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Rejoice In The Lord, Oh Ye Righteous


A Homily for Advent 3

December 15, 2019

All Saints Anglican Church, Prescott, AZ

Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of our hearts be always acceptable in thy sight, O Lord our strength and our redeemer. Amen.

Rejoice in the Lord, oh you righteous.

This past week a beautiful friend of mine went to her eternal rest. I’ve been thinking a lot about her the past few days. She was like very few others I have known in this life. She radiated joy and kindness with the way in which she lived. There are few people who I remember the first time I met them, and yet, my memory of meeting her is vivid and one of my most pleasant, and laughter filled first encounters.

She saw God’s love and proclaimed it gently and kindly to her husband, her children, her family, and her friends in this world that is often wild and unkind.

Her death, was not a surprise, in many ways it was more surprising that she lived as long as she did, perhaps, this was simply due to the fact that so many held her up in prayer. For several weeks ago she was given two weeks to live, and yet she pressed on, and loved well even in that. But, finally, that awful curse of Adam came for her, and all who loved her, and love her family wept.

Still, as well as she lived, she died equally well.

Rejoice in the Lord, oh you righteous.

The death of a saint is one of those odd things, for our lives are richer for having known them, their joy, their kindness, their wisdom, their peace encourages us, calls to us to run harder in the race that is in front of us, to live more boldly for Christ. So, when we finally say good-bye to them, we can’t help but to cry, but there’s a joy too, for we know they’ve been set free from their sin, set free from their bondage, from the pains of this world, and set free from their corrupted body that is breaking down, that they may look forward to the recreated, and renewed body of eternity.

My friend now rests in the glory of God, the glory of God which was lost in the fall. It is this glory that we all look forward to regaining when our race is finally over. But for now:

rejoice in the Lord, oh you righteous.

I tell you of my friend in the hopes that I may honor her one last time, for she lived a beautiful life, and left behind many whom she touched and blessed, I tell you of her because she did something so few of us are good at doing. In the face of incredible adversity – she rejoiced, for she was righteous in Christ. I know that she was not perfect but Christ resided in her life and in her his love abounded well and few who met her could deny this. I tell you of my friend, because I hope that just as she encouraged me and hundreds of others, that she may encourage you as well.

This Sunday is commonly called Gaudete Sunday, or sometimes Rose Sunday, or if you feel punchy as I sometimes do, pink Sunday, but I think Gaudete is most appropriate. It is named that for the traditionally used introit, or opening Psalm, that is found in many older liturgies. The introit has mostly been replaced with an opening hymn in reformed and more modern liturgies. However, I thought it would be wise if today we read that introit for our Psalm today which starts with Gaudete – or in the English Rejoice,

Rejoice in the Lord, oh you righteous.

This command to rejoice stands in sharp contrast to the opening of our gospel lesson in which we learn that John the Baptist is in prison. While there are some who read of John’s request of his disciples not as fear in the face of death, but as equipping them for the trials they will face after their death. It seems like a better reading is that he was wondering, pondering if Jesus really was the Christ.

Remember last week? When we heard of John who jumped for joy in his moth’s womb at the coming of Christ? This is the same John we read of this week as he approach his death. It is the same John who served God, and glorified him in all he did, the same John who pointed to Christ with his whole life. But, now he sends forth the question – are you, are you really him?

The reality is, we can read John’s question in a few ways but we also need to acknowledge the fact that for each of us as we approach the door of death we may have the courage and bravery of so many saints that came before us, or we could feel tremulous and fear, or it could just come for us with a blink of an eye. For me, I pray for bravery, and goodness, and that God would be glorified, just as I pray he is glorified in my life.

As I thought about my friend this week, I thought of the many saints that God has given strength and courage at the eve of their death, the martyrs who went to their death for the sake of Christ, not simply willingly, but joyfully. I thought of a story I once read of Dietrich Bonhoeffer who, it is said, dreamt of finally meeting Christ on the eve of his execution and he was emboldened before his death. And yet regardless of how this comes to us the command of this Sunday stands –

rejoice in the Lord, oh you righteous.

