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Joyfully Expectant!

Joyfully Expectant!

Isaiah 12:2-6

Philippians 4:4-7

Luke 3:7-18

“Rejoice in the Lord always; again I say, Rejoice!”

We know that Advent is a season of waiting; but it’s more than simply waiting in drudgery for something that’s highly anticipated to come-to-pass! Today we’re reminded, that you and I are called to be joyful as we wait! As we anticipate the celebration of the birth of Christ, and as we prepare for his return: and as we wait for the Holy Spirit to move in our lives, today. We’re a joyfully expectant people!

Isaiah reminds us of the reasons we should be joyful while waiting... as he recalls the ways God has delivered us, is delivering us, and will deliver us (Past, Present, Future). He invites us to shout and sing for joy because we have and shall “draw water with rejoicing from the springs of salvation.”

Of course, Paul, as in the Apostle Paul... the same Paul who struggled with a physical ailment of some sort... a “thorn in the flesh” that he pleaded with God to remove, and was in turn reminded that “God’s grace is sufficient” (do you remember all that?): Paul strongly urges us to “Rejoice in the Lord always...”

It has been a rough couple of years now, in many ways. We’ve (for the most part) become a “fear gripped” people. With all the grief, suffering, loss, uncertainty, and the brokeness of our world, it’s not always easy to always “rejoice!” Right?

Of course, in our minds, joy tends to equate with happiness. Our happiness is often connected to what’s happening to us, and around us. In other words, we tend to base our happiness (or lack of happiness) on externals... the things of this world... the things we have or don’t have, right?

But the truth of God’s Word is that joy is not dependent on happiness! Just look to the Prophets!

Isaiah could see the “doom and gloom” as well as anyone: but, he also lived in assurance, in faith, as he followed the Lord, saying, “Surely God IS my salvation” (Present tense!), “I WILL trust (NOW) and not be afraid.” Isaiah also looked forward to (he could see) the Lord’s coming as a time when the people would drink their fill of salvation like someone drawing fresh water from a well – certainly a day of great rejoicing.

And what about Paul? Not only did he wrestle with a “thorn in his flesh.” The Apostle Paul was under house arrest when he wrote the words we heard from his letter to the Philippians today. He was a prisoner, having been arrested for preaching the Gospel. And still, despite his physical circumstances, his plight, he could say, “Rejoice in the Lord, always! Again I say, rejoice!”

Paul was joyful because he knew the joy of the Lord! He knew Christ had come, and was coming again, and he rejoiced in the presence of Christ in the “here and now!” God’s presence is always with us... He is and forever shall be, “Emmanuel, God with us!” And so, Paul could say, “Rejoice! Always!”– even in chains!

Advent’s not only a season for joyfully waiting. It’s also a time of active preparation – a time of looking for the coming of the Lord, for the fulfillment of God’s promised restoration, for the peace that overcomes all hatred and division... and for God’s perfect love that casts out all fear - while we’re living out the reality of our faith!

John the Baptist was called to prepare the way for Jesus. It was calling he fulfilled joyfully while waiting for the promised Messiah. He was called to minister/preach in difficult, complicated times – NOT unlike what we’re experiencing today.

And his message was blisteringly simple: repent; turn your lives around; turn back to God. For John, repentance was never about beating ourselves up for things done or left undone! Which leads to wallowing in guilt and shame. For John, to repent, was to be transformed... and to actually live lives of repentance... lives that bear fruit. That give evidence to our faith!

“You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come?” Amazingly, the “vipers” listened!

“You must bear fruit”, he tells them. “Do not rely on your ancestry, your tradition, or your history. This is about you preparing yourselves for the One who is to come.” When John finished preaching, they asked “How do we repent?” “What should we do?”

I think it’s very interesting, and clearly relevant... that John doesn’t ask the people to change the world, but rather to change themselves.

He doesn’t call out to others, encouraging them to leave their homes, and lives, and to start a revolution! John tells the crowds, that to prepare for the Messiah, you must share your blessings with others; the cold and hungry. He told the tax collectors to be honest and fair. The soldiers, he cautioned to act with integrity, avoiding abuse of their power.

“Go home,” John told them. Go home to your families, your neighbors, your vocations, your friends. Go home and live your lives as deeply and as generously as you can... right now. Do what the Lord requires of you and do it now. Love mercy, now - Seek justice, now - Walk humbly, now.

It’s also interesting to me; John the Baptist never tried to “fit in” - he certainly didn’t follow the latest fads. He wasn’t into “blending in” or conformity. He was peculiar, to say the least. It was enough for John, it was his great joy, to always be pointing to Jesus. To always be pointing to Someone greater... Today, it is our great joy to do no less.

Because, the truth is: As we wait and prepare, we’ve never been called to “blend-in” or conform to the world around us... we’ve been called to rejoice. To be joyfully expectant!

The coming of the Messiah and the Gospel of Christ are the Good News the angel will proclaim to the shepherds, “I am bringing you good news of great joy for all the people.”

And it’s that “Good News of great joy” that brings us hope and peace and joy in the midst of our struggles, and trials, and difficulties... and enables us to “Rejoice in the Lord always! Again I say, rejoice!” Amen.

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