Summary: What flight simulators and Chipee the Parakeet have to teach us about Gaudate Sunday.
What would you say was the opposite of a Christian people? would it be an atheist people? a pagan people? Perhaps even a hypocritical people? an unforgiving people? what would be your answer?
When the novelist George Bernanos was asked this question “what is the opposite of a Christian people” he said “a sad people”.
Our reading today from Philippians begins “Rejoice in the Lord always, again I will say rejoice” And that is not the only time in Philippians that Paul tells people to rejoice. In four short chapters St Paul tells us to rejoice ten times. We are a people of Joy - the word gospel literally means “good news” - we are to be a people who share good news. We are not a sad people, whatever circumstances we may be victims of, we have been rescued so we can make the choice to rejoice.
Frustratingly for me however, it is always on the third Sunday of Advent that we get this particular reading. Today is Gaudate Sunday. For those of you who don’t speak Latin, forgot to put a babel fish into your ear, and aren’t plugged into the Tardis, that means "Rejoicing Sunday". Long ago Christians would have fasted in advent and not begun any feasting until Christmas day itself. But here on the third Sunday of Advent we have a break - We have a pink candle rather than sombre purple ones - and we have a reminder to “Rejoice in the Lord always, again I will say rejoice”.
Well as a priest this is not very convenient. May or June or even january I could preach a nice sermon on rejoicing but Eight days to go til Christmas... And here I am wishing the Grinch would come and steal the blasted thing. As Scrooge would say “bahh humbug to the lot of them”.
How do we respond to a command to rejoice?
At least some of us may be feeling like the parakeet called Chippee:
It all began when Chippie’s owner decided to clean out his cage with a vacuum. She stuck the nozzle into the cage to clean up the bottom of the cage. Suddenly the phone rang. She reached for the phone with her free hand and not realizing it… her hand holding the nozzle rose slowly upward and sucked Chippie into the vacuum cleaner. Realizing what she had done, she dropped the phone and turned off the vacuum.
With her heart in her mouth, she opened the vacuum bag to rescue poor Chippie. Chippie was stunned and covered head to foot with gray dust… but thankfully he was still alive. She grabbed him and rushed him to the bathtub, turned on the cold water full blast and held him under the water giving him a power washing. Then it dawned on her that Chippie was soaking wet and shivering, so she did what any compassionate pet-owner would do. She snatched up the blow dryer and blasted him with hot air.
You may be wondering if Chippie survived all this. Yes… yes he did, but he didn’t sing for a long time after that. Even now, he mostly just sits there in his cage eyeing the closest where the vacuum cleaner is kept. Being sucked up, washed out, and blown over had stolen the joy from his heart. Brothers and sisters… can you blame him… one could easily understand why Chippie doesn’t have much joy.
And this is where several people are. They are lost, troubled, sad, fearful, devastated… anything but joyful.
[illustration by Revd Spencer Homan on this site]
Like Chippie the joy has been sucked out of them.
It may shock you to know that St Paul wrote this letter from in prison. If you wouldn’t want to go to prison today, you most certainly would not want to go to a Roman prison. Yet starved and chained and lacking sleep, Paul writes to his friends Rejoice in the Lord always, again I will say rejoice” As the Dominican Priest Fr Mark Edney puts it “Sorrow and distress are not absent from our wardrobes. We don't so much hide it away as we put all that in its proper place.”
We learn - as the bible reading goes on to say - to dump our worries on God “Do not worry about anything but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God”
A few weeks back I went to the science museum and somehow Jessica persuaded me to go on a flight simulator with her flying. This is one of those proper flight simulators that moves around just like the air craft would. One of the controls is called the attitude control - is the nose tipped downwards or tipped upwards? if the nose is tipped too down you start moving down until crash. We did an awful lot of crashing in the simulator. I have never felt so sea sick in all my life. From an aircraft point of view - altitude depends of attitude. And it is the same in life in general. as if often said life is 10 percent what happens to us and 90 percent how we respond to it