I suspect that if Christ had responded to John the Baptist in this way – he would have been as the sad comforter such as Job’s friends. Too often when a beloved one finds themselves in pain we tend to be like Job’s friends. We offer weak sympathy or tell them to buck up. God created mankind to be in community with one another. One of the ways in which humanity is truly unique compared to the rest of creation is how this community is manifested in our ability to have advanced communication with one another. Our ability to communicate with syntax, emotion, and nuances is special and unique to humanity.

From time to time we hear of animals doing amazing things. Once, someone taught a primate sign language. He was able to learn a surprising number of words and phrases, yet he could not express his own unique thoughts. On the other hand a child starts to be able to uniquely express herself at a very young age. One of the most amazing things is seeing a young one start to take on their own unique personality.

We were created to be communicators. Sometimes we do it well, and some times we do it poorly. And this encourages us to:

Rejoice in the Lord, oh you righteous – for God is the good creator.

Yet, this creation – this ability to communicate can be a curse when we are called to comfort, because we so desire to take away the pain of our loved ones, our beloved who struggle. So, often we want to tell them “it’ll be okay,” but maybe it won’t be okay in the way we want it to, maybe it’ll be hard, maybe it’ll be painful. In many cases, we are called to be present, called to simply listen, called to not insert our own opinions and advice, but simply be present.

There is an art to loving well, to knowing when to say words of comfort, when to give advice, and when to say nothing at all. It is often when someone is hurting the most deeply that if we do not take care we can do the most damage.

But, Christ in his divine wisdom knows exactly what to say to John and his disciples. He does not say to them “rejoice,” though it is implied, he says “Go and tell John what you hear and see: the blind receive their sight and the lame walk, and lepers are cleansed and the deaf hear, and the dead are raised up and the poor have good news preached to them.”

And we are reminded: Rejoice in the Lord, oh you righteous.

Christ points to the prophets who told of His coming, and says – these things that these men had predicted would happen when I come are happening. There is a power in not simply saying what you want to communicate but telling a story.

I have a friend who is particularly good at this. When talking about struggles, he simply tells a story, and yet that story has the power to evoke thoughts in my mind, or push me to repentance. We see this with David and Nathan as well. Instead of walking into the kings chamber and yelling at him that he had sinned grievously, Nathan tells a simple story. Oh, and how it pushes the king to repentance, how the king sees his own wickedness!

Rejoice in the Lord, oh you righteous.

We might think, it would have been easier for Christ to have said to his beloved relative “yes! I assure you I am!” But in our tumult, how much more power is it to hear “see this evidence, now be comforted.” Christ knows the words to say and gives John and his disciples the comfort that they need in their darkest hour.

And what is that comfort?

The blind receive their sight – we read of Christ’s ability to heal the physical ailments of those who came to him. Yet – he also heals the spiritual ill. The author of amazing grace captured this when he penned that once “I was blind but now I see.” Outside of Christ, we live in blindness. The great Christmas promise is that of the Gospel according to St. John the Evangelist who wrote that “the light shines in the darkness and the darkness has not overcome it.” When we are in Christ, Christ becomes the light by which we see the world, Christ is the way in which our spiritual blindness is relieved.

Rejoice in the Lord, oh you righteous.

The lame walk – we are enlivened for service, not because we are intrinsically good people but because Christ has given us His spirit, because in Christ we are given the ability to walk with God. As humanity lost this privilege in Adam, so we regain it in Christ.

Rejoice in the Lord, oh you righteous.

Lepers are cleansed – spiritually we come to Christ tarnished and ill, and Christ cleans us of our sin, cleans us of our past, cleans us of all that has gone wrong in the world that has gone by, cleans us of that which separates us from God’s community and reunites us.

Rejoice in the Lord, oh you righteous.

The deaf hear – I was reading about one of the psalms some time ago, and the Psalmist asks God to help him hear his law. I read one commentary that said the word was more than simply help us to hear, but something along the lines of asking God to drill open a hole in order for us to be able to hear him. I appreciate this understanding – because often I feel as though I have a thick skull and it takes God being more aggressive with me than me simply needing a little assistance in hearing Him. Sometimes we need God to drill open holes in our ears so we can hear him better. Yet, in Christ – the spiritually deaf, like me, hear.

