort, and the despairing, hope.
Surely, from now on all generations will call me blessed;
for the Mighty One has done great things for me,
and holy is his name.
God of Grace,
You have blessed us beyond measure.
By the gifts we receive let us give to one another.
May we give our time, talents, and money to
serve those in emotional, spiritual, and physical need.
His mercy is for those who fear him
from generation to generation.
God of Wonder,
You are compassionate to those who seek you.
May we seek you in the everyday and in time of celebration.
May we learn from your Word, teaching young and old
to love mercy, act justly, and walk humbly with you.
He has shown strength with his arm;
he has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts.
He has brought down the powerful from their thrones,
and lifted up the lowly;
he has filled the hungry with good things,
and sent the rich away empty.
God of Justice,
who fights for the oppressed and downtrodden,
correct in us any pride or sense of superiority.
Let us share our food with the hungry, our purse with the poor,
and your strength, comfort, and care with the victimised.
He has helped his servant Israel,
in remembrance of his mercy,
according to the promise he made to our ancestors,
to Abraham and to his descendants forever.
God of Eternity,
You know our past, our present and future.
We pledge ourselves to you, as part of your Church.
Remember us in your mercy,
and walk with us this day and ever more.
HYMN 449 Rejoice! The Lord is King
(from Grace Community Church, Sun Valley, California)
Let us go from this place
with hearts comforted by the promise of God.
Let us go from this place
knowing that the Light will enter our lives.
Let us go from this place,
knowing that love and peace and joy will be ours.
And as we go,
may the blessing of God Almighty,
Father, Son, and Holy Spirit,
go with you all
now and evermore.
Bible Quotations taken from: New Revised Standard Version Bible: Anglicised Edition, copyright © 1989, 1995 the Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
English translations of The Lord’s Prayer, © 1998, English Language Liturgical Consultation (ELLC), and used by permission. www.englishtexts.org
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