The Third Sunday of Advent—Joy

The Third Sunday of Advent—Joy

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For nearly 12 years, Ron Brown has had the privilege of being the Senior Pastor at the First Congregational Church in Southington, Connecticut where he can often be found looking for joy in all the wrong places.



 


Scripture: Isaiah 35.1-10 (NRSV)

The wilderness and the dry land shall be glad,
   the desert shall rejoice and blossom;
like the crocus it shall blossom abundantly,
   and rejoice with joy and singing.
The glory of Lebanon shall be given to it,
   the majesty of Carmel and Sharon.
They shall see the glory of the Lord,
   the majesty of our God.

Strengthen the weak hands,
   and make firm the feeble knees.
Say to those who are of a fearful heart,
   ‘Be strong, do not fear!
Here is your God.
   He will come with vengeance,
with terrible recompense.
   He will come and save you.’

Then the eyes of the blind shall be opened,
   and the ears of the deaf unstopped;
then the lame shall leap like a deer,
   and the tongue of the speechless sing for joy.
For waters shall break forth in the wilderness,
   and streams in the desert;
the burning sand shall become a pool,
   and the thirsty ground springs of water;
the haunt of jackals shall become a swamp,
   the grass shall become reeds and rushes.

A highway shall be there,
   and it shall be called the Holy Way;
the unclean shall not travel on it,
   but it shall be for God’s people;
   no traveller, not even fools, shall go astray.
No lion shall be there,
   nor shall any ravenous beast come up on it;
they shall not be found there,
   but the redeemed shall walk there.
And the ransomed of the Lord shall return,
   and come to Zion with singing;
everlasting joy shall be upon their heads;
   they shall obtain joy and gladness,
   and sorrow and sighing shall flee away.


Reflection: The Third Sunday of Advent—Joy

 

I was still in my twenties, had just been called to be pastor of a small church literally in the middle of a tobacco field in eastern North Carolina.  I knew everything and nothing.  I was full of unfocused energy and idealistic creativity and approaching my first Advent as a pastor and that’s when it came to me.  I would plant bulbs that would grow during Advent and bloom before Christmas. 

I bought four paperwhite bulbs, a small pot, and some dirt to plant them in.  On the First Sunday of Advent, with the eastern North Carolina air unseasonably cold, a dozen or so children and I planted the bulbs during the children’s message.  I promised that we would watch them grow and by Christmas, they would bloom.

I knew it was risky, promising that dormant bulbs would come to life over the short days of Advent.  Some of the farmers in the congregation made a point of mentioning that to me.  I didn’t fully appreciate that this was one of those years when Advent was its shortest.  December 24th was a Sunday, so the Fourth Sunday of Advent and Christmas Eve were the same day, which meant that there were just 3 weeks between the First Sunday of Advent and Christmas.

It was a crazy idea to begin with.  Flowers don’t bloom in the winter, and this Advent there wouldn’t be enough time for anything to bloom!

It was the foolishness of a young pastor—a word out of place.

Amid the gathering clouds of war, when violence threatens the city and the countryside is desolate, Isaiah surprises us.  In chapter 35, a voice speaks without calling anyone by name, without any reference to a particular time.

The wilderness and the dry
land shall be glad.
the desert shall rejoice and blossom;
like the crocus it shall blossom abundantly,
and rejoice with joy and singing…

Joy!

It is a word out of place.

The French priest and theologian, Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, once said, “Joy is the infallible proof of the presence of God." Joy is a crocus blooming abundantly in the desert.  Joy is the faith, the hope that the wilderness will not have the last word, that no matter where we find ourselves, we will find God—not a god who makes things all better, but our God who will show us flowers blooming in whatever desert surrounds us.

Joy!

A word out of place.

I remember a night shortly before Christmas about 20 years ago.  A beautiful, but fragile, Christmas angel was on our mantle.  One of my four-year-old daughters reached for it, and it crashed to the hearth, shattering— there was no fixing it.  She began to sob, great lamentation.  She showed me the pieces.  “Can you fix it, Daddy?”  “No honey, I can’t fix it.  There are too many pieces.”  I so wanted to say I could make it all better, but I could not.

I scooped her up in my arms, sat down in the rocking chair, and held her.  God gave me the wisdom not to say a word.  I just held her and stroked her hair and rocked her until she was quiet, and finally asleep, a wet, sad, joyful face on my shoulder.  And as I sat there, I recalled my first Advent at that little church in North Carolina, and how on Christmas Eve, a tiny paperwhite bulb burst into bloom.

PRAYER

God of the blossoms in the wilderness, please surprise all who feel like their world is ending with a moment of joy despite everything.  Amen.

New Prayer Requests:

We ask churches and church leaders to join us in the following prayers either by sharing them during worship, printing them in bulletins, or sharing them in some other way. To make a prayer request, please contact Marlene Gasdia-Cochrane at cochranem@sneucc.org.

Prayers of Intercession:

  • For the people of Ukraine whose lives continue to be shattered by war.
  • For those grieving or suffering due to the ~40,500 gun violence deaths in the US this year
  • For the residents in areas across Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama affected by the recent multiple tornadoes.

Prayers of Joy and Thanksgiving:


 This Week in History:

December 07, 1941 (81 years ago): Pearl Harbor was bombed by Japan. The surprise attack struck a critical blow against the U.S. Pacific fleet and drew the United States irrevocably into World War II.  [History

“Study the past if you would define the future.”
Confucius

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Ron Brown

Ron Brown is the Senior Pastor at the First Congregational Church in Southington, Connecticut

December 04, 2022
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