Dec13MonA sermon for Advent 3 December 13, 2021 by Sebastian Meadows-Helmer
- Filed Under:
- Pr. Sebastian
'Tis the season to be jolly, Fa la la...
Now that’s a song you’ll never hear in Lutheran worship,
But it summarizes the theme of today’s service so well.
Joy and Singing and Expectation!
In this Advent season leading to Christmas,
Probably most of us are feeling at best a cautious joy.
It’s maybe kind of like how we’re singing in worship,
We’re not singing much or full out, we’re masked,
and we’re not really in the mood.
So much is different and strange,
and we thought by this time of the pandemic
we would have gotten used to things,
and yes we have,
but it still is a strange land we’re in.
Tis the season to be jolly.
When we think of the word “jolly”, we think of laughter and music.
You know, Laughter is contagious,
That’s why there are laugh track for sitcoms.
If other people are laughing at a joke,
it tricks our mind and we’re much more likely to laugh along as well…
we are social creatures after all.
“Music plays a special role, as it deactivates brain receptors for fear,
while simultaneously releasing neurotransmitters associated with joy.”
In other words, singing is a great way to get that joyful feeling.
Anticipation and Expectation can be even stronger emotions than when the actual event happens.
“This is because anticipation includes a sense of tension that things can get even better.
In other words, the possibility of a reward can actually make us happy.”
“Shortly before unwrapping a present,
anticipation may be so strong that the tips of the fingers actually tingle - ……Wrapping presents provides an extra layer of anticipation that builds toward the surprise.” (DW.com) https://www.dw.com/en/the-neurobiology-of-christmas-anticipation/a-18148151
That partly explains the popularity of a lot of these YouTube unboxing channels, where the host will unbox and unwrap various items, like toys, for the camera.
The anticipation of what could be inside is intense,
and it releases happy hormones like dopamine.
Whatever is in the box is often a let-down,
but that build-up of anticipation is powerful!
At the first youth group meeting I participated in here at St. Matthews,
we played a fun game that maybe you too have played,
where there was a toy wrapped up in dozens of layers of wrapping paper. All the members took turns unwrapping the gift with oven mitts on,
while the music played.
When the music stopped, we had to pass the gift on to the next person…and whoever ended up unwrapping the final paper would get the gift.
This group game extended the normal unwrapping to several minutes,
and boy was that fun!
There’s more joy in preparing and anticipating,
than often the event itself.
It’s kind of like that Jerry Seinfeld bit,
where he goes on about how we’re always talking about going out,
and when we’re finally out,
doing something, at the movies, at a restaurant, then soon enough,
we start talking about going home.
The anticipation of going out, and planning the trip, the preparation for the outing is almost the most fun part.
I kind of get that sense of joyful expectation when I enter Costco…
oh those shiny TV screens as you enter.
The WOW effect…all those amazing things you could buy,
so enticingly arranged!
But let’s be honest, the season is not joy for everyone,
It’s also a season for grumps, and more seriously, the blues.
The season is not joy and fa la la for everyone all the time.
There is intense pressure to feel the joy,
and if you’re not feeling the joy, well
“what am I missing, is something wrong with me,
well that makes me feel even worse if there’s something wrong with me.”
As I started writing this sermon on joy,
I was actually feeling pretty grumpy.
Now, let me tell you, it’s hard writing a sermon on joy when you’re feeling grumpy.
It’s like eating hard cookies with a toothache.
Yesterday I was in a bad mood:
Elise had become sick and would need to be tested,
throwing a wrench into the Sunday school preparations.
I was feeling a little sick too with the sniffles:
and was worried; what will happen with all my Sunday obligations?
Will I have to get Carey to lead this morning if I have to get tested if I start coughing?
Then there were the inevitable shenanigans with family,
esp. more pronounced when kids are feeling under the weather,
Various worries and stressors around church work,
And then the whole feeling of disappointment with the rapid spread of Omicron being blasted everywhere on the news,
And then I remembered I haven’t been playing as much violin —
which usually helps my equilibrium.
On and on, in a cycle of grumps.
And then I feel dumb for feeling grumpy when I have it so good,
I am so fortunate after all…there are people right now suffering
10x, 100x, 1000x more than me.
There are those who are truly lonely, living by themselves,
Those mourning the death of a loved one,
Those struggling with Seasonal Affective Disorder,
where the lack of sunlight really drags them down.
Those who are sick and tired of the pandemic dragging on and on,
and just want to get back to normal living and can’t understand all the restrictions and rules and regulations.
Then you think of those experiencing homelessness,
and those in famine-and natural disaster-stricken countries,
like Madagascar and South Sudan.
The situation on the planet seems so dire, you just want to cry.
And so we come to worship this morning and hear words from the prophets of old:
I will trust and will not be afraid.
God is my salvation.
Sing praises to the Lord.
Sing for joy.
The Lord God is my strength and my might!
Shout, rejoice, exult.
Why? Do we feel it? What if we don’t feel like it!
Rejoice in the Lord always, again I say rejoice!
Do not worry about redevelopment or COVID or inflation or immigration.
But pray! Like your life depends on it.
Bring it to the Lord in prayer.
And give thanks like there’s no tomorrow.
How can we dig us out some joy, or if not real joy,
at least a sprinkle of cheerfulness?
At least with a mask on, it’s a little easier to hide that fake smile.
How do we gather some Christian hope in this month of December 2021?
Well, maybe it just starts with doing the basic things
that need to be done.
John the Baptist reminds us today to bear fruits worthy of repentance!
Good works are the outward sign of inner transformation.
Repent, turn to the Lord, and seek justice for all.
Seeking justice can make you joyful!
For example, giving to Canadian Lutheran World Relief Gifts from the Heart this Christmas, like building a latrine, buying a pair of goats or investing in training for women in business in Uganda.
Fighting injustice and inequity can bring a spark of meaning and hope to your life.
Sharing food and clothing can too.
“What shall we do?”
The crowds ask John the Baptist.
And this is the question we face every day too, esp. in this Blue Season where we’re supposed to be feeling cheer
and maybe don’t feel like we’re measuring up to expectation.
Most of us are just surviving
and not thriving.
We’re just trying to get by and stay sane and not
tumble down the stairs of despondency.
And so we turn to drugs, alcohol or other distractions,
some of which are helpful and others which are not.
Rejoice in the Lord always, again I say rejoice!
It’s not as easy as it sounds.
The Messiah is coming: this is good news.
It is a time to sweep away greed, selfishness and complaining,
To clear out old habits and make room,
And manage our expectations - we hope for something better.
We search for a sign of hope, but how can we find hope?
How do we place that sign of “nevertheless” or nonetheless into the ground as a sign of defiance in the face of dispair!
Even though we cannot feel it, we will attempt, nonetheless, we must attempt, nonetheless
As I was working on finishing my sermon yesterday
I got a glimpse of that hope of joy as I sat in on a bit of the
Spiritus Ensemble Messiah rehearsal in our sanctuary,
with the tenor singing so beautifully “Every valley shall be exalted”
And for a moment I felt exalted too, joyful even,
enough to carry on my work.
May you find some joy and expectation too this month,
As you ready yourselves for the Messiah with as much joy as you can.