1. There is a wonderful book by the novelist Amy Tan, which tells the story of a group of Chinese women during the Japanese invasion of China in the 1930s.
a. They had seen violence, executions, incredible destruction. Their hearts and minds recoiled from it in horror.
b. One of the women in the novel asks, “How can you wish for a warm coat that hangs in the closet of the house that burned down with your mother and father in it?” Such was their experience.
i. And yet, they knew they had a choice.
1. They could allow the horror to fill their minds with fear
2. They could let the Japanese poison their hearts with age-old prejudices.
3. They could fight back out of anger,
a. and become yet more victims of the terrible violence.
ii. Or they could do something different.
iii. Thus they organized a club.
1. Each week they would get together
a. and cook the best meal they could.
2. They told stories, played games
a. and supported each other.
3. And they told jokes. And they laughed.
iv. In the midst of the age-old horror of war, violence and suffering;
1. they chose joy,
v. and in the midst of certain death,
1. they chose their own luck;
vi. hence the name of the book, The Joy Luck Club .
2. Separated from its context, the idea of a Joy Luck Club seems ludicrous to us.
a. For example, when a film with a similar message
b. called Life Is Beautiful appeared,
i. Where a father protected his son from the horror of the second world war in Italy through humor and fantasy,
ii. many people were outraged.
3. Culturally, we are deeply uncomfortable
a. with finding humor in the tragedy of human suffering,
i. Joy and luck in the horror of war.
b. we believe that the only way to face the horror
i. is to enter into it and feel it too;
c. for only in that way can we share the suffering of others.
4. And truth be told there has been a lot of suffering to enter into recently.
a. The suffering of war due to bigotry and age-old prejudices in the middle East
b. The suffering of sickness and death due to the pandemic and our government’s incompetent response
c. The suffering of fear due to soaring infection numbers, deaths and crime rates.
5. The idea that anyone could find joy in this suffering is ludicrous,
a. and seems especially to people of faith,
b. to be almost sacrilegious.
i. No, for us there can be no Joy Luck Club.
1. And as far as are concerned,
2. there shouldn’t be one for anyone else.
6. And yet, there is the prophet in the today’s first reading.
a. The picture he paints of himself,
i. is that of a groom wearing a wedding crown
ii. Or better still, a bride, bedecked with her jewels!
b. He goes on to proclaim to anyone listening that he is rejoicing heartily,
i. and finding joy in God.
c. Admittedly the image he paints of himself,
i. a bearded prophet decked out in crowns and bridal drag is funny,
1. and it probably is supposed to be.
d. Because the crowd he is working isn’t laughing.
i. they are that first wave of returnees to Judah after a generation in Babylon;
ii. they had left comfortable Babylon
1. expecting God to be there in Judah
2. awaiting them when they arrived,
3. blessing them with riches and gold
4. and bestowing upon them a brand new kingdom.
e. And what they found was a land of destroyed cities and poverty.
7. They were suffering and wondered why they had left in the first place.
8. But not the prophet!
a. for some strange reason, he was rejoicing,
i. seeing in their suffering, a celebration,
ii. and finding in their pain, joy.
b. And that was because, like all good and true prophets, he glimpsed something.
i. Something that was yet to be revealed,
ii. yet already present in their midst.
9. And he was not alone.
10. One day centuries after Isaiah,
a. representatives from the religious authorities went out to the Jordan river
b. to speak with a prophet named John.
i. John the washer (or baptizer as we would say) they called him
ii. because he was washing people in the waters of the Jordan River,
1. claiming to prepare them for the coming of God’s reign.
c. They had been hearing some unsettling reports about him and his disciples,
i. Some were saying he was the prophet Elijah, returned.
ii. Others, that he was the final prophet come to bring in the reign of God.
iii. Others that he was the Messiah himself.
d. So they come out to the river and ask John a few questions.
