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Homilies by Rev. Andrew Collis unless indicated otherwise.

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Advent 3, Year B
South Sydney Uniting Church
December 14, 2014

1 Thessalonians 5:16-24; John 1:6-8,19-28

‘Enjoy your calling’

As is often the case, our South Sydney biblical scholars have generated much of what I have to offer in this homily. On Thursday night we met to read and discuss our epistle from 1 Thessalonians - one of the very earliest, if not the earliest, texts of the New Testament. God be with you ...

The key words can help to frame a picture of the early Christian movement. Rejoice always. Pray constantly. Give thanks to the God of peace. Test the prophecies with an eye to goodness. Don't stifle inspiration.

Be joyful. Rejoice in the Saviour. There's exuberance here, sometimes a little confronting, embarrassing. It's a joyfulness reflected in our artwork today - the laughing Jesus laughs with us, and in the face of all that would diminish us, has the last laugh.

We might imagine all those forlorn and downtrodden people who found in Jesus a warmth, a strength - not dour compassion but bright mercy, story-telling wit, creativity for renewal and survival ... John refers to "humanity's light - a Light that shines in the darkness, a Light that the darkness has never overtaken".

One scholar understood this joyfulness as a frame of mind, something learned over time - a Christlike inner strength able to withstand negative or hostile forces. Another understood it as coming from a place beyond - something good in the world of colour, shape and movement.

We need to hear of these experiences. I'm inspired to ask after that which brings me joy. What brings you joy? Real joy - not simply happiness, and not hedonistic self-satisfaction - but something (exemplified in a soul such as comedian Stella Young) that undergirds a whole range of emotions. Is that possible? Is that real?

It certainly seems to be what interests Paul, addressing a troubled community in Thessalonica. Encouraging believers not simply to stick to the one emotion but to "rejoice always" - an exhortation he links to constant prayer and to giving thanks ...

What gives you joy - lasting joy? Patterns/habits/rituals of daily life ... Relationships ... Exposure to certain works of art ... Communion with others in creation ...

One scholar spoke of monastic life, of tasks prayerfully carried out, objects of beauty prayerfully made. Another spoke of joy in terms of the integration of work, rest and play.

It strikes me as a cause for joy that I am able in this placement, in this community, to be myself and to express myself in homilies and songs and enthusiasm for running, cycling and drinking coffee. It's not always the case. In the past it's felt sometimes like leading multiple lives - various interests in various compartments. What joy to feel those barriers breaking down. The freedom to give and receive what makes for joy.

Just as we celebrate the Christ in whom the very joy of God is present, we celebrate the incarnation in community - the gifts and fruits of the Spirit of Christ - of that same joy. It happens and is shared as we treat each other with holy respect. It happens and is shared as we encourage and accompany one another in thanksgiving. As we pray to the God of peace - ever willing to become channels of peace, to practice the art of peacemaking. As we remind ourselves that joy is good and godly. Pleasure is good and godly. Fun, humour, playfulness, recreation are good and godly.

There was a time, one scholar reminded us (more than a time), when Christian leaders frowned upon pleasure. There have been Puritan and Roman attacks on creativity. Bans on dancing. Bans on music. Bans on Christmas itself.

Enjoy your calling. Enjoy Advent. Enjoy the challenges and opportunities for growth presented to you. Enjoy the mystery and process of learning, desiring wisdom. How radical this message may yet prove to be.

One of our newest volunteer writers is a young woman named Lee Evans. Lee has endured some months this year sleeping rough, learning to sleep beneath the security cameras, learning to seek out help, food, safety. It's been a tumultuous year. Writing is one of her dreams, she says. She is so looking forward to her next SSH assignment.

A few months ago Lee was invited to address a group of young people sleeping outdoors for a night - the project aimed to foster understanding of the plight of those who experience homelessness. In her speech Lee said: "If I can give any advice that would enrich your lives ... it would be to find your passion and fight for it with every fibre of your being ..."

Seek joy. Seek the joy that is your passion (and passion, not incidentally but Christianly, has to do, always, with a willingness to suffer for goodness' sake).

Lee continues: "Never underestimate how a small gesture of love and kindness is sometimes the big thing that impacts your life and another's life. Many people out there need the love you have to give ..."

Love is our theme next week. Joy, naturally, leads to love. May it be so. Amen.

1. What gives you joy?

2. Do you sometimes need permission or encouragement to rejoice? Why? When? How?