Summary: Third Sunday in Advent: We live in a land of shadows. But God calls us to live joyfully - to let Christ’s light come into our land of shadows.
Have you ever walked into a room and said, “Good morning” only to receive a roomful of, “What’s so good about it?” It’s that way in the land of shadows – people live with anger and frustration. Yesterday I was driving up West Avenue. I signaled to make a left-hand turn. A lady driving an SUV from the street unto which I was turning launched through the stop sign. I had to slam on the brakes to avoid her. She was pretty upset even though she is the one that failed to stop at the sign. She made questionable hand motions and her mouth was moving at 100 miles per minute. It’s that way in the land of shadows – people are always in a hurry and woe to the one that gets in the way. Have you ever felt all alone, even in a crowd? It’s that way in the land of shadows - people are too busy to care.
The prophet Isaiah called the people in this world – “a people walking in darkness… a people living in the shadow of death.” (Isaiah 9:2) People living in the land of shadows… that’s not an altogether bad analogy. You see, here, in the land of shadows, we can’t see clearly. It’s dark and scary here. We don’t know the full meaning of those things that we see and hear. And we can’t tell what’s coming. We walk in the dark here. What we think is best often ends up being wrong. There are things that bring pain. Pain is a part of life here in the land of shadows.
God knows about this, beloved. And in spite of all of this, He tells us to be joyful. There it is – at the beginning of the Second Lesson: “Always be joyful.” (1 Thessalonians 5:16) It isn’t easy to understand this call to joy. Could it be some mistake? I mean, doesn’t God know what is going on here? Why, just… look at the headlines; listen to the news. We see and hear reports of terrorists and of being close to war. And God, what about people that we love – don’t you know that some have died. And the jails, Lord – they’re full and even overcrowded.
Is it possible that God is out of touch with what we are going through? Doesn’t He know how things are here – in our world; in our country; in our cities; in our homes – in the land of shadows? “Be joyful always…” It must have been a slip of the tongue. But no - it isn’t a mistake… look He says it to us again and again in his Word: “Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice!” (Philippians 4:4)
So, is God mistaken? No! You see, we who live in the land of shadows sometimes misunderstand. We think that God asks us to be happy, when, in fact, He tells us to rejoice. There is a big difference between rejoicing and being happy. You see happy depends on the circumstances. The dictionary tells us that the root word for happy is from the middle English word “hap,” which means luck or chance. If things go well, we are happy. If things work out - if we get the raise – or if we stay out of trouble – or if people don’t get angry – or if we win the lottery - then we are happy. It all depends on how things work out here in the land of shadows.
But the text doesn’t call for us to be happy. God’s Word doesn’t call for us to depend on chance or luck in order to feel content. We’re called to rejoice - to be full of joy. Can we be joyful when things aren’t going our way? Is it possible to feel joy even when there is grief and sadness? Can there be joy when the threat of war looms; when the economy isn’t steady; when the future isn’t certain; when the business hasn’t done well; when the diagnosis wasn’t good; when we’ve had to bury those we love? Beloved I say to you, “yes.”
God appointed the prophets to point us to the reason for that joy. Read with me Isaiah’s prophecy in the Old Testament Lesson:
“The Spirit of the Almighty LORD is with me because the LORD has anointed me to deliver good news to humble people. He has sent me to heal those who are brokenhearted, to announce that captives will be set free and prisoners will be released. He has sent me to announce the year of the LORD’s good will and the day of our God’s vengeance, to comfort all those who grieve. He has sent me to provide for all those who grieve in Zion, to give them crowns instead of ashes, the oil of joy instead of tears of grief, and clothes of praise instead of a spirit of weakness. They will be called Oaks of Righteousness, the Plantings of the LORD, so that he might display his glory…I will find joy in the LORD. I will delight in my God. He has dressed me in the clothes of salvation. He has wrapped me in the robe of righteousness like a bridegroom with a priest’s turban, like a bride with her jewels. Like the ground that brings forth its crops and like a garden that makes the seed in it grow, so the Almighty LORD will make righteousness and praise spring up in front of all nations.” (Isaiah 16:1-3, 10-11)