The Fruits of Christmas - Joy
Isaiah 61:1-4, 8-11
1 Thessalonians 5:16-24
SETTING THE CONTEXT
Read Isaiah 61: 1-4, 8-11
There are two places I want you to remember. One, Zion is another name for Jerusalem. Two, the Negev desert is a huge land mass in the southern half of Israel. Have any of you been to Glamis, California? The Negev is a sand desert like in Glamis, but much larger. It is a desolate place until the rains come.
Read Psalm 126
Today’s third reading comes from Paul’s final words to the church in Thessalonica.
Read 1 Thessalonians 5:16-24
The source of our joy doesn’t come from some hippy dippy flower child mentality (my brother used to tease me with that name), but it comes out of the assurances we hear from Isaiah. God offers us salvation that is tangible and real. Isaiah tells us that through God’s messenger God offers good news (hope) to the oppressed. God binds up the wounds of the brokenhearted, proclaims liberty to the captive (those held in slavery), release to the prisoners, restoration in the year of jubilee, justice or vindication, and comfort for those who mourn. In these acts, we see God’s shalom or peace created. These are real, tangible things that touch us in this life not some wish for the life to come. These are tangible acts directed at nations as well as individuals. Hear the images from the Message Bible paraphrase. I “give them bouquets of roses instead of ashes, messages of joy instead of news of doom, a praising heart instead of a languid spirit.”
There is a Contemporary Christian song called Beauty for Ashes sung by Crystal Lewis based on this Scripture. Some of the words are, “He gives beauty for ashes, Strength for fear, Gladness for mourning, Peace for despair. When sorrow seems to surround you, when suffering hangs heavy o’er your head, Know that tomorrow brings, Wholeness and healing, God knows your need, just believe what He said. He gives beauty for ashes, Strength for fear, Gladness for mourning, Peace for despair.” As I listened to the song on my computer, the very next song that came on was a gospel version of the “Halleluiah Chorus” from Handel’s Messiah. I thought “yes” that is the source of our joy. Halleluiah, we place our faith in God who cares for us, who is not indifferent to our suffering, but who is compassionate. We worship a God who has time and time again brought “beauty from ashes, strength for fear, gladness for mourning, and peace for despair.” We are not alone in this world which includes suffering and pain; we place our faith in a God who offers us salvation here and now. Many generations later, Jesus uses Isaiah’s words to describe his mission, his purpose. “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.” (Luke 4: 17-19) After he rolled up the scroll, he went on to say, “Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.” How could God make God’s salvation more tangible, real, in this world, here and now than through Jesus? This is the root of the fruits of Christmas: hope, peace, and joy.
Christian writer, Max Lucado tells of a “young woman, eight months pregnant who waddles into her mother’s house. She flops onto the sofa, kicks off her sneakers, and props her puffy feet on the coffee table and she groans, “I don’t think I can make it.” Wise from age and experience, the mother picks up a photo album and sits down beside her daughter. She opens the album to photos of her children in diapers and ankle-high walking shoes. Slowly, the two turn the memory-filled pages. They smile at the kids blowing out candles and sitting in front of Christmas trees. As the mother sees yesterday, the daughter sees tomorrow. And, for just a moment, the daughter is changed. The here and now becomes the there and then. Her child is born. She sees the first stumbling step taken. She hears the first word, discernible only to Mommy. A transformation occurs. The pain in her back is now overshadowed by the joy approaching. The hand that had rubbed her neck now rests on her belly. For the first time that day, she smiles.”[i]
Sometimes in the midst of pain, we have to look through our own memory book. We need wise ones from our faith family to turn the pages of Scripture pointing out stories of God’s faithfulness, pointing out the many ways Jesus brought salvation: hope, release, healing, freedom, and restoration to God’s people. We need wise ones to share their own stories of experiences of God’s healing touch and saving grace so we remember the hope, the peace, and the joy of Christmas. This is why I used so many readings today, so that we could turn page after page to see the joy that comes from the Lord.
Rejoice always; “pray all the time; thank God no matter what happens. This is the way God wants you who belong to Christ Jesus to live. Don’t suppress the Spirit and don’t stifle those who have a word from the Master. On the other hand, don’t be gullible. Check out everything, and keep only what’s good. Throw out anything tainted with evil. May God himself, the God who makes everything holy and whole, make you holy and whole, put you together – spirit, soul, and body- and keep you fit for the coming of our Master, Jesus Christ,. The One who called you is completely dependable.” The One who calls you is faithful[ii] now that is the root of our fruit of joy.
This week I invite you to bear fruit, to share joy. Share your stories of how God has touched your life or the lives of people you know in tangible, real ways. If you are one of the broken-hearted, captive, or oppressed, I invite you to ask another brother or sister in Christ, to sit with you and turn the pages of our memory book and share their stories so that you might be reminded of the joy that will be yours again. Amen.
[i] In The Eye of the Storm: A Day in the Life of Jesus. (Dallas: Word Publishing, 1991), p. 169-170.
[ii] I have mixed translations. The New RSV translation at the beginning and in the end and in the center is the paraphrase from The Message Bible. Eugene H. Peterson, The Message: The Bible in Contemporary Language (Colorado Springs: Navpress, 2002), 1 Thessalonians 17-24, p. 2157.
Sermon delived by Rev. Nancy Cushman on December 14, 2008.
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