Joy – I’m Hoping for a ‘Peace’ of That!
Zephaniah 3:14-20 & Isaiah 12:1-6
I read a story the other day about a long haul truck driver who, late one night, stopped at an isolated roadhouse and diner.
Somewhat frazzled, lonely and tired, he walked up to the counter and was welcomed by the waitress.
She asked, ‘What will it be?’
The truck driver said, ‘All I want is a kind word and a piece of apple pie.’
The waitress disappeared into the kitchen and returned with the pie, which she served him at a table. As she started back to the kitchen, the truck driver said, ‘and what about the kind word?’ She spun around, leaned over the table and in a muted voice she said, ‘If I were you, I wouldn’t eat the pie.’
The waitress is, in some ways, like Zephaniah and Isaiah sounding a warning to their people – while the clouds of war, poverty and slavery loom around their nations.
They, too, have made wrong choices and the Assyrians are coming for them.
Isaiah’s people to lead them into captivity while the Babylonians are coming to destroy Jerusalem and take his people into slavery .
The truck driver’s choice is not a good one – whether he knows it or not. But good advice is available. Sometimes we go in first – make the commitment – pay the money before we realise that we have not thought or prayed this through.
Less often, do we consult God first and ask about the ‘nutritional value’ of the decisions we consider.
If you think about the prophets of the Old Testament – not just our two, but Micah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, Elijah and Elisha, and others – they were speaking out when the people were already in deep doo-do – they’d already bought the pie.
We’ve mucked up our world, and we also are the victims of the greed intolerance and violence of others. We often act/pray in reactive rather than proactive ways.
It is not only a matter of where do we find joy in our world, but do we remain joyful, despite our circumstances.
Zephaniah and Isaiah certainly don’t have much to be thankful about – not just because of their circumstances or the circumstances of their people, but because – as prophets speaking to people – saying ‘I told you so’, they like most prophets risk the ire of their people.
Even the preacher must act as a prophet sometimes. In Philippians 4, Paul exhorts the people, to whom he is evangelising, to rejoice – always – but that rejoicing is ‘rejoice in the Lord always’ – the Lord who was, and is, and is to come – the Lord who is above as well as present in our circumstances.
Rejoicing is an action and a choice, just as loving is an action and a choice. In Advent, these actions come about because we understand and believe and feel as Christians, that inner hope and peace we spoke about in the first two weeks of Advent.
Christian hope and peace should result in joy and love.
Our joy should be in the person of Christ, not in the circumstances.
How does God react to us?
In Zephaniah we read he sings up songs, he is faithful to us, God carriers our burdens, his anger has bounds, but his love has no bounds, he brings us love, he honours us, he reunites himself with us.
And in Isaiah we hear that he has moved in and comforted us and he has pulled up great buckets of thirst quenching salvation from the deepest well [see the relationship here with Jesus talking to the Samaritan woman by the well, about never thirsting again by drinking from his well.]
How do we know this all to be true – because he came to us to enter time and place, as a babe in a manger – yet as a Saviour for all!
His relationship with us is all important in creating our joy not our circumstances.
I think of this when I consider one of my favourite Christmas stories – Charles Dicken’s ‘A Christmas Carol’.
Old Scrooge, discovers that the put-downs he heaped on his poor book-keeper and his nephew and those gathering alms for the poor, give him no peace, no joy.
The joy of these folks and that of Tiny Time, exudes from within, not by the circumstances they are in, ‘til it spills out in unbridled ways.
Scrooge has a wonderful transformation to joy because he has experienced the opposite of joy in his life, as well as the absence of it and from a relationship with others. Scrooge also learns the importance of helping others and the importance of leaning into towards the others. As Christians we too are reminded that our joy occurs when we lean in towards God and rest in the hope and the peace that he brings.
So let’s return to our would-be pie eater in the diner with the wise waitress.
How does he react, does he act like an unreformed Scrooge with criticism – ‘you could have told me before I’d bought the pie’ or ‘Are you having a lend of me?’
Maybe he reacts in an Advent Spirit – that of gratitude, that there is hope for the human race, or with a sense of peace that he’s been spared a dose of Bali belly or worse. Or maybe he responds with laughter that he has connected with someone who knows better than himself.
Joy is a state of being, a thing that brings us life. It is created out of our hope for you, our peace in your presence and the love that you have for us. Teach us to rejoice in your Advent to and for us, this day and always, Amen.