Faithlife Sermons

Joy

Year B, 3rd Sunday in Advent  •  Sermon  •  Submitted
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A Lost Wallet

Losing a wallet can be a very traumatic experience. Whenever I lost my wallet I am forced to replace credit cards, driver’s license, library card, and AAA membership card. The cash is the least of my worries. I seldom have more than $30. I figure whoever finds it can keep the cash as a reward for returning the wallet. A man in Oregon, Bill Fulton, lost his wallet but he doesn’t remember when or where he was at the time. He regretted losing it, however. It was well made out of smooth leather with a cowboy design on the front.
After a while he forgot about that wallet, he had more pressing things to do. After high school he enlisted and served during the Korean military action. After the fighting ceased he was transfered to Berlin. Finally, he returned to Baker City to work in a lumber mill for 30 years.
Nearly 63 years later Nathan Osborne was tearing apart the bleachers at the Baker City Middle School. He discovered some old homework, lost library books, and a program from the 1964 talent show, and a wallet. Nathan turned it into the principal’s office and the secretary, Melanie Trindle, brought the wallet to Bill’s home. He was absolutely amazed to get that wallet back. He kept thanking Melanie over and over and over again.
Bill was so glad to have the wallet returned to him not because of any money but it’s content. Several of the items generated fond memories. His Social Security card was still tucked in its usual place. His bicycle license was also in the wallet. He needed that to deliver medication from the local pharmacy. The only thing missing was his student id card. Bill swears he always kept that card in his wallet. Bill could not believe that so many years had past since he lost that wallet. The feel of that smooth leather reminds him of a time long ago and who he was back then.
Finding a lost possession is always cause for relief and even joy, especially something as cherished as a wallet. On this third Sunday of Advent we light the candle of joy to celebrate with joy because God had forgiven us for our wayward wanderings and restored our fortunes.

