more than a feeling
13 December 2009, Advent 3C
Sing aloud, O daughter Zion;
shout, O Israel!
Rejoice and exult with all your heart,
O daughter Jerusalem!
The Lord has taken away the judgments against you,
he has turned away your enemies.
The king of Israel, the Lord, is in your midst;
you shall fear disaster no more.
On that day it shall be said to Jerusalem:
Do not fear, O Zion;
do not let your hands grow weak.
The Lord, your God, is in your midst,
a warrior who gives victory;
he will rejoice over you with gladness,
he will renew you in his love;
he will exult over you with loud singing
as on a day of festival.
I will remove disaster from you,
so that you will not bear reproach for it.
I will deal with all your oppressors at that time.
And I will save the lame
and gather the outcast,
and I will change their shame into praise and renown in all the earth.
At that time I will bring you home,
at the time when I gather you;
for I will make you renowned and praised
among all the peoples of the earth,
when I restore your fortunes
before your eyes, says the Lord.
There are a lot of things in life that make me happy, and I’m not afraid to say them. I can often be heard saying things like “I am eating this piece of chocolate because it makes me happy” or “watching the San Diego Zoo panda cam makes me happy” or "this video on youtube makes me so happy I watch it every day."
There are lots of things that make me happy—I’m sure there are lots of things that make all of us happy! What are some things that make you happy?
It’s important to be thankful for these things—sometimes happiness is hard to come by in our world. There’s so much badness out there—freezing temperatures, people living by the train tracks, 10% unemployment, cancer, hungry children. Everyone needs some things that make them happy, even if they are small things. These small moments of happiness do add up, and all of that is a gift from God.
A few years ago there was a study of youth and spirituality, and one of the things the researchers discovered is that the vast majority of teens believe that God’s main purpose for their life is that they be happy. Very rarely did they mention anything that didn’t ultimately lead back to their own personal happiness—and the way to get there was to be pleasant and nice, to help people, and to believe. The journey of life and faith, with its accompanying good deeds and kind words, is meant to lead to happiness, and if it doesn’t then God should be abandoned for something that does lead to feeling happy.
This is the time of year when these kinds of undercurrents tend to come out in the open. There’s Christmas cheer everywhere, and we are supposed to feel happy and cheerful or else there must be something wrong with us. Those of us who wait for something more are deemed archaic, and those of us for whom the holiday season is hard for some reason—because we can’t afford the trappings of consumer Christmas, because we are far from family or friends, because we are trying to celebrate in the midst of grief and loss and missing people we love—are told to just sing some cheery songs, eat some cookies, and all will be well. Christmas is one time when not feeling happy is practically a crime against humanity.
Does anyone remember the opening of A Charlie Brown Christmas? It starts with a song…
Christmas time is here, happiness and cheer, fun for all that children call their favorite time of year…
And then Charlie Brown says:
I think there must be something wrong with me, Linus. Christmas is coming, but I’m not happy. I don’t feel the way I’m supposed to feel. I just don’t understand Christmas I guess. I like getting presents and sending Christmas cards and decorating trees and all that, but I’m still not happy. I always end up feeling depressed.
Even Linus tells Charlie Brown that he should get over it and be happy!
The prophet Zephaniah, you’ll notice, doesn’t say anything about being happy. In fact, most of his short book—only three chapters—is about doom and gloom and the horror of being a people in exile, far from home, having lost everything. The Israelites had no reason to be happy, and every reason to be angry, sad, even despairing. And Zephaniah lets them have it, calling attention to their own shortcomings as partners in God’s covenant. But then, just at the end, he makes a sharp turn to what we read this morning: Rejoice and exult with all your heart! Do not fear! The way will be clear, the path will be straight…The Lord, your God, is in your midst! God will rejoice over you with gladness—God will burst into song because you have been renewed in love!
This isn’t just happiness—this isn’t just the feeling we get from a piece of chocolate or a TV special or the 12 days of Christmas that ends with Toto’s Africa. This is JOY—more than a feeling, it’s a state of being, a reality that is made possible because of God’s very presence, right here in our midst, and it will take up all our heart—all our being will rejoice and exult. And not only is God present, but GOD is rejoicing, God bursts into song, God celebrates! The people of God have a new sense of God’s love, and a new vision for passing that love along—and that is worthy of some singing! I can just hear God singing “I’ve got the joy joy joy joy down in my heart…”—because, remember, God’s heart is where the community of God’s people, the world God made…all of US…live. It is the home God is constantly calling us back toward. We will, once again, bring joy right into the heart of God, because God has brought joy right into our midst.
At the end of a Charlie Brown Christmas, Charlie Brown is so frustrated…and then Linus explains what Christmas is all about. He walks out on stage and tells the same story we tell each Christmas Eve—shepherds minding their own business until angels come and bring them “tidings of great joy for all people—for unto you this day is born in the city of David, a savior, Christ the Lord.” God comes among us, and we get more than happiness—these are tidings of great joy, and the glory of God shines around, and even the angels rejoice. That’s what Christmas is all about, Charlie Brown.
We are waiting and preparing and hoping and looking for something very different than what you can buy in the stores or get in a Christmas card or even a cheery carol. We are looking for Emmanuel—God-With-Us, the God who sits down in our midst to share our humanity, the God who will renew us in love and give us a vision for sharing that love with the world, so that we may be bearers not only of fleeing happiness, but of Joy to the world, for the Lord is come.
May it be so.