11. Picture the scene: there they are, sweating in the desert in all their priestly attire,
a. with John standing there up to his knees in water.
b. So, they say are you the Christ? Nope.
c. Pause, well then are you the prophet Elijah? Nope.
d. Pause well then are you the final prophet?
e. Nope not that either.
f. The way the scene is portrayed is almost funny, as it was intended to be,
i. with John playing with the religious authorities.
ii. Finally, in their frustration they ask “Well then who the heck are you? And why are you baptizing?”
12. “I am the voice of one, crying out in the desert, make straight the way of the Lord!” he replies, echoing the prophet Isaiah hundreds of years ago.
a. Why does he echo Isaiah’s words? Because like all true prophets he glimpsed what Isaiah had glimpsed.
i. Some one yet to be revealed, yet already in their midst.
ii. This someone was Jesus, who had come to enter into our human suffering;
iii. And if that was all he came to do, well then, we would understand that;
1. for that is what we would expect him to do.
2. For the God of Israel is full of compassion; the prophets all said that.
13. But God does more than that; for in Jesus God does something new.
a. He takes that age old suffering and nails it to the cross in his dead human body
i. And then three days later, raises him from death
b. And shows anyone who cares to look
i. that there is someone who is stronger
ii. than war and grief, or sickness
c. That is what John the Baptist glimpsed;
d. That in Jesus God was not far from them in their suffering;
i. God was with them in their suffering
e. Doing what God always does: something new.
14. That is what the prophet in Isaiah glimpsed,
a. and why he wrapped himself in tiaras and taffeta;
b. he was rejoicing;
i. because even though all his friends could see was suffering,
ii. he saw that they were free; they were their own rulers now
iii. and could begin to build a new home for themselves
1. where there would be the healing and justice and liberty and salvation
2. for which the bridal gown and jewels were but joyous symbols.
15. God was not far from them;
a. God was in the midst of their suffering doing what God always does;
b. something new.
16. Of course, it is not always easy to glimpse what the prophet Isaiah glimpsed, or see what John saw.
a. All too often all we can see is our suffering.
i. And we think that this is all there is to see.
17. But then the first Christians knew that.
18. They knew that they could allow their hearts and minds to be filled
with the suffering of the persecutions they began to experience,
and the horror of the deaths they were sure to experience.
i. But they didn’t. Why? They had organized a club.
1. Surely that is what it must have looked like to the Romans who persecuted them.
a. They got together, ate a meal,
b. they celebrated and they told stories.
ii. But for the Christians who gathered together,
1. it was more than a club; it was the church;
2. and the meal they ate was more than a meal
3. it was the supper that Jesus had eaten with them on the night before he died,
iii. And what they did, was remember that death, and celebrate it, because through that death they came to know God for who God always is; the one who makes all things new.
19. That is why we come together this morning/evening.
a. That is why we hear these age-old words of scripture and celebrate this meal.
b. For in them we meet the one
i. whom Isaiah glimpsed
ii. and John met
iii. and Christians for two thousand years have rejoiced in.
c. The one whose resurrection was the promise that God is the one who does that which is new.
20. It would seem that THAT news is indeed good news for us in these dark days of Advent 2020.
a. For there is so much suffering, both at home and abroad.
i. And we are tempted to be swallowed up and to drown in it.
21. But we have a choice. Just like those lucky women had in that book by Amy Tan,
a. who came together and found their joy.
22. For we can come together here
a. and look for the God whose coming we await
b. yet who is already present in our midst.
23. Is that God difficult to find this CoVID Christmas 2020?
a. Maybe we are looking in the wrong place.
i. Look where healthcare workers give their lives YET AGAIN to care for the sick,
1. But this time armed with a vaccine that is the best Christmas gift anyone could hope for.
ii. Look where comedians and late-night talk show hosts use humor and farce like Isaiah did;
1. to defend and proclaim the truth in the face of despair.
iii. Look where average ordinary people react to the pandemic not with judgment and scorn, but with compassion and solidarity,
v. Look where something new and surprising,
vi. joyful and at times even funny is happening.
vii. Because no matter how dark gets,
viii. the world is still turning;
ix. and it only spins forward.
1. Look for that forward spin, for I tis God who is doing the turning.
2. IT is by definition what God does; God makes all things new.