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Advent I

+ Let us pray…
O GOD, forasmuch as without thee we are not able to please thee; Mercifully grant that thy Holy Spirit may in all things direct and rule our hearts; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.


Good morning and welcome to the third Sunday in Advent, otherwise known as Gaudete Sunday.

This comes from the start of the introit for this Sunday, 'Gaudete in Domino semper' which means Rejoice in the Lord always, from St Paul's letter to the Philippians, Chapter 4, verse 4.

Oh, and if you ever wondered what an 'introit' is (I know I did) – it means an entrance :

"The Introit (Introitus) of the Mass is the fragment of a psalm with its antiphon sung while the celebrant and ministers enter the church and approach the altar"

In the ancient church, the season of Advent was seen as a corollary of the season of Lent. It was meant to be used as a time of self- examination, culminating in the celebration of the Lord's birth. This third Sunday was seen to be a break in that solemn process, to introduce a sense of joy and anticipation into the season. We celebrate and rejoice in many different ways, but we combine these two exciting emotions in the art of music.

Now, I know the last thing we want to hear about is those dreaded two words that start on the feast of All Saints – the first of November –"Christmas Music" No, the music that springs to my mind IS about Christmas, and is usually performed around Christmas, in and around the church.

In specifics, the music I am referring to is Handel's Messiah.

In the spirit of full disclosure, I must confess that my family and I are in mourning – For many years, we have gone as a family to participate in a Messiah-sing at Franklin Pierce University in Rindge, NH. The performance had been going on every first Sunday of December for the last 35 years and was not produced this year. Nancy has been participating for about 27 of those years, and I had been for about 25 – we missed the event once or twice due to illness or such, but made sure to be there whenever we could. Then, as each of our children got to the age of 11, they were introduced to the chorus as we were.

The power, the majesty of this music is unparalleled. Written in 1741 in only 24 days, I can confess that, standing in the midst of that crowd, it feels as if the heavenly host joins in when three hundred or so of us would be singing the 'Hallelujah Chorus' (oh, and if you ever wondered why everyone stands during that chorus, there's no clear answer – legend has it that King George II of England did so, and that's why everyone stands, but there has been no confirmation of that as fact)

So, we listen to our recordings of that thundering music, so full of the Holy Spirit and look forward to joining again in that sound with the heavenly chorus someday. We need to have Joy in this season. Unlike happiness, which is based on events (or as it is called, happenstance) Joy is something that never goes away – another word for it is delight – or as Merriam-Webster puts it,

"the emotion evoked by well-being, success, or good fortune or by the prospect of possessing what one desires"

So, then, Joy is something that comes from knowing that God is with us, taking care of us and loving us, and that fact is the fulfillment of all those desires and wants and needs.

Again, as St Paul wrote – " Rejoice in the lord always, and again I say rejoice" – our hearts lead us this way, that joy overtaking us.

This season leads us to rejoice – Advent means something, Some ONE is coming, that One that will provide those things we really truly need. Today, I also thought about Joy and music, but in another way.

I was in the midst of scrambling around amongst the shoppers, as one of the shoppers, and there wasn't a lot of Joy to be had. Sure, there were lots of people SINGING about joy in the music from the store speakers, but the faces didn't show it, nor did their speech.

I also had cause today to also listen to some other music, some with droning, repetitive lyrics, others with words that I would not consider appropriate for anyone to hear, nonetheless put to music. And no one reacted, no one spoke out about them.

These 'songs' gave me pause. What are they expressing, what are they asking? I can honestly say I don't know. What about no one reacting to what they heard?

That was the hardest to consider because, in retrospect, I realized I was also one of the people that walked on. As part of everyday life, I had become so desensitized to such things that I just took it in as normal. And it should never have.

That realization, the reality struck me as I prayed for God's forgiveness. The world is the place that is still yearning for Jesus to come, as are we, and many aren't aware that one of his gifts is Joy.

Many don't want to hear His Name, yet want to say 'Happy Holidays' in a dismissive way, even though a 'holiday' is intended to be a Holy Day, being filled with Joy for God's provision.

So, this season of Joy, let us share that Joy more directly, through actions and time spent with others that may not hear about the real Reason for the Season. In this, we may be able to share the Gospel and finally make them wonder about that little boy born so long ago in Bethlehem and just Who He was and how they can get to know Him, too. He'll be back someday, and we need to be prepared for that.

E'en so Lord Jesus, quickly come…

Let us pray,

O God, you gave us the gift of your Joy, not as the world gives. Grant us each the ability to know that Joy inside, and to share it with a hurt world that needs it, to lead them back to You. In Jesus blessed name we pray, Amen .

Charlie Niemi

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