The Psalm of Accent

Our Scripture lesson is one of the psalms of accent. According to tradition, these psalms were committed to memory and would be recited as the pilgrims ascended the mountain to the city of Jerusalem to celebrate Passover. The psalm is divided into two parts each describing a restoration.
The Hebrew phrase that we derive “restore our fortunes” is difficult to translate.
Amos 9:14 NIV84
I will bring back my exiled people Israel; they will rebuild the ruined cities and live in them. They will plant vineyards and drink their wine; they will make gardens and eat their fruit.
Amos 9:14 NIV84
I will bring back my exiled people Israel; they will rebuild the ruined cities and live in them. They will plant vineyards and drink their wine; they will make gardens and eat their fruit.
The fortunes that the prophet Amos refers to are the rebuilding of ruined cities.
Jeremiah 29:14 NIV84
I will be found by you,” declares the Lord, “and will bring you back from captivity. I will gather you from all the nations and places where I have banished you,” declares the Lord, “and will bring you back to the place from which I carried you into exile.”
in Jeremiah ‘fortune,’ has what we would consider more of a salvation message.God is gather his people from all the counties from which he scattered them. The people who where once lost and now found and gathered together and remembered forever for what God has done for them.
ho where once lost and now found and gathered together and remembered forever for what God has done for them.
Notice the corporate nature of God’s blessing. In the OT mindset God looked after the nation so that the entire nation prospered not just a small minority. Today in our me-and-God approach to religion we tend to only think of how God relates to us personally. We may say “God bless America,” but if he only blesses John Pavelko, and not America, I won’t raise an objection.
Notice also that the psalm is divided into two sections—past and present. The first section consists of vs1-3 and focuses on the past. At one time or another God brought the captives back to their homeland. This was a stunning moment. They had suffered incredible pain in exile. But upon their return to their homeland they could enjoy laughter and joy.
Notice that I did not say happiness. There is a qualitative difference between happiness and joy. The former is more experientially based. It depends on external situations and activities. It requires material possessions, positions of power, recognition and honor. When the circumstances are not perpetuating feelings of happiness boredom sets in.
Joy is more elusive, more subtle and more nuanced than happiness, a predisposition to cheerfulness, persevering with emotional extra effort, or the luck of good fortune. In his autobiography, Surprised by Joy, C.S. Lewis describes joy as
"...an unsatisfied desire which is itself more desirable than any other satisfaction. . . I doubt whether anyone who has tasted it would ever, if both were in his power, exchange it for all the pleasures in the world."
Whereas we can manipulate circumstances to our own advantage to obtain what we think will bring happiness, or expend great efforts in pleasure-seeking, joy is entirely gratuitous. You cannot earn it, buy it or deserve it. It is a divine gift to receive rather than a selfish goal to pursue.
We pursue happiness but joy is a gift that we receive. It cannot be manufactured, replicated, or produced. Happiness will succumb to difficult situations, laborious work, and/or teedest tasks. Joy radiates even through hardship. Happiness will seek escape and avoidance.
The psalmist tells us that joy is most intense after a resolution of great distress. Happiness requires safe territory when everything is going well. Joy may overwhelm a person no matter what the circumstances present.
The trio from UMCOR -- Rev. James Gulley, Rev. Sam Dixon and Rev. Clint Rabb -- were in Haiti to improve medical services and agricultural practices in that nation. They had come to the hotel to meet with the team from IMA World Health, which included Sarla Chand, Rick Santos and Ann Varghese.
The two groups had just rendezvoused in the hotel lobby, when the earth suddenly shook and the building came down on top of them. The six were thrown down and plunged into deep darkness.
The two groups had just rendezvoused in the hotel lobby, when the earth suddenly shook and the building came down on top of them. The six were thrown down and plunged into deep darkness.
Eventually, each spoke out. Chand, Gulley, Santos and Varghese were okay, but Dixon and Rabb, who were pinned side by side under a large slab of concrete, both indicated that their legs were broken. The six remained in that dark entrapment for the next 55 hours, until a French search-and-rescue team finally pulled them from the pancaked building. As it turned out, Dixon died shortly before he could be extracted, and Rabb died later in a Florida hospital to which he had been transported.
Eventually, each spoke out. Chand, Gulley, Santos and Varghese were okay, but Dixon and Rabb, who were pinned side by side under a large slab of concrete, both indicated that their legs were broken. The six remained in that dark entrapment for the next 55 hours, until a French search-and-rescue team finally pulled them from the pancaked building. As it turned out, Dixon died shortly before he could be extracted, and Rabb died later in a Florida hospital to which he had been transported.
Both men, however, were conscious through the long, dark hours before the rescuers arrived. Gulley said that as the time passed, "We talked about faith, prayed together and sang. We sang 'Peace Like a River' several times."
Both men, however, were conscious through the long, dark hours before the rescuers arrived. Gulley said that as the time passed, "We talked about faith, prayed together and sang. We sang 'Peace Like a River' several times."
"About midnight, Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns to God ...."
Gulley said Dixon and Rabb were in great pain, and the rest tried to help as much as possible. Santos had some over-the-counter pain medicine with him, which he gave them. "Sam was at an angle that put strong pressure on his legs," Gulley said of Dixon, "so we used laptop computers to brace his back. It would help for a time, and then we would have to rearrange it."
Gulley said Dixon and Rabb were in great pain, and the rest tried to help as much as possible. Santos had some over-the-counter pain medicine with him, which he gave them. "Sam was at an angle that put strong pressure on his legs," Gulley said of Dixon, "so we used laptop computers to brace his back. It would help for a time, and then we would have to rearrange it."
When help finally came, Gulley and the others started singing the doxology, "Praise God from Whom All Blessings Flow."
When help finally came, Gulley and the others started singing the doxology, "Praise God from Whom All Blessings Flow."
Only hours after the rescue did Chand learn that two of those whose voices had comforted and guided her with words of faith during the ordeal had succumbed to their injuries.
Gulley said, "I have no answer about why I was given the gift of life and Sam and Clint were not. I can't answer that any better than Job could answer why some people suffer more than others. All I can do is continue to try to use that gift in God's service in whatever way it is intended. I'm grateful to be alive, and I accept that gift.
The Bible doesn't tell us what to feel, and we have no Christian obligation to demonstrate joy. But when we're in the darkness and trusting God, joy is simply a description of what's happening in the geography of our inner beings.
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