Sermon, December 11, 2016

So That My Joy May Be in You
Rev. Thomas Cary Kinder
The Congregational Church of the United Church of Christ,
Bradford, Vermont
December 11, 2016
Third Sunday of Advent, Pageant, Sunday of Joy
Psalm 126; Luke 1:39-45; John 15:9-11

Faith changes the way we live, or else it is not faith.
Church changes us, or else it is not being the church.
Christ came to change us, to transform our lives
and make us agents of transformation in the world.
The first word out of his mouth when he began to teach
was the word translated as “repent.”
He did not mean feel guilty, he meant,
be changed, change your mind, your heart, your spirit,
change the direction in which you are looking
for happiness, for meaning, for joy.
The Bible word for repentance is metanoia,
meaning a change in our inner life
that changes the way we experience everything.

“When the Lord restored the fortunes of Zion,
we were like those who dream.
Then our mouth was filled with laughter,
and our tongue with shouts of joy.”

That is what it is like to be changed
in the way that Christ intends.
We enter a moment of anxiety or anger,
a moment of loneliness or feeling lost,
a moment of suffering or struggle,
and faith, church, Christ—this higher power—
transforms the moment. It does not end suffering,
but we can experience beauty
and joy even in the midst of suffering,
the fullness of sorrow and fullness of joy
in the same moment. “Those who sow in tears,
reap with shouts of joy.
Those who go out weeping,
bearing the seed for sowing,
come home with shouts of joy,
carrying their sheaves.”

Faith, church, Christ—this higher power—
changes us, and not for ourselves alone.
As Abe Lincoln said and I often repeat,
“I care not for a man’s religion
whose dog or cat are not the better for it.”

Jesus calls us to change our heart and mind
because God’s realm is here at hand,
and we need to change in order to enter it and serve it.
Jesus lived in the kingdom of Herod,
so he called God’s realm the kingdom of God.
We could call it the United States of God,
a parallel universe that we can enter
through a secret door in every moment.
The same things are happening in that other realm—
if we are suffering here we are suffering there—
only it is changed. Where we saw only suffering,
now we also see beauty and joy.
The darkness is the same, but now
we see a light that shines in the darkness,
that the darkness does not overcome.
By living in both realms we ourselves
become a candle or lighted window,
and change the world around us.

My grandfather lost his beloved wife
when he was in his late 80s,
and lost his usual jolliness and joy of story-telling.
Then when he was 90 a stray dog appeared at his house.
We searched for its owner without success.
It was a skinny, not very good-looking mutt.
My grandfather’s heart went out to it.
He started making up stories about its adventures.
He joked about it being his Siberian Wolf Hound.
It restored his fortunes, it transformed his home
and his world and those around him.
“Then our mouth was filled with laughter,
and our tongue with shouts of joy.”
He still was grieving the loss of my grandmother,
he still was struggling with old age and cancer,
almost everything was the same, but the magic door
had opened into that other realm,
and his dog and we all were the better for it.

That door is always near and never locked,
and yet how many moments go by
without us opening it and passing through?
Agape is the word the Bible uses when talking
about the love of God and Christ.
Agape is the generous-hearted lovingkindness
Christ calls us to have when he says,
“Abide in my love…. This is my commandment,
that you love one another as I have loved you.”
Agape is the magic door that can open in any moment.
The dog was not the door for my grandfather,
love was the door he passed through that changed his life.

Love sweeps us up in its flow,
changing how we go through every moment.
Joy comes to us when we are in that flow.
“I have said these things to you
so that my joy may be in you,
and that your joy may be complete.”
His love in us becomes his joy in us.
Elizabeth saw her cousin Mary walk through her door
and love made the baby within Elizabeth leap with joy.

Faith, church and Christ lead us to metanoia,
an inner change that enables us
to pass through a magic door in every moment
and abide in agape. The door of Christ-like love
opens into a parallel universe,
the United States of God or the Bradford of God,
where the child of God in us recognizes
the child of God in other people
and in stray dogs and in all creation
and our heart leaps for joy. We see the beauty of God
everywhere, even in the midst of suffering and dying,
and we have fullness of joy, the joy of Christ in us.
We still go out weeping into our painful moments,
but we come home carrying our sheaves,
the harvest of all that our love
has brought to birth in the world.

This transformation of our lives
is what Advent is all about.
It is already here in this moment, and yet not yet,
because another moment is coming just ahead
when we will have the choice to pass through that door
again—the magic stable door opening
to the manger of every moment.
Let us prepare our hearts to see and rejoice
and abide in Christ’s love, whatever life may bring.
Let us be loving in every situation that we meet,
so that his joy may be in us,
and our joy may be complete.
Let us pray in silence…