Damariscotta Baptist Church
Tuesday, October 23, 2018
Growing personal relationships with God and community

12/16/12 Sermon


Zephaniah 3:14-20

May the words of my mouth and the meditations of our hearts be acceptable in Thy sight O Lord our Strength and our Redeemer, Amen


On the 3rd Sunday of Advent we light the candle of joy. Joy is our theme today.

Have you ever reflected on how you define the meaning of joy? What makes you joyful?

I know for most of us, joy is whenever the Green Bay Packers win a game right? (OK maybe not for some of you lost souls!)

How about the birth of a new baby? That’s a good way to describe joy. I know Marvin and MaryAnn are beaming this week over the birth of their first great grandbaby.
But how else might we define joy? For some joy might be described as their wedding day……

There was a little girl sitting with her grandmother at a wedding and she asked Grandma, why is the bride always dressed in white?

And the grandmother said , Well because white represents happiness and today is the most joyful day of her life.

The little girl paused a moment and said, Then why is the groom dressed in black?

Defining joy can be different for all of us.

For some joy is based on success; a new job or a promotion.

For others it might be news from the doctor that you’re cancer free?
Of course, many would connect joy with money--- Winning the lottery would make many of us joyful.
Ask yourself---How do I define joy?
Certainly where you start from can have a lot to do with how you define joy.         Especially when we talk about tangible things.
For affluent Americans our definition of joy is obviously a lot different than those who have little.
For many less fortunate in our world, joy might be a hot meal, or a pair of shoes while for us it’s getting the latest smart phone technology at Christmas.

Of course at this time of year, joy is peddled in front of us. Advertising woos us with the lure of buying and receiving gifts which promise to offer us joy.

That is until the big day arrives and all the wrapping paper and empty boxes are scattered everywhere and we suddenly wonder what happened to the joy?
You know, it’s only after we get what we thought would give us joy that we realize that it only lasts as about as long as a hot meal.
Earthly joy wears off---- when the money runs out, or when the doctor tells us that the cancer has returned.
Earthly Joy is only temporary, it doesn’t last.

But in our scripture today the prophet Zephaniah is speaking about a different kind of joy; a joy that lasts.

It’s the joy of the day when our Lord will come and live in our midst. A joy where we will no longer experience fear, where there will be no more disasters like we witnessed Friday in Connecticut.
It will be a day of joy where one’s innocence isn’t stolen away; where the oppressed and outcast; the lame and the poor and the grieving will be lifted up.
Zephaniah is pointing to the true joy; the coming of the Kingdom of God which will last into all eternity.

And that’s something that the people of Zephaniah’s day needed to hear. They had been an exiled people who knew of “national devastation and isolation”.

They were living in a time of corruption and injustice carried out by Judah’s leaders.

Zephaniah speaks in chapter 1 of violence and fraud, arrogance and immorality and pagan worship, bowing down worshipping the stars.

The people lived in darkness as Zephaniah spoke of God’s coming judgment and the light of eternal joy on the other side of it.

And while Zephaniah’s warning and words of hope were spoken nearly 3000 years ago, I think we can relate a lot to his audience.
Especially as we feel the darkness of Friday’s massacre of children.
The world in which we live is becoming a more and more dangerous and dark place. Our culture in America continues to push further and further to the extremes.

And those who live on the outer fringes of it are even more dangerous and more violent.

Even before this horrific event, we’re witnessing volatility in our world as never seen before.
Differing political ideologies in conflict within our society, nations rattling swords and natural disasters affecting millions of lives resulting in chaos.

Rogue nations with nuclear capabilities that with the push of a button could destroy entire nations and lead to cataclysm.

And with the moral fiber of our country eroding and being pushed out in the name of freedom, families are living more and more in the darkness and hopelessness of dysfunction and immorality.
Tracey Letts in her 2008 Pulitzer Prize and Tony Award winning play August: Osage County speaks to the darkness of these dysfunctional kinds of families today.
She describes a family who has come together for the occasion of a father’s funeral.

The father was an alcoholic who committed suicide.

