Joy Interrupted – Advent’s Journey through Sandy Hook

Posted: December 16, 2012 in Sermons
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Sermon preached December 16, 2012 at St. Luke Lutheran Church, Devon, PA.

“Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, Rejoice.  Let your gentleness be known to everyone. The Lord is near.  Do not worry about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God.  And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.”  (Philippians 4:4-7)

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 In the days after the shootings that occurred at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut, I did not use the assigned gospel text on Sunday, December 16, 2012.  Instead, we heard an excerpt of the Christmas story that we don’t hear very often, but perhaps needed to hear on that morning:

Now after [the wise men] had left, an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream and said, “Get up, take the child and his mother, and flee to Egypt, and remain there until I tell you; for Herod is about to search for the child, to destroy him.”  Then Joseph got up, took the child and his mother by night, and went to Egypt, and remained there until the death of Herod. This was to fulfill what had been spoken by the Lord through the prophet, “Out of Egypt I have called my son.”

When Herod saw that he had been tricked by the wise men, he was infuriated, and he sent and killed all the children in and around Bethlehem who were two years old or under, according to the time that he had learned from the wise men.  Then was fulfilled what had been spoken through the prophet Jeremiah:

“A voice was heard in Ramah,
wailing and loud lamentation,
Rachel weeping for her children;
she refused to be consoled, because they are no more.”

(Matthew 2:13-18)

Please join me in prayer:  O Holy Child of Bethlehem, descend to us we pray; cast out our sin and enter in, be born in us today. Amen.

 “Rejoice in the LORD always; again I will say rejoice.”

Today, this third Sunday of Advent, Is often regarded by church tradition as “rejoice Sunday”—a day of joy and hope.

But joy has been interrupted.  The word “rejoice” seems a little harder to say.  It seems a little harder to believe in today.

The words that I thought would be just right for today have lost their purpose, like twenty lunchboxes packed with care and carried into Sandy Hook Elementary School on Friday morning.  Like Christmas presents chosen with love by parents and grandparents that now stare back at them with piercing pain because the moment of joy they were prepared for has been torn from their hands.

Joy has been interrupted, like a cruel reminder of the words of the prophet Jeremiah:  “A voice is heard…in Connecticut;  wailing and loud lamentation. Rachel weeping for her children; refusing to be consoled, because they are no more.”  Today we weep with Rachel for her children.

Today we refuse to be consoled, because they are no more. Today we stand in the shadow cast by outrageous violence:  the disgraceful, offensive, unthinkable, shameful reality of sin.  The season of Advent seems to have been disrupted by stark reality.  Our traditions of joy and expectation are faced with the question of whether or not we can gather at this moment and speak of the one who is called Emmanuel, “God is with us,” without sounding oblivious, or even obscene?

But that’s the challenge isn’t it?

Because if the gospel we cling to has nothing meaningful to say at this unthinkable moment, then it doesn’t really have anything meaningful to say at all, does it?

“Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, Rejoice.”  As we gather today, those words are our calling.  Those words are our invitation and challenge.  Those words, ultimately, are where our hope is found.  The scripture is opened before us and it is daring us to take it seriously.  It is challenging us to defiantly resist the temptation that we can turn it into a platitude meant to bring easy answers and immediate comfort.

There is no immediate comfort today.  There is no immediate comfort for the families crushed.  There is no immediate comfort for a community in disbelief. There is no immediate comfort even for us, as we stand shaken by how vulnerable we really are on any given day of the week.  There is no immediate comfort today.  The day of comfort remains something we must wait for as we look east for the sun to approach the horizon; as we look for the day when this world becomes what God promises it will become.

Which is exactly what this season of Advent invites us into.

Advent is not disrupted by stark reality.  Advent is a season of stark reality waiting to be disrupted by God. Advent is a time of exile; a time when the world is not right.  A time when faith clings to promises that have yet to unfold.  In the midst of our disbelief, God comes to us. God comes into this broken world.

In Jesus, God dwells among us. God wears our skin.  God puts on this same broken cloak that we must wear. God enters into the same pain and suffering that marks our lives.  God becomes a parent whose child is struck down by human evil.

Crying out for Emmanuel—for God to be with us—is exactly what we can do at a time like this, because at times like this the promise of Emmanuel reminds us of just how radical the good news of the Gospel truly is.  We are reminded of just how much God takes on In order to be with us—to meet you where you are so that, even in our disbelief, we are not swallowed up by unbelief.

There is no immediate comfort.  Instead, there is the radical promise of Advent; of Emmanuel.  The radical promise that God is with us in this world. The radical promise that ultimately will break the darkness we live in:  the darkness displayed so terribly in Connecticut on Friday morning, but also the darkness that interrupts joy in your own life.

Joy is interrupted, but it will not be silenced.  God will speak the final word.  It will be a word of loving-kindness, of grace and forgiveness, a word of hope.

As we wait for that final word—as we wait for comfort—we are called.  We are invited and challenged to defy the darkness around us, to build the new reality that God promises, doing God’s work with our hands, even as we shake our heads in disbelief, wipe our tears of sadness and wrestle with anger, fear and doubt.

We are called—we are invited and challenged—to live differently.  We are called to defeat darkness with light.  We are called to defeat evil with good, violence with peace-filled justice.  We are called to bring comfort:  not with platitudes or easy answers, but by entering into suffering with one another while clinging to the hope made possible in Jesus.  Jesus who entered into suffering in order to make God’s promises a reality.  Jesus who is Emmanuel:  God with us, no matter what.

We are called to rejoice.  Joy may be interrupted, but it must not be silenced.  So let us rejoice today, even with our tear-filled eyes wide open to the reality of evil and suffering.  We are called—invited and challenged—to a radical, defiant joy.  The scripture is opened before us and it is daring us to take it seriously:

“Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, Rejoice.  Let your gentleness be known to everyone. The Lord is near.  Do not worry about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God.  And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.”  (Philippians 4:4-7)

Amen.

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Comments
  1. I love how you closed out your sermon! Sure, joy can be interrupted or slightly dampened, but never silenced!

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