Rejoice in the Lord, oh you righteous.

The dead are raised – we know of Christ raising Lazarus, and this makes us wonder if there were others who were raised and we do not know. But, regardless, WE are spiritually raised from the dead, and we know on the last day we will enjoy the resurrection. In fact, as we walk through the valley of the shadow of death, this second resurrection is what gives us hope and helps us to persevere. It is this second, final resurrection in which we can rejoice. We have been given life, and we will be given life.

Rejoice in the Lord, oh you righteous.

The poor have good news preached to them – we can over correct in our reading of this and make this strictly a social gospel reading or make it purely spiritual. Instead, I think it better that we make it both – that the spiritual poor are made spiritual rich in Christ, and in this they come to a place where they care for the poor of spirit and poor of material. We are called to care for both, as Christ cared for both.

Rejoice in the Lord, oh you righteous.

Christ testified to John the Baptist by showing him is works, the Church testifies to the world, by doing the same. We say, look at all that Christ has done for us – we were blind but now we see, we were lame, but now we walk by faith in the light of Christ, we were spiritually dirty, but Christ has cleansed us, we were deaf but now we hear God’s truth, we were dead in our transgressions but now we live, we were poor, but now we are rich beyond our wildest imaginations. This is what Christ has done for me may that reality be a living testimony.

Rejoice in the Lord, oh you righteous.

And blessed is the one who is not offended by Christ. We are blessed when we proclaim Christ boldly in our lives, we are blessed when we live for Christ and live in Christ. Men and women are blessed when they come to know who Christ truly is, and so we do not become offended by him, but we are called to:

Rejoice in the Lord, oh you righteous.

Then Jesus turns his attention to the crowds and asks them what they went into the wilderness to see – what they thought of John. We can ask the same of why you come to Church on Sunday.

Recently, I have been thinking a fair amount of the entertainment culture in which we live in, and the need for instant gratification, the need to have everything we want now.

On Monday of this past week, I was asked to make a presentation in one of my classes and a part of this – was an intentional call to myself to slow down. Too often I want to build a sky scraper and I want it to be built yesterday. I like the idea of doing grandiose things, so long as these things can be completed in a blink of an eye.

But there’s a goodness in taking time, there’s a goodness in starting a project and trusting that God will see it to the end, even if you can’t see it. Friedrich Nietzsche of all people coined the phrase: A long obedience in the same direction – yet, it succinctly captures our call to the Christian life.

So, the question can be asked – why do you come to church? For some instant comfort? To rub elbows with your friends? To be entertained?

Or to hear Christ proclaimed? To undertake that long, slow, beautiful, good process of sanctification?

We are not called to have everything done immediately, we are not called to provide a cheep comfort, but we are called to grow in Christ, to take a step forward, and when the waves of life knock us down to not be discouraged but to persevere.

We are called to: rejoice in the Lord, oh you righteous.

Our reading ends with Christ affirming John the Baptist’s ministry, affirming what John did for the people – he prepared the way for Christ to come in, for Christ to come o heal, and make free those who are oppressed by the world and sin.

Rejoice in the Lord, oh ye Righteous.

The Christian life is called to be a life of Joy – not because life is easier with Christ, but because life has meaning, because Christ has freed us from so much, because Christ has done and is doing a good thing in our life and is preparing us for an eternity spent in the glory of God.

The call of Gaudete Sunday, though it feels jarring against the story of John the Baptist on the eve of his death, and against the reality of the world in which we live in, is a good calling. It is a call to rejoice because Christ has revealed to us who he is. So, let us be a people who are transformed by Christ, let us be a people not prone to grumbly but are prone to joy in the face of adversity. Let us be a people who honor the saints who have gone before us demonstrating the love and joy of Christ, by doing the same.

Let us people a people who rejoice in the Lord, because Christ’s righteousness dwells within us.

IN the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Ghost. Amen.

ALL SAINTS ANGLICAN CHURCH

Anglican Province of America

Presiding Bishop: The Most Rev. Walter Grundorf

Episcopal Visitor: The Rt. Rev Robert Giffin

Rector: The Rev. Ian Emile Dunn

(928) 443-5323

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