The promise of Joy
The Third Sunday of Advent
There are fragments of memory that stick in your head like a photograph. One of mine is of a young boy on a hot summer day in downtown Detroit, standing under a large fountain with clearly cold water pouring over his shivering and delighted body.
We got the city to block the streets and turn on the fire hydrant outside the church one sticky summer day. And while I remember the great arc of water shooting across the street and the screams and giggles of the young people from our summer program, no one child stands out like that boy under the fountain.
The wilderness and the dry land shall be glad,
the desert shall rejoice and blossom;
Some years ago, in the spring following a winter when it had rained there, Death Valley bloomed. That dry and desolate valley filled with the blossoms of plants that had waited years to show forth their glory. I wanted to play hooky to go see it, but it is hard for a pastor to travel at Easter.
But even just writing those words, “Death Valley bloomed,” is delicious. The vale of death has become a valley of life. It reminds me of Ezekiel’s vision of dry bones living. Or his vision of a river flowing from the temple making the Dead Sea live.
It is the truth that underlies all scripture: God is a god of life. God makes Death Valley bloom. God opens a road through the wilderness and fills the land with pools of water. And the people come singing. It is not dust and ashes on the heads of those who suffered the devastations of war, the destruction of Jerusalem and the temple, and the years of exile; it is everlasting joy.
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.
Sunday we will hear the prophet’s song of salvation. And we will sing with Mary the song of deliverance. And, in our parish, the children will present again that joyous story of the child in the manger. And for those who read the Gospel, they will hear Jesus answer John’s question “Are you the one?” by pointing at all they have seen: “the blind receive their sight, the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the poor have good news brought to them.”
The Prayer for December 11, 2016
who called forth the first morning of the world
and brings all things to their final end when all night is vanquished,
make us ever mindful of our journey homeward,
and grant us eyes to see your life giving work,
that your joy may break forth upon us;
through your Son, Jesus Christ our Lord,
who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit,
one God, now and forever
The Texts for December 11, 2016
(Because of the children’s participation in our worship this morning presenting the nativity story, our parish will read only the first reading and sing the Magnificat)
First Reading: Isaiah 35:1-10
“The wilderness and the dry land shall be glad.” – The prophet announces that God will come to save the people in exile in Babylon, making springs abound in the wilderness and establishing a highway through the desert to bring the people home.
Psalmody: Luke 1:46-55
“My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior.” – In place of the appointed Psalm 146:5-10, our parish will sing the Magnificat, the prophetic song Mary sings about God’s righting of the world when she greets Elizabeth
Second Reading: James 5:7-10
“Be patient, therefore, beloved, until the coming of the Lord.” – The author of James exhorts the Christian community to steadfastness and hope.
Gospel: Matthew 11:2-11
“Are you the one who is to come, or are we to wait for another?” – John sends his followers to Jesus to inquire whether he is the awaited one, and Jesus points him towards the works that have been accomplished among them.