Emmanuel Lutheran Church
Menominee - Michigan
Third Sunday of Advent
December 11, 2016
Grace and Peace to you in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.
Poetry has a way of sinking into our subconscious and sticking there. I am sure if I read some lines from popular poetry, most all of you could finish them. There are poems that make us laugh and giggle…
One fish, two fish, red fish, blue fish, black fish, blue fish, old fish…(new fish)…or Jack be nimble, Jack be quick, Jack jumped over a…(candlestick)…or, the spirit of the season, Twas the Night before Christmas and all through the house, not a creature was stirring, not even a…(mouse). We’re pretty automatic with our responses, aren’t we?
But, then some poetry is dark and we can instantly be transported to a place and time… But the raven, sitting lonely on the placid bust, spoke only That one word, as if his soul in that one word he did outpour. Nothing further then he uttered- not a feather then he fluttered – Till I scarcely more than muttered, “other friends have flown before – On the morrow he will leave me, as my hopes have flown before.” Then the bird said,…(Nevermore).
See, even Edgar Allan Poe can sneak into our hearts and minds. Poetry, can stick with us through the years and it hangs on in places we sometimes forget we have. Poetry can bring us sadness, make us laugh, and scare us.
And poetry can provide a sense of joy, which is exactly what the 35th chapter of Isaiah did for the Israelites 700 years before the birth of Christ, a joy that they could hold onto when things got really rough.
Another world power, the Babylonians, had taken them over and moved them to another part of the world, so when Isaiah penned these words, the promise of a redeemed nation gave them a sense of joy that no one could take away.
Because even during dark times joy can be sustained. Now, we sometimes think happiness and joy are the same thing but they aren’t. Happiness is like a YouTube video, to watch a cat play piano, or a kid come back from the dentist with the laughing gas still in his system, or a dog dreaming. Those short, under 10 minute, videos make us smile and some make us laugh really, really hard. But it’s all temporary. Happiness is a fleeting feeling. It’s there one minute and gone the next. Happiness is getting a good grade on a test or celebrating the weekend getting started.
But joy, on the other hand, is much more substantial. Joy is something rooted somewhere deeper than a moment. If happiness is getting a good grade on a test, joy is receiving your degree. It is something you can look at and know it will last and that nobody can take it away from you. In the 35th chapter of the book of Isaiah, God’s people received a gift of joy in these words of poetry, something that they were able to grab onto that is not fleeting, but is eternal. It wasn’t just a moment of happily jumbled words; but was poetry that is a promise of fulfillment and transformation.
Which is so important, because when we think of this time of year we think of joy, of happy times and great family traditions. We think of cookies and toys, laughter and presents, uplifting Christmas carols and songs. But, unfortunately, unhappiness still exists. Many of you here this morning have lost loved ones at some point during the past year which means that you will have your first Christmas without that one. Certain places, songs, traditions, foods, smells, etc., will remind you of your lost loved one and will bring up difficult emotions and memories. For you, this season may bring out heartache and sadness. You can’t escape it and nor should you push it under the rug.
The sad reality then, is that, for some, Christmas is simply a time of unhappiness. For example, as I was doing my sermon preparation this week, on one website I read where the author wrote, “Every year around this time, I spiral into a bottomless pit of anger and depression.” He’s right. For some people this season will only bring more struggles and frustration. There are some who have lost their job and what they want to do this Christmas and what they can do seem to be very far apart from one another. With benefits being cut off and all the commercials we see to buy this or that, it adds salt to the wounds reminding them that they should feel like a disappointment and a failure.
I know the feeling. I’ve been there, and I still take up residence there sometimes. In fact, I was there about a week ago when my van died on me. Again. And it wasn’t a cheap repair. Again (a recurring theme with this particular vehicle). And so last Saturday night I was camping out on the pitty potty, dwelling on all of the bad luck in my life and I was channel surfing and I came across “It’s a Wonderful Life.” I stopped immediately and tuned in, for no other reason than that this is one of my favorite movies of all time.
But, even more importantly, and for those of you who have seen this film would know, Jimmy Stewart’s brilliant George Bailey is a less than subtle reminder that God provides all that I need. I know that it’s not about the presents and the money that you spend, or even have, for that matter. But it is so easy nonetheless to fall into that trap of feeling like a failure who can’t provide not only gifts for my family, but basic necessities as well.
This was just another one of those constant reminders in my life that it’s not about me, or my happiness, as much as I think it is or should be. Because, you know what? There are those who don’t feel well this year and will celebrate Christmas by suffering the pain of terminal diseases. Others will be unable to be with family and friends because of distance; we think of those serving in the military on foreign ground, or for those who are imprisoned. Joy, for some this year, will seem like something far off in the distance.
I’m getting off pretty easy, and I know it. I know that I have a loving family and a supporting church family. But, you know, in the privileged position that I have, and it is a privileged position that I have, I have noticed that as some people go through similar rough patches of their life, all too often they think they have to go through them alone. Sometimes they will stop coming to church and being fed by worship because there is this notion that we have to have it all together before we come here, which couldn’t be further from the truth. I’m certainly evidence of that. The truth is, the Church is a place to be comfortable being uncomfortable with life. It is right here that it is okay not to be okay. In fact, that’s exactly why the church exists. The church does not exist to tell us that we’re doing well and doing everything perfectly. If we come here to feel good about ourselves, what’s the point of Jesus? Jesus said himself, I did not come to minister to the healthy, but to those who are sick. And here is where we find those who are sick. So it is here that we can pray with you, cry with you, hold your hand and remind you that you are not alone in your imperfect world. It is by being Church and willingly going into the dark places of other’s lives that we are able to point to the light of hope and joy, the same found in the 35th chapter of Isaiah, and enable people to experience peace and love.
Because, my friends, there is nothing more painful than watching the world move on while you are stuck in a dark place. But joy knows that you can and will move past this moment in your life, and that you can grow beyond this change. Joy knows that you will, at some point in the future, be made whole again and you will feel better. There’s no doubt that the storms of life are going to push us around, but if we anchor on the promise of the joy that is coming, we will survive any storm that comes our way. If we anchor ourselves to the notion that joy is not happiness, it is not fleeting, but that joy is a promise of a permanent redemption and transformation, we will find ourselves knowing what is will not always be. Because, like timeless poetry, joy imbeds itself into your subconscious, and is a constant reminder that darkness will give way to light. Amen.