The rest of the characters in the play include the pill addicted widow; a mean and manipulative woman.

One of the daughters who seems happy and healthy is in love with her cousin who is later revealed to be her half brother.
Another daughter is hiding her marital separation while the other is about to marry a pedophile.

The granddaughter is constantly stoned on and sexually promiscuous. All of the characters smoke and drink and swear excessively.

In the middle of all this dysfunction there is one powerfully disturbing line in the play that is so profound.
The oldest daughter says: “Thank God we can’t know the future, or we’d never get out of bed”……………(Deborah Block, Feasting on the Word)

Now for many in our culture today, this statement rings true. We live in a gloomy and grim time with much hopelessness all around us.

I can still recall interviewing many of the community leaders when we were doing our visioning for the church a couple of years ago.

And there were several who spoke about the darkness of the people who live in this area---they have no ambition and no hope.  Many are downcast and look to drugs and alcohol to give them temporary joy to numb this hopelessness.

There children have never dawned the doorstep of a church, and have no idea of what true eternal joy is.
And even those who are seeking to find light are looking to worship the stars as Zephaniah speaks of.

I was struck this past Friday night at Abby’s choral concert at GSB of the intentional effort to not speak of the season of Christmas.

Instead the program was celebrating the season of winter solstice. The evening began with this religious moment of silence in the darkness.

People were instructed to lift up a candle light----But it had nothing to do with the coming light and hope of God’s Kingdom.

And once the candle was extinguished, I couldn’t help but wonder what light remained?

The postmodern secular world has no answer to the light of eternal future hope.
An so as Christianity and its principles are pushed out of our schools and culture and replaced with something else there are multitudes living in darkness unaware of the true joy of the coming kingdom of God.

Of course as Christians we are blessed by grace to know of that joy already.

It came 2000 years ago when Jesus Christ came into our world the first time. We celebrate it and in this Advent season we look forward to when Christ comes again and brings the fullness of this joy.
It’s the assurance of this future everlasting joy that makes us different in the present.

You know there’s such a temptation to say we wish we could go back to the good ole days.

But as Christians we don’t see the past as being better. We see the future as being better.
Unlike the dysfunctional family in the play we look forward to getting out of bed because we know of the promised eternal joy that is to come.

But it’s not just simply this future joy to come that helps us to live in true joy.

You see, because of Jesus’ first coming into our world we’ve been given the gift of salvation which gives to those who receive it an eternal optimism in the present.
We sing the hymn “Joy to the World the Lord has come” for his coming has freed us from the despair of darkness.
As we receive our King and prepare him room we receive assurance of a place in the eternal future joy to come.
And this assurance of eternal joy in the future, frees us to live in joy right now and also share that joy with others.
And we share it by being candle lights of joy in the darkness ourselves.
As parents we shine the light of eternal joy as we teach our children and pray with them, reminding them of the coming eternal joy.

As community members we are candles of the future joy by bringing about ways of the kingdom thru lifting up those in need, and teaching character and morals to our children.

And certainly as candle lights, we illuminate eternal joy to those whose temporary earthly joy has been stolen away by the tragedies of this world thru our presence, our prayers and our acts of compassion………..
In closing this morning, on this 3rd Sunday of Advent, we’re being asked how we define true joy.
Is it simply the kind of temporary earthly joy that wears off? Or do we know of  the eternal kind that Zephaniah and the other prophets of God pointed to that is to come?  
God offers us, in the coming of his Son, a place in the realm of eternal joy.

It is a joy that we can experience right now; a joy that will shine light in whatever darkness you find yourself in.

(Ask yourself where do I need true joy in my life right now? What temporary earthly joy has faded away and I need the hope of Christ’s joy?)
As we live in this time of waiting, with darkness all around us, may we be lifted up with the promise that one day all the wrongs will be righted, that the lowly will be lifted up, and that no more crimes of horror and injustice that we witnessed Friday will ever come again.

For True Joy has come in Christ and is coming again.

Let us live in the candle light of Joy,, let it animate us so that we may shine that light of Joy on others.
In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, Amen