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Sunday Service 17th December

Advent 3: Joy




17/12/23

 

Call to worship

Hymn 304: O little town of Bethlehem

 

Time for all

 

Hymn 303: It came upon a midnight clear

 

Reading: Luke 1: 5-25 - Gil

Prayer

 

Hymn 305: In the bleak midwinter

 

Sermon

Prayer of Dedication

  

Hymn 320: Joy to the world.

 

 Benediction

 

 

 

Welcome to our reflection for 17th December.

This is the third Sunday in Advent, when we reflect on Joy.

It is easy to think of joy when things are going really well, but what about when we are struggling?

Can we feel joy then?

 

We will reflect on that after Gil leads us in our prayer and reading for today.

Remember that you can ask for our church to pray for you or people that you care about by contacting us at

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Sermon

There is a fascinating advert out just now for the lottery.

It starts with a man dropping his lottery ticket and another man picks it up for him.

That leads in time with them getting married and on that day the same man drops his lottery ticket and his now husband picks it up.

It starts a rhythm of events, the man is clumsy and loses his ticket, and his husband find sit and keeps it safe.

The last scene is the man watching the lottery numbers come up and realises that they have won, but he can’t find his ticket.

He is in tears as his husband comes in and the husband asks what’s up, and the man says that they have finally won but he has lost their ticket. At which point the husband takes the ticket out of his back pocket and says, ‘What this ticket?...wait a minute WE WON THE LOTTERY?.

And then they are all euphoric.

And in our head that is a moment of JOY.

They have finally hit the jackpot.

They can relax, because they have no worries.

They can do anything they want, go anywhere they want.

 

That advert gets up my nose. In a way an itch gets right up your nose and no matter how far you stick your finger up there, you can’t reach it..

I’ll tell you why.

And if you are of a theological persuasion that you’re a bit uneasy about homosexual marriage, then keep the same advert in your head and make it a clumsy husband and a wife that is always picking up after him.

Because what annoys me is not that they are homosexual.

What annoys me is that the advert says, ‘You can have everything that gives you joy, you can have a loving, stable relationship in a wonderful home...and that is not enough, you will only have joy if you win the lottery.’

 

It annoys me because it diverts people from finding joy in the relationships they have with neighbours and friends and family and tells them that TRUE JOY is in something else...in this case lots and lots of money.

 

It annoys me because every study that has been done on happiness and those that have won the lottery tells us that it really doesn’t make all that difference to people’s overall happiness, if anything it can make things worse, put stresses on a marriage so that they end up divorces, break friendships up as they get angry at how they are treated after the lottery is won.

 

Joy is that feeling of contentment that you are all right.

That you have everything that you need and you are happy with that.

 

 

 

We make the mistake of believing that we just need something more.

And that lack of what-ever that something more is, is what is keeping us from being content, being joyous.

And when we get it then we have that moment of euphoria...of joy.

And we don’t have that.

 

Recently I was playing a competitive squash game in Crief.

They guy I was playing was a better squash player, more technical.

I was just about holding my own when I noticed I wasn’t playing such tight shots.

If I was trying to play down the wall the ball wasn’t hugging the wall.

If I was trying to play across the court the ball wasn’t going diagonal enough.

I thought it was nerves, and was trying to calm myself down.

It was only when I lost that set and was coming off the court that I noticed that my racket frame had cracked and so the strings were not rightly aligned.

But I didn’t have a spare racket.

Fortunately one of my teammates gave me hers.

But it was a different weight and different feel.

Before I knew it I was 14-6 down and it is the first to 15 that wins.

The problem was that I was trying to play my game with someone else’s racket, and it just wasn’t working.

So with nothing to lose I changed my game; instead of trying to play soft delicate shots I just used brute force and ignorance.

It completely put my opponent off.

The moment I won the winning point I had a moment of euphoria.

It was really nice...meaningless, but really nice.

So I win a game of squash..it didn’t guarantee that the team would win, it didn’t lead to any profound change in the universe, it didn’t even lead to any profound change in me.

 

And too often that is what we try to do when we seek joy; we seek an emotion that is really nice, but meaningless.

Which is why we so often get frustrated with our life.

We reach for an emotion that has no lasting effect on us, and once we realise that we feel disappointed, because we realise we want something different. But instead of looking for something different, we try to get a bigger emotional rush that we had before.

 

Joy is not an adrenaline rush, though we often act as if it is.

Joy is an inner assurance, an inner feeling of contentment that we are all right.

That we have everything that we need and we are happy with that.

The realisation that we are blessed.

 

Christmas can be a frustrating time.

 

 

 

We get caught up with the children, and rightly so, for it is a joy to see Christmas through their eyes.

The expectation of the big day, the opening of the parcels and seeing a wonder and joy in their eyes.

