You house,
My house.

I was glad when they said to me, “Let us go to the house of the LORD!”

Today, our Psalm response is taken from the first verse of Psalm 122. It speaks of the overwhelming joy, gladness, happiness that comes to us when we enter the house of the Lord. When David heard the people say that they wanted to go up to the Lord’s house, His temple, his heart leapt for joy; We are all going, we are joining as one to meet the Lord.

Do we know how David felt? Are his words part of our experience? I can say that I know. Our Church and this parish are a place of joy for me. I can proclaim, using the words of Psalm 26: O LORD, I love the habitation of thy house, and the place where thy glory dwells. I hope David’s words and this place are joy for you too.

The Psalms mention the Lord’s house at least forty-seven times. Each mention is tied to praise, blessing, and renewal. In 1897, our forbearers sought a place of joy. They wanted to go up to the house of the Lord. When they got there, they wanted to find renewal and gladness. They didn’t. Rather, they found oppression. The vine they believed they were part of had withered; it was no longer grafted unto Christ but onto the political and economic interests of men of power. Psalm 127 instructs us: Unless the LORD builds the house, those who build it labor in vain. And so, the men and women of that time determined to rebuild the Lord’s house. They did it, and because they did so, we can all say with Psalm 5: But I through the abundance of thy steadfast love will enter thy house.

Here we are, 121 years later. Today, we celebrate along with the words from Psalm 23: I shall dwell in the house of the LORD forever. More than celebrate, we continue to grow in our joy. How and why?

We continue to grow in joy because our Holy Church teaches that the house of the Lord is not just a temple or a building; it is our homes, it is our places. The house of the Lord extends beyond the walls of this parish church and encompasses our families, or neighbors, our communities, and all who seek to enter the house of the Lord. For those who do not know the greatness of this house, we are sent forth and called to make them part of our family. Repeating the words of Psalm 84 we can call to them saying: Blessed are those who dwell in the Lord’s house, ever singing His praise!

We continue to grow in joy because, as Psalm 92 says: We are planted in the house of the LORD. Being planted there means the house of the Lord goes where we go. Through our faithfulness and dedication to the Lord’s house, our homes and our families become bound together in the house of the Lord. Our homes become mini-models of His house. Our homes become places of praise and joy if we invite the Lord into our family life. Being in the house of the Lord, making our homes His house, and joining our families to Him we have the confidence David had and can say with him: Praise the LORD. you that stand in the LORD, in the courts of the house of our God!

Rejoice, and share
rejoicing!

Shout for joy, O daughter Zion! Sing joyfully, O Israel! Be glad and exult with all your heart, O daughter Jerusalem! The LORD has removed the judgment against you he has turned away your enemies; the King of Israel, the LORD, is in your midst, you have no further misfortune to fear.

Today we read a message of hope and rejoicing from the Prophet Zephaniah.

This message is found near the end of the third chapter of this very short book of prophecy. More than two-thirds of Zephaniah’s prophesy deals with judgment and can be considered, more than any other prophecy, as one of devastation, death, and Divine judgment. The Day of Judgment is pictured as a time of darkness, anguish, distress, destruction, plunder, and threat to all life, human and animal alike.

Israel had turned from God to false gods, fake gods of wood and stone. Israel’s leadership was unjust and abusive. Zephaniah’s prophecy occurred just before the fall of Jerusalem in 587 B.C.

Today’s world is much like Zephaniah’s. Political leadership in our country and throughout the world is unjust and abusive. Most of the people in our country and across the world have turned from God or have turned to false gods who promise that through some set of works and deeds a person might be saved. Our world is filled with terror. In the not to distant future we will likely know someone, who knows someone, who knows someone affected by terrorism. We are only a few degrees of separation away.

Here we sit amidst all this turmoil and tendency to fear. We ourselves fear for our families, children, grandchildren, friends, and coworkers. In less than two weeks we will gather with them to celebrate Christ’s coming among us. Today we are reminded to rejoice! To rejoice!!!

If we, like ancient Israel, only lived for today, like politicians and believers in false gods, then we have reason to fear. We, rather, live forever. We have been delivered, not by works and deeds, but by faith in the One who has saved us. As Zephaniah foretold: The LORD has removed the judgment against you he has turned away your enemies; the King of Israel, the LORD, is in your midst, you have no further misfortune to fear. Fear not, O Zion, be not discouraged! The LORD, your God, is in your midst, a mighty savior. We need not be afraid for even if terror comes to our door, we have already been delivered to eternal joy.

We have reason to rejoice. More than that, we have reason to share our joy with the world. We must offer a share of our rejoicing to all people of good will. Those who follow false idols will be saved by our gift of joyful faith and perhaps even a politician or two might reject evil and also rejoice.

Reflection for the Third Sunday of Advent

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Why!

Have no anxiety at all, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, make your requests known to God. Then the peace of God that surpasses all understanding will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.

Today we listen to words of joy, encouragement, gladness, and exultation. We hear of God’s provision for His people. We are reassured that we share in love because God is among us. We also share in the wonderful gift of forgiveness and renewal. We follow John the Baptist’s admonition to repent before the coming of the Lord.

The events of this week in Newtown turn the message of rejoicing on its head. How can we rejoice? How can we be glad and exult? Faced with these words we turn to God with hearts and minds full of questions, maybe questions tinged with anger.

Philosophers and theologians have explanations for all this, but what good are explanations when our hearts are filled with sadness and grief? Can explanations help when our hearts are downcast and our minds fearful? What has happened? God, couldn’t you have intervened!?!

Then we consider our confession and repentance. We look at our sins, and we think, my sins are so small, so insignificant, so trifling. Why should I feel guilt and remorse for my small sins, to have to repent, when there is such serious evil and so much sickness in the world?

In a few days, the next ugly thing will happen. Some person, claiming to be Christian, will burst out with blame for one group or another, and say that God is purposefully punishing us.

We, who follow Jesus can be reassured that God’s peace surpasses our human understanding. Christ came to live among us, not just to appear and go back. He did not come to punish, but to bring healing and renewal. He is not just an antidote to evil, someone we can conjure up in hard and sad times, but the light that destroys evil.

In our confession and repentance we bear witness and re-align ourselves with right and truth. We stay on the right track and call the world to do the same. Renewed, we set out to be God’s light, bearing Christ with us. We bring love where there is little, joy where there is none, comfort where there is despair. Healing to the sick.

God has not left us abandoned and alone. He is intervening every day through us. This Sunday let our hearts take comfort and overcome. Stand up and rejoice in the face of despair and sadness because in the midst of horrible tragedy we will bear the light of Christ to the world – a light that no darkness can overcome.