Advent 3 B: Smiling as Resistance

This Sunday’s Readings

Old Testament      Isaiah 61:1–4, 8–11

Psalm                    Psalm 126 or Luke 1:46b–55

New Testament     1 Thessalonians 5:16–24

Gospel                   John 1:6–8, 19–28

My sainted former colleague, Pastor Paul Fuchs, used to jokingly tell of how irritated he would be when his mother commanded him to smile more. And he hated the ubiquitous smiley face.

In his way brother Fuchs realized how his own sour puss could dampen the spirits around our church office back at Grace Lutheran Church in Fremont, Ohio. Sharing his lifelong tension over smiling on demand lightened everyone’s mood.

How irritated might have the little, struggling church of Thessalonica have been to have the Apostle Paul end his letter with these three straight imperatives in our Second Reading for today: “Rejoice always! “Pray without ceasing! Give thanks in all circumstances!” They were suffering from persecution—why should they be happy about it?

But, the secret of joy is that it can be ours even when happiness runs out. It is the light in the midst of darkness.

And, it’s much like Jesus’ command to us to love one another. It’s not a suggestion, for times that are good. It is a command for always.

Mothers, Jesus, the Apostle, and our beautiful church tradition all work together on this Third Sunday of Advent to snap us out of the downward spiral of depression. What are the “all circumstances” of this day? Record numbers of people are in the hospital from Covid 19. Record numbers are dying—and every single death is the tragedy of incredible loss and grief. President Trump, as the leader of a legion of liars, is turning millions away from fact, fact-finders, and heroic and wise counselors. Together they are chopping away at our democracy. The same people who demand law and order when people speak of Black Lives Matter in the streets, applaud armed men who harass leaders who cry out for crowds not to gather and for all to wear masks. We are slipping further and further away from a nation of “we,” to a nation of “me, myself, and I.”

More than ever, this dark time is a time for Christians to light bright colored pink candles for this Sunday of Advent, which the church calls “Gaudete,” or “Rejoice Sunday.” Light those candles and invite joy into your heart as a protest!!

And the church, in its wisdom, says it’s a good thing to repent, and hunger and thirst in Advent’s preparation for the feast of Christmas; but in the midst of these dark days before the Solstice, it’s also good to have a day of light, and smiling, and rejoicing.

So, yes, wake up! Lift up your head. Indeed, force yourself–let the Lord’s messengers command you to wake up to the fact that it doesn’t matter how dark the valley of the shadow might be, your Good Shepherd is walking with you.

Remember, there is a promise behind this command. If you open your ears to hear, your eyes to see, and your heart to feel, you will be able to join with the Lord who loves justice (Isaiah 61:8). You will be a force for justice to fight against the virus, the lies, and the injustice. Smile as an act of resistance.

A pious instructor once taught me the secret of cross-country skiing. It is to look up to the hills from whence cometh your help. If you keep your head down you will lose your balance and grind to a halt. If you look up your body will fall into a natural rhythm—the rhythm the Good Lord built into us all. So, it’s actually a good news command that we hear from our mothers, our Lord, our Apostle, and our church. The darker the moment, the more important it is to, “Rejoice in the Lord always!”

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About John

John is a retired pastor of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America who has served congregations for over 40 years, including in rural, suburban, campus ministry and urban settings. His love of Border Collie sheepdogs has been fortified by his many friendships with shepherds all around the world. Nothing he has ever or will ever accomplish is as significant as the patience God, his wife and his friends have shown in putting up with his deficiencies.
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