Recalling our True Joy in God through Christ
Third Sunday in Advent: 17 December, 2017
Fr Philip Gill
Assistant Priest, St Peter's, Eastern Hill and Lazarus Centre Chaplain
Today in the midst of our preparation for Christmas we are called to rejoice. The call is found in the ancient introits for the Third Sunday in Advent and is symbolised by the pink, rather than purple, candle that marks this day. The words for the introit resonate with St Paul's Epistle to the Philippians where he says: "Rejoice in the Lord always, and again I say rejoice."
Rejoicing may come easily if things are going well or if one is of a particularly "sunny" disposition, but if I were to judge by the long faces I see around the city (including sometimes my own I must admit) there seems to be little rejoicing going on in our lives. If we were able to ask what it was that stopped people from rejoicing what would the answers be:
- The mortgage is killing me!
- The world is in a terrible state
- My relationship is on the rocks
- I can't find real friendship
- My job is unfulfilling
- My health is poor
- I can't escape the poverty cycle
In any case as some philosopher has said, "Life is dull, brutish and short."
Where then is joy to be found? Someone has put a lot of effort into answering the question and found:
- Not in unbelief, Voltaire was an unbeliever of the most profound type. He wrote, "I wish I had never been born."
- Not in pleasure, Lord Byron lived a life of pleasure if anyone did. He wrote: "The worm, the canker, and grief are mine alone."
- Not in money, Jay Gould, the American millionaire, had plenty of that. When dying he said "I suppose I am the most miserable man on earth."
- Not in position and fame, Lord Beaconsfield enjoyed more than is share of both. He wrote: "Youth is a mistake; manhood a struggle; old age a regret."
- Not in military glory, Alexander the Great conquered the known world in his day. Having done so, he wept in his tent because he said, "there are no more worlds to conquer." 
We can add one familiar to some of the Christians of in St Paul's time some twenty or so years after the crucifixion: Christ has died, Christ is risen, but how long do we have to wait until he comes again?
It was a great concern. The apostles were aging and tensions between the Jewish and Christian communities were rising. The events of the Resurrection and Pentecost happened 20 years prior to St Paul's first writings and enthusiasm amongst some was waning. Among others it was heightening. Heightening to the point where people neglected the responsibilities of daily life. "Anyone unwilling to work should not eat." St Paul says.  It was a great challenge to hold things together amidst those feeling the disappointment of the delay of the second coming.
In contrast to those who would give up, St Paul, former Pharisee and persecutor of the Christ and his church and a prisoner at the time he wrote to the Philippians, says in chapter three of his letter to them: "Yet whatever gains I had, these I have come to regard as loss because of Christ."
St Paul can rejoice in spite of his circumstances is because he holds firmly that in Christ God has acted in a unique way. This understanding of Jesus is summed up in that beautiful hymn of Philippians chapter 2 which begins: "Jesus Christ, who though he was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God something to be exploited, but emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, being born in human likeness."
In this emptying Christ shows us the form of God. God is the creator who loves, provides and cares for each of us. Though there may be non believers who might rejoice in the sheer fact of human consciousness, most people find greater reason to rejoice in being loved by God who both gives and enlivens our consciousness. Christ comes to tell us of our true value before God. It is good news deserving of the most joyous response.
The story of the old chair illustrates the difference Christ has made in our lives. A man had an old derelict chair in the corner of his lounge room. He had even forgotten how it got there — perhaps it was left there by a previous tenant. He decided to throw it out and with that in mind he put the chair out on the veranda. Some time later there was a knock at the man's front door. He opened the door to a traveller. The traveller said, "As I was passing by I noticed the chair on your veranda. I'll be honest, I'm an antique dealer and I think your chair might be quite valuable. I would like to buy it from you." The owner of the chair saw an opportunity. "O well yes, I know it's valuable I'm just about to have it reupholstered." The chair's owner had the chair valued, and yes it was very valuable. He had it reupholstered and brought it back into his lounge room — this time in pride of place. He would say to visitors, "You see this chair — it is very valuable." He received many offers for the chair but refused them all — because it is so valuable.
Christ comes to tell us of our true value before God. It is good news deserving of our rejoicing. Our world often driven by materialism, sensationalism, self promotion and cynicism does not encourage us to rejoice. We need reminding and encouragement.
Modern spiritual guides are quick to distinguish between joy and happiness. Former Archbishop of Canterbury, William Temple writes: [The Joy offered by Christ] is no external happiness, nor can it be produced by any circumstances. It is a state of the soul. It is the condition of the soul that is filled with love, as joy comes next to love in the fruitage of the spirit (Galatians 5.22). 
In an Easter sermon in 2011 another former Archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams said:
Christian joy, the joy of Easter is offered to the world not to guarantee a permanently happy society in the sense of a society free from tension, pain or disappointment, but to affirm that whatever happens in the unpredictable world — sometimes wonderfully, sometimes horribly unpredictable — there is a deeper level of reality, a world within a world, where love and reconciliation are ceaselessly at work, a world with which contact can be made so that we are able to live honestly and courageously with the challenges constantly thrown at us. 
No matter how joyous we might be about what God has done in Christ for us, the challenges and expectations of life can steal away our attention and drain our spiritual energy. Now perhaps you are naturally joyous and not in need of any assistance in remaining so especially during this Advent season but perhaps too we could all do with some encouragement to find the joy to which the prophets and apostles call us.
This morning as I waited at a tram stop I saw a line of Christmas trees outside a nearby flower shop. I noticed the prices on the trees at the front of the group — $89. Then I noticed some were a bit less — $79. Then I noticed a descending price scale $69, $59 and so on. So I couldn't resist seeking out the cheapest one. I found some for $49, $39 and finally I found one for $29! Behind all the others, leaning against the corner of the shop was a small dishevelled tree with sap oozing from broken limbs like white blood. We go to great pains to put values on things and, to be honest, on other people. We all have the same value before God. We are all invaluable to God — we are all $89 Christmas trees!
This Advent let us pay attention to the things that give us joy — the people with whom we share our lives, the places that comfort our souls, the artists that spark our imaginations and especially the Lord who loves, cares and provides for us and gives us our deepest reason for rejoicing.
- What is Joy? Insights from Bill Bright — December 19, https://www.christianity.com/devotionals/insights-from-bill-bright/what-is-joy-insights-from-bill-bright-dec-19.html.
- 2 Thessalonians 3:10.
- William Temple, Readings in St John's Gospel, London: McMillan and co. Ltd, 1961, p. 255.
- Rowan Williams, Choose Life: Christian and Easter Sermons in Canterbury Cathedral, London: Bloomsbury Publishing, 2013, p. 199.
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St Peter's Eastern Hill, Melbourne Australia.