Christ Lutheran Church Upper Darby

December 13, 2020 Worship Sermon - "Joy and Loss"

Delivered by Rev. Stephen Keiser

Isaiah 61:1-4, 8-11: Psalm 126; 1 Thessalonians 5:16-24; John 1:6-8, 19-28

This week, our congregation lost its second member to Covid-19.  As some of you have heard, Antoinette Bolden died suddenly on Wednesday morning.  Most of us didn’t even know she was sick.  So, we join with the millions of people across the United States, and the tens of millions of people around the globe, who are mourning during this season of Advent, mourning the loss of someone we love. We will miss Antoinette very much, miss her kind words, miss her leadership on church council, miss the delicious meals that she shared with us on many occasions.  And we mourn along with Antoinette’s daughter, Wittney, as she suffers the loss of her mother.

So much mourning makes it difficult to be particularly joyful on this Sunday that we call Gaudate Sunday.  Gaudate means “Rejoice” and the third Sunday of Advent is set apart for rejoicing.  That’s why many Advent wreaths have a pink candle on the third Sunday.  And the word joy appears five times in our scripture readings.  Advent is a time of waiting and anticipation, but on the third Sunday we are invited to take a break from our Advent fast in order to rejoice in all that God has done for us. 

It is difficult to rejoice when we are mourning.  Asking people who have suffered loss to keep their chin up is not a very compassionate response.  But our scriptures are not asking us to “Always look on the bright side of life,” as Monty Python put it in the movie, Life of Brian.  Rather, our scriptures are asking us to see that glimmer of hope that lies beyond our mourning.  “Those who sowed with tears will reap with songs of joy,” Psalm 126 tells us.  Psalm 126 begins by remembering how God saved in the past: “When the Lord restored the fortunes of Zion, then were we like those who dream.  Then was our mouth filled with laughter, and our tongue with shouts of joy.”  Remembering how God saved in the past, the psalmist prays for God to act once again: “Restore our fortunes, O Lord,” the psalmist prays.  And then the psalmist ends with a word of hope: “Those who go out weeping, carrying the seed, will come again with joy, shouldering their sheaves.”  Just as the harvest brings joy, we know that God will bring joy to those who wait for God’s promised salvation.

Our passage from Isaiah also speaks a word of healing and encouragement to those who mourn.  Isaiah was written during a time of mourning.  The people of Israel had returned from exile in Babylon only to find that Jerusalem, the city they dreamed about during their decades of exile, was now a heap of rubble.  So, God sends Isaiah to speak a word of encouragement and hope.  “The Lord has sent me to bring good news to the oppressed, to bind up the broken-hearted, to comfort all who mourn; to provide for those who mourn in Zion— to give them a garland instead of ashes, the oil of gladness instead of mourning, the mantle of praise instead of a faint spirit.”

We who mourn do not mourn alone.  God, who is revealed to us in Jesus Christ, becomes one with us in order to share our grief and suffering.  Remember how Jesus wept at the grave of his friend Lazarus.  In Jesus Christ, God shares our grief.  But more than that: God gives us hope for life beyond our grief.  By raising Lazarus from the grave, Jesus shows us that God’s love for humanity is stronger than death.  That’s what we celebrate at Christmas: a God who becomes human in order to share our grief and in order to give us hope beyond our grief.

Let the words of Isaiah speak comfort to you who mourn.  Let the oil of gladness be a healing balm for your grief.  In baptism you were anointed with this oil.  It is the anointing of the Holy Spirit and it continues to do its healing work in your life.

God has anointed us, just as God anointed Isaiah.  God anointed Isaiah to bring a message of hope to the people of Jerusalem.  In this same way, God has anointed us to bring a message of hope to those who are mourning in our world.  During the coming week, you are certain to encounter someone who is carrying a burden of grief.  May God give you words of hope to speak to that person so that they too may reap with songs of joy.