Singing the song of salvation

Sermon for Advent 3, 12 Dec 2021

Philippians 4.4-7; Luke 3.7-18

Rejoice in the Lord always, and again I say, Rejoice!  

Isn’t it exciting? Each week we’re getting closer and closer to Christmas! This week, schools will be breaking up for the Christmas holiday – and if they’re anything like I remember, there won’t be much academic learning happening – why? Because everyone is so excited! For children, this last week before Christmas is the most magical as the anticipation builds and builds: Christmas crafts, sugary treats, games, and Christmassy programmes on TV; letters to Santa, relatives coming to visit, a growing pile of presents under the tree…pantos and carols, Santa hats and Christmas fairs, Santa’s grotto and the magic of belief.

I wonder if this is how things felt in those weeks leading up to the nativity: the whole world seeming to hold its breath in anticipation of this one magical night that would change everything. 

The theme of this third Sunday of Advent is joy – Gaudete Sunday – the part of advent when our anticipation overflows and we embrace the excitement of the season, following the command: Rejoice!

Now, ‘rejoice’ isn’t just a feeling, but an action – etymologically, in English, it is intensified joy: the action of showing or sharing our joy with others, causing joy to multiply. And in the Greek of the new testament, chairo (rejoice) is linked to charis (grace) – we might understand it as ‘to delight in God’s grace’, experiencing or being conscious of God’s favour. With both of these definitions combined, ‘Rejoice!’ becomes a command to delight in the Lord and share that joy with others. 

In our Gospel we remember John the Baptist as he calls out from the wilderness, ‘prepare the way of the Lord!’ He preached of the coming Messiah, and called the people to repentance. He baptized them into new life, and taught that the joy of our salvation should bear fruits in our actions: that we should be alert to our motivations and cautious against falling back into old habits; that we shouldn’t take our salvation for granted; that we should share our abundances and treat others fairly – especially those who have less power and privilege than us in our society.

Paul also, writing to the Philippians, connects our joy with our wider actions: let your gentleness be known to everyone, bring your concerns and needs to God in prayer, allow the peace of God to rest in your hearts.

For both John and Paul our invitation to join in the song of salvation means to share the good news of forgiveness of sins and the year of the Lord’s favour, and to align our actions with this message. Indeed, as St Francis is attributed as saying – we must “Preach the gospel at all times; use words when necessary” – our actions demonstrate the love and compassion of God much more than any of our words ever could. 

There’s so many little ways that we can bless the lives of those around us – through smiles and making time to talk, by just ‘popping over’ to say “Merry Christmas”, offering a listening ear, a hug, sharing a meal, treating others gently and assuming the best of them, giving to charity, and sharing words of hope…

Let the optimism of our Advent anticipation guide you.

May your whole life – words and actions –  be shaped by joy. 

May you delight in God’s grace.

May you become more aware of God’s hand working in your life.

May you grow in confidence to share your song of salvation, and invite others to sing with you. 

May you bless the lives of others this week.

And as you allow ourself to grow in joy and anticipation of Christmas this week, may your joy will overflow into your actions so that it may be multiplied in the world around you.

And if you only carry one thing away with you today, may it be these words:

Rejoice in the Lord always, and again I say, Rejoice!  

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