They had a vision. But perhaps it wasn’t quite the way they had expected it to turn out. But was it worth the risk? Now that is the question.
They wanted fireworks for the wedding reception. When we arrived a couple days before the wedding at our friends’ home, the father of the groom opened his shirt at the table. And with jaws dropped, we saw a large, purple bruise circling most of his chest area. What happened?
The groom wanted fireworks in the backyard where the wedding was going to take place the next day. In setting it up the night before, the groom, brother-in-law and father were careful to follow the instructions. Except they must have missed something.
Beause when they tested the fireworks, the riggings exploded and the fireworks shot out in every direction but upwards. The groom and brother-in-law dove for safety to avoid the flaming projectiles. But one hit the father in the chest with force and knocked him over. He was fortunate not to have sustained greater damage to his body!
Was it worth the risk? That is the question.
On some Advent wreaths, the third candle is pink because rose is a liturgical color for joy. This third Sunday of Advent is called “Gaudete” Sunday, from the Latin, and is meant to remind us both of the joy that the world experienced at the birth of Jesus, as well as the joy that the faithful have reached the midpoint of the Advent journey.
Today, we place a star over the open frame of the house built on love, for Christ. The star of Bethlehem gives light, a shining beacon in the dark night. And so the candles are lighted, now three of them on the Advent wreath. We begin to notice the light that is given off. After all, an Advent wreath isn’t really doing its job unless the candles are lighted, showing their albeit tiny flames.
It is the Sunday of celebration, not unlike the fourth Sunday in Lent called “Laetare”. In all our preparing, keeping on track, and our work we now anticipate and expect the end of the journey which is near! So, what do we do now that we are almost there? Waiting, after all, is so difficult.
The crowds asked John the Baptist, “What should we do?” now that the Messiah was very near, closer than they thought! With all the upheaval, fear and anxiety about the future, what to do, whom to trust? Is John the Messiah? When the big picture seems uncertain, and society as a whole feels like it’s on the brink, what do we do? “As the people asking John the Baptist were filled with expectation”, so are our hearts. What should we do in this short time before Christmas?
Gaudete and Laetare both mean “Rejoice!”. But some suggest a subtle difference. First, this work happens on the inside of our lives. This is the work of Gaudete. This work is self-reflective. We examine our own expectations. We consider our own desires and acknowedge our own restlessness. What are we waiting for? What are your desires this Advent? How is that you expect Jesus to arrive in your life this Christmas? How are you watching and waiting? These are important Advent questions to ask yourself.
But what is the outside work—Laetare—from which we pause to celebrate? What is it that keeps our noses to the ground, so to speak, and hands in the dirt, to get ready, spiritually?
John the Baptist gives practical advice if not delivered with much fire and brimstone. John tells them: Give what you have to someone who doesn’t have. Share what little we have with others. Be fair and just in your daily transactions. Don’t threaten anyone. And be content with what you have. Small acts of kindness. Paying loving attention to the little things. Sounds like a good prescription for unsettling times, and for good mental health. Just focus, one day at a time, one small act of kindness at a time.
And sometimes doing these small things for God is a bit of a risk. Whenever we move out of our comfort zones, consider another point of view, whenever we refrain from reacting out of anger, fear or anxiety—we know the risk because things are changing. Yes. But we do so primarily responding to something moving in our hearts. Something powerful and good drawing us forward.
The season of waiting expectantly gives permission for us to acknowledge our restlessness and our desires despite the tensions and suffering those desires and expectations can create for us. This is part of our humanity, a humanity not denied by the journey of faith, especially the journey to Bethlehem.
The Magi and the Shepherds took great risks to pursue their longings—dealing with Herod, for example. Despite this adversity, they nevertheless responded to the movement of their restless and adventurous hearts to follow the light in the sky.
Christian hope is not really the belief that tomorrow is necessarily going to be better, or that the future will turn out the way we expect it to or even desire it to. Christian hope is not the belief that as Christians we won’t ever meet with adversity.
All that Jesus seems to be saying is that even if one mustard seed is sprouting, or one coin found, or one sheep recovered that is reason enough for a big party. “Even a small indicator of God is still an indicator of God—and therefore an indicator of final reason, meaning, and joy. A little bit of God goes a long way.” A tiny flame on a simple candle.
At the outdoor wedding feast when we danced the night away, what joy it was to see those firecrackers going off at midnight, once they got it right. I thanked God for the risks my friends took to have firecrackers at this wedding. Those risks gave us the gifts of light and joy in the night. It was worth the risk.
Unless we let go of the familiar, the safe, the secure—and this is what the pandemic has forced upon us to an extent; unless we take the risk of becoming vulnerable, we cannot grow.
So much of the bible, and from other writings that stand the test of time, underscore this important theme. From the story of Abraham in Genesis, to the great epic stories of the Odyssey, the Iliad, the Lord of the Rings. They all require leaving everything and going on a journey that will lead to a new life, a new identity, and newfound joy.
They all took risks. And they all experienced joy. Let it be for us as well. Amen.
 Luke 3:10,15
 Luke 3:10-14
 Matthew 2:1-12
 See Luke 15