Many years ago, we passed an intriguing sign at the entrance of a Church. It read: “Happy Hour – Sunday Morning 09:00.”
The sign does speak volumes for Christians… because the hour spent each Sunday morning in God’s House is a happy time! It is a reverent time… It is a solemn time… It is a worshipful time! But it is most definitely a time of happiness … a time marked by joy… a time to manifest gladness… because we gather together as part of God’s Family to worship the Blessed Christ Child like the Magi of old… to hear His Absolution of sins… to be fed from His Holy Table… and to hear His Sacred Word…
The Epiphany Season is a particularly joyful time of the Church Year for it is marked by brilliance… radiance… illumination… and the shining forth of great light! For that, of course, is the literal rendering of the word Epiphany – to “shine upon”…
The Bible tells us, does it not, that the Magi rejoiced with exceeding great joy! It is one thing to simply rejoice! But it is something else... as the Bible tells us “to rejoice... with joy.” But in between the words “rejoice” and “joy” the Scriptural account adds the word “great” (mega), so that it reads they rejoiced with great joy. But the expression is even stronger! An adjective is added which in the Greek implies a degree of violence! So that they rejoiced with a great violent-type of joy!” It was violent because it controlled them; ,they were not in control of it! And it was a delight to experience! I have sensed it at times! The Magi rejoiced with exceeding great joy!
I am so glad that C.S. Lewis wrote his book entitled “Surprised by Joy” – which explains the growth of joy which came to him from God through his escape from atheism and conversion to Christianity.
In the Old Testament verses read together this morning the Almighty reveals Himself as kind beyond measure – and the source of joy for His people!
First, He says that when the captives God earlier sent into exile would return on their way to repatriate the Holy Land, the Ancient of Days would be watching. And when they became thirsty, He would hear them and not forsake them! He would, indeed, open rivers in the mountains... He would open springs of water in the valleys... He would furnish pools of fresh water in the barren wilderness.
There are countless people who in a colorful evening sunset see only stunning colors; others at the same sight feel the violent joy of the Magi assuring them it is a sign from the Holy One that He loves them and wants to fill them with joy!
Others, when beholding a beautiful flower, stop and say, “My, how interesting!” While others see the very same flower and understand it as a gift from God’s own Hand placed in their path to encourage them after a long tiring day!
What is it that you see – at such times?
Second, He reminds us that Abraham was His “friend.” If we were to say on our own authority that God is our Friend, it would be pure presumption. But if God says it, it can be understood that He is not only transcendent... but also immanent. He is not just far away, but also very near. He tells us that his Son is to be called Immanuel – which means “God with us.”
Others set this on the proverbial shelf for later consideration. But there are always those few who accept it as a pathway to joy – and carefully... reverently... humbly... feel the warmth and nearness of God – so immense and so powerful and just and holy – as someone incredibly kind and friendly toward them! And it changes them!
We might remember that St. Paul the Apostle in writing to both the Romans and the Galatians opened the door to personal joy when he explained the Holy Spirit helps us to address the Almighty with the very personal and respectful term Abba, “Father” – the very same term Jesus employed when in the Garden of Gethsemane He was seeking help in His time of preparation for the rigors of Golgotha!
Third, and lastly, some of the most beautiful words in all of the Bible are freely rolled out to us – as yet another ligament... tendon... muscle... binding us to Him with a joyful outlook and optimistic worldview!
Two beautiful and priceless commands are given to us by the Prophet Isaiah... which rest upon five supporting pillars.
The two commands... Do not be afraid! And do not be dismayed. The Hebrew word translated dismayed comes from a Hebrew word meaning “to gaze.” As in stare – like the stare of a deer in headlights!
We all face situations now and then which are so otherwise discouraging, all we can do is stare in shock or concern – while our courage melts... our resolve evaporates. When the Philistine warrior, Goliath, challenged the armies of Israel to face Him – all they could do was gaze – stare – in disbelief... shock... trepidation. But not David! Who is this uncircumcised Philistine?
Our Lord tells us not to be afraid... not to be discouraged. And we might want to take this to heart! Why? Because He is with us! He is the God Whom we serve! He will give us the courage we lack. He will help us! He will uphold us with His strong right Hand of justice and righteousness! Five comforting pillars holding up these two gifts of infinite worth!
This is almost too good to be true! Yet more evidence that our Creator loves us and is concerned with our well-being. That He wants us to be marked by “joy.”
The Magi had every opportunity to be afraid in their thousand mile trek across countless obstacles. They had more opportunities to lose hope when they lost sight of the star while in Herod’s palace. Yet they rejoiced with an almost violent type of great joy which seized them, we are told, when they found it again!
May the same joy support you and me personally – and us as a church family -- as we continue through 2017! God is with us... He is our God... He will strengthen us. He will help us... he will uphold us with His righteous right hand!
Happy Hours – Sunday Mornings 10:30 AM at St. Paul’s Anglican Church!
World without end. Amen.