Vicar's Musings for the Third Sunday in Advent
13 December, 2015
One of the great themes of Advent is Joy. It is a word that has been ringing out from our Advent lections this past week, reaching a glorious crescendo today — Gaudete Sunday. Like the ringing of the sanctus bell, our readings from scripture are encouraging us to prepare for what is soon to come; the great joy of the Feast of the Incarnation. As the traditional Introit for the 3rd Sunday of Advent proclaims: Gaudete in Domino semper ("rejoice in the Lord always"; Phil. 4:4).
As I mentioned in my sermon last week, the Oxford English Dictionary defines "joy" as a noun: "a vivid emotion of pleasure, arising from a sense of well-being or satisfaction" and also as a verb, in a now archaic sense: "to joy" coming from the Latin gaudere, meaning "to experience joy" or "to rejoice". William Blake uses it in this way in his poem "The Little Black Boy": "And round the tent of God like lambs we joy." I think we should reclaim "joy" as a verb.
Bishop Robert Morneau in Growing in Joy (NY: New City Press, 2006) defines joy as a virtue: "the virtue of joy is a habitual action that leads to the enlargement of life for oneself and others" (p. 7). Jürgen Moltmann, Professor Emeritus of Systematic Theology at the University of Tübingen, has described Christianity as "a unique religion of joy." As churches around the Western world worry about shrinking congregations, or fight over matters of doctrine, or money, or ecclesiology, or morality, Moltmann's statement might seem a bit counter-intuitive. But I think he has a rather important point to make, for that very reason. He writes: "Why then is Christianity such a unique religion of joy, even though at its center stands the suffering of God and the cross of Christ? Because we remember the death of Christ in the light of his resurrection, and we remember his resurrection in the splendor of the divine, eternal life that is embracing our human and mortal life already here and now. ... Where sin is powerful, God's grace is much more powerful (Rom 5: 20), for Christ has died but how much more is Christ risen and has overcome death (Rom 8: 34). So pain too will be caught up and gathered into joy, despair into hope, and temporal death into the joy of divine life."
The Rev'd Dr Hugh Kempster
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