Readings and reflection from Sunshine Cathedral in Second Life, Sunday, December 13, 2015, Advent 3.
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Welcome to Sunshine Cathedral. This is a house of prayer for all people. All are welcome here. Whoever you are and where ever you are on your spiritual journey you bring special gifts to share. And we pray that you will find spiritual nourishment for your journey here.
Today we light the third candle of our Advent wreath. In some wreaths this is the pink candle, the candle of Joy. At this time in history it seems that joy is more elusive than ever. So it is especially important this year that we allow the Spirit to reawaken joy within our hearts so that we, by our actions and our words, can serve as instruments of God’s grace to spread joy throughout the world in this Advent season.
The Call to Worship
Come, sing to the Lord!
ALL: Praise [the] holy Name!
Come sing and praise our God!
ALL: For God is our strength and Saviour!
So come and be refreshed,
ALL: as fresh water brings joy to the thirsty!
(written by Rev Andrea Price, and posted on the Church of Scotland’s Starters for Sunday website. http://www.churchofscotland.org.uk/)
Opening Prayer based on Romans 13:15
“May the Holy One of hope fill us with all joy and peace as we trust in the Eternal, so that we may overflow with hope by the power of the Spirit.” Amen
Isaiah 12.1-2, 4-6
You will say in that day: I will give thanks to GOD who had comforted me. Surely God is my salvation; I will trust, and will not be afraid, for GOD is my strength and my might. And you will say in that day: Give thanks to GOD, call on God; make known God’s deeds among the nations…Sing praises, for God has done gloriously; let this be known in all the earth. Shout aloud and sing for joy…for great in your midst is the Holy One of Israel.
John the baptizer was teaching, “Whoever has two coats must share with anyone who has none; and whoever has food must do likewise.” Even tax collectors came to him for baptism, and they asked him, “Teacher, what should we do?” John said to them, “Don’t cheat people; collect only what they truly owe.” Soldiers also asked him, “And what should we do?” John answered them, “Do not extort money from anyone by threats or false accusation, and be satisfied with your wages.” As the people were filled with expectation, and all were questioning in their hearts concerning John, whether he might be the Messiah; John answered all of them by saying, “I baptize you with water; but one who is greater than I is coming; I am not worthy to untie the thong of his sandals. He will baptize you with the holy Spirit and fire.”
The third Sunday of Advent is the week that we celebrate Joy. Already this season we have considered, peace and hope. This week we explore joy. I think if you’d asked me last week to define joy I probably would have said it is a feeling or emotion in response to something that makes us very, very happy. But I have spent this week deeply questioning what joy really is and where it comes from.
When I am trying to figure something out I often begin by eliminating what I think it is not. For instance I came to my ardent and sure belief that God loves us, wants what is best for us, cares for us, comforts us because I do not believe that God punishes us, tries us, or otherwise participates in visiting despair and pain on us. I simply decided that I am not interested in an omnipotent creator that would participate in such abusive behavior.
So I began by thinking about what joy is not. I suspect we could all agree that joy is not a feeling of fear or despair. I began to think about what brings joy to my life, where I feel it in my body, and whether it is the response or the cause of happiness. And to be honest, at first I really couldn’t see what our readings this week had to do with the theme of joy.
As I read and reread the passage from Isaiah, I noticed that we are implored to give thanks to God who comforts us. Isaiah reminds us that when we remember that God is our salvation our hearts lighten. When we give thanks, when we live in an attitude of gratitude, we want to share ourselves. We want to tell others the relief we are experiencing, we are moved to sing out in joy.
This was quite a revelation to me. I suddenly realized that joy is not a response to something happening or not happening in my life. Joy is my base mode of being. We are created by love, in love, for love. Love overcomes all fear. Without fear there can be no hatred. We are not created evil. We are created good. Joy is my “go to” mode. Unless I allow the stresses of the day to produce fear in me I will just notice God’s presence all around me in everything I do and in everyone I meet.
The question is how do we access that joy, particularly when we are most in need of it? How can we participate in living into sustained joy as our basic condition not a passing emotion? Our second reading is our roadmap.
Fear of losing our power, prestige, money, status or other earthly possessions is what feeds fear. We escape that fear by consciously living in the Christ consciousness that Jesus so fully embodied in his human life here on earth. His life proved to us that we do not need to be perfect to live life in an awareness of God’s presence inside our very being.
When we respect the dignity of every human being we spontaneously see ourselves in the other’s position. Every human being with which we come in contact becomes part of our very family. We want to share what we have. The example given in our gospel reading is to respond to the knowledge that we are all made in God’s image by sharing whatever we have with others.
The sacred text reminds us to treat people as we would like to be treated. The tax collectors who represent business people of all kinds are admonished not to cheat people, to treat people fairly. Part of loving our neighbor as ourselves is sharing what we have. The example is the command to share our extra coat and share whatever food we have.
Think what this simple lesson would do to end world hunger, poverty, illness, and suffering. If every person who had enough just shared whatever extra they had. It would revolutionize the world in a matter of days.
Money and power often breed fear of losing it. And that fear leads to hatred and treating others as if they are somehow second class citizens in the household of God. Our basic way of being is not living in fear and hate. It is living in joy and love. Our task is to allow ourselves to imagine that fact and open our hearts to receiving the joy that is ours.
As we move into this last week of Advent let us open our hearts and let the joy shine through us. When we begin to feel anxious or troubled, let us give thanks to God for all the blessings that God pours out on us. When trials come our way may we remember that we live in hope that we will be able to receive the joy that God intends for us as we live together in peace.
This is my advent wish for you dear friends. May you continue to enjoy a blessed Advent as we await the coming of love into the world once again. Amen