A Sermon by The Rev’d Peter Jin 

This third Sunday in Advent is Rejoice Sunday. The pink candle represents joy. This morning, I am going to share four key reasons why we should rejoice.

Our first reading from Isaiah chapter 61 is an example of Messianic consciousness. It is Jesus himself who confirms this interpretation because at the beginning of his public life, he stood up in the synagogue at Nazareth and read the passage regarding the prophet Isaiah’s Messiah, and then he said, ‘Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing’. Jesus is declaring that this is his own messianic identity. Throughout the four gospels, he is showing us who he is and what he does.

Point 1: Jesus’ words, “The spirit of the Lord has anointed me, and he has sent me to bring good news to the poor”. 

Jesus is always reaching out to those economically on the margins. But he is also talking about the spiritually poor. In the Beatitudes Jesus says “Blessed are the poor in spirit”. Jesus is speaking about spiritual humility when he speaks of the poor in spirit. In other words, when we come to God, we must realize our own sin and our spiritual emptiness and poverty. 

I was born into an economically poor family like most families in China. I believed that being wealthy would make me joyful. Because I was not very smart, and I was also not very diligent, I didn’t become very wealthy. But in my late 20s, I did have a well-paid job and I did live a very comfortable life. I was far from God and lost the sense of meaning and purpose. I had lots of anxieties. Thank God, I was recommended to read the biography of Augustine of Hippo and Thomas Merton. They both claimed that they dismissed anxieties from their minds when they handed their lives over to Jesus. Then they experienced a joyful life. I was fascinated about their spirituality, as I started my journey to explore who Jesus was in my early 30s. 

What is Jesus’ life all about? It is about announcing good news. What is the good news? The good news is that the Word became flesh – God emptied Godself and took on human flesh in the person of Jesus, letting go of his own riches so that by his poverty we might become rich. That is why we rejoice. Because all of us who are poor in varying degrees have been addressed by this good news.

Point 2: Jesus’ further identification with the passage from Isaiah: “he has anointed me to heal the brokenhearted.” In the Bible, heart is the deepest centre of thought, feeling and action. It is closer to probably what we mean by the word soul, which is the very centre of a person. So think of all the various things we are engaged in, our relationships, our families, our work and our entertainment, but underneath all of that, there is the heart. The heart is meant to be in union with God. St Augustine wrote: “You have made us for yourself, O Lord, and our hearts are restless until they find their rest in you.”

So who are the brokenhearted? Well, it is all of us. We all have experienced heart broken moments, losing a job, losing homes and the worst, losing loved ones. But there is more to it. All of us whose hearts have been alienated from God, whether we realize it or not, experience a deep sadness from this compromising of our hearts. What does Jesus come to do? To heal the brokenhearted. He has come to heal us at the most fundamental level of our being. To restore us to friendship with God. When we experience that, then we can rejoice.

Point 3: He has been anointed to proclaim liberty to the captives and release to the prisoners. Captivity. To be im-prisoned. What does sin do? Augustine of Hippo suggests that sin causes one to be ‘caved in’ around oneself. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Incurvatus_in_se

Before I met Wei, my wife, I was so preoccupied with my own little concerns. I ‘caved in’ around myself. So I locked myself into a prison. Don’t you love the words of the psalmist in Psalm 142, when David cries out ‘Oh, Lord, set me from my prison, take me out of this prison’? David is not talking about a literal prison, but the spiritual prison that all sinners without God, are in. 

One night 7 years ago, I prayed the same prayer. ‘Oh, Lord, take me out of my prison’. Then a few weeks later, I met my wife. My marriage did help me to become less caved in around myself. But the process was slow. Wei suggested that I should pray hard because she realised that I still loved myself too much and was still caved in around myself. Then I prayed David’s prayer: ‘Oh, Lord, deliver me from this prison.’ My wife became pregnant and since my daughter was born, I am beginning to know, understand and practise the kind of unconditional love which we see in Jesus. So be careful what you pray for every time you pray!

What the Messiah has come to do is liberate us from all these forms of self-imposed imprisonment. How does he do it? By moving right into the place of our imprisonment. On the cross, Christ became sin, so to bring the divine mercy and forgiveness and liberation even into those darkest places. What we need to do is to move into this space, cry out to him: ‘Lord, I know I