But we get fooled by that.

We think that what they feel is what we should feel.

We forget that they are children and don’t realise what they are doing.

 

So we try to feel what they feel.

We think joy is that moment when they open up their presents and see what they have always wanted.

They have everything they want and they are happy, joyous.

 

We try to chase a dream that wasn’t and never has been real; that moment of elation and excitement that the child feels.

And we forget that even for the child that moment doesn’t last more than a few minutes at most.

That isn’t joy.

 

But isn’t that the meaning of Christmas?

That it should last?

That we should be able to be happy all the time.

Look at the Christmas story.

It can be a bit tough but it has a happy ending;

sure Mary and Joseph struggle to find a place to give birth but in the end the baby is born safely...happy ending,

the wise men follow the star and find the child they have been looking for...happy ending,

the shepherds listen to the angels and find that child that is born to be king...happy ending

 

But that isn’t the real story.

The shepherds have to go back into the cold night and their lives don’t change.

The wise men have to return home by another route so that they are not captured by Herod’s soldiers.

Mary and Joseph have to become immigrants in Egypt.

 

If joy is the continuous euphoric feeling of adrenaline rush then where is it in this story?

 

And the truth is that that isn’t joy.

Joy is the inner assurance, the inner feeling of contentment that we are all right.

That we have everything that we need and we are happy with that.

The realisation that we are blessed.

 

 

 

In our reading today we have Zechariah the priest.

Let me tell you something about ministers and priests, we like to be in control of things, we are happy when things are under control.

As the priest he has various sources of happiness.

He has the happiness of being married.

He has the happiness of being the lead priest that year giving the ritual in the Temple.

He could be happier, maybe should be happier.

But there was one more thing he wanted...a child, but he had no control over that.

If only he could sort that out.

But time was now against him, against them.

 

Here’s the thing that Zechariah was going to learn, that we all need to learn again and again.

There is never joy in what we can sort out, there is never joy in what we control, there is never real joy found by controlling our life into a place of joy...because the truth is that we are never in control, we never sort things out.

 

There is always one more thing.

If Zechariah has a child, would he finally be happy?

Or would that bring its own worries and problems.

Sure there is that moment when the baby is born and you’ve counted all the fingers and toes and realised that everything is fine...but then the first time is sneezes you are worried it is pneumonia, the first time they fall you are worried that they might break a leg, you then worry if they are learning fast enough, or if they will get a good job, or find the right partner, or are bringing up their own children right....the list goes on and on.

 

It is as if we are hoping for that perfect moment in life, and when we find it we want to shout, ‘Stop. No one in the world move. Keep everything as it is right now.’

 

That moment never comes.

Because joy isn’t like that.

That’s what Zechariah was to find out.

And he will find it when his life is suddenly out of control.

This angel appears with impossible news and Zechariah loses all control of his life.

He doesn’t even have control of his own vocal cords.

 

Everything is a mess.

and unable to speak during the pregnancy no doubt he has a lot more time to listen to what is going on.

He has a lot more time to reflect on his life.

And sees that it is not about controlling his life so that he can reach a moment of joy.

It is about seeing in the mess of his life that he is blessed.

He already has what he needs to experience joy.

 

Thankfulness for the people that are already in his life.

Purpose for what he can do to make those people feel the blessings that he can give.

Assurance, that no matter what he faces, God is with him.

 

That is the truth we all have to learn, all have to face.

Joy isn’t that moment we finally get control, life is perfect, we have reached the top, and now we have to keep it somehow in that state of euphoria.

 

Joy is knowing that we are blessed.

It is the thankfulness for the people that have already been in our life, are already in our life.

It is the purpose we can have when we help those people feel the blessings that we can give.

It is the assurance that no matter what we face, God is with us.

 

Let us pray

God of all,

What does that mean to us, ‘God of all’

Does that mean us, us all the time, even when we are mucking things up, even when we make a disaster of things, even when we feel at our lowest and most unloved?

Does that mean them, them being all those who we don’t get on with just now, them being the people we are suspicious of, them being those who we know have done bad things?

You are the God of all...

you welcome us into your midst.

You accept us in relationship, invite us as a participant, miss us when we are not present, value us as a unique individual.

 

You wants us to know that we are included, you want us to know that we belong.

Even when we feel isolated from what is familiar and known.

Even when we feel we are alone, serrated from family, lacking a sense of place.

 

Help us to see that it is the belonging to you that is key.

It is feeling at home, the ability to be at ease with self and others.

It is realising that it is not how useful or productive or good we are that matters.

 

It is being with you.

Let us be silent enough to hear your Good News.

Let us be present with you

to find our home in this place

at this time

where we find ourselves included in your love.

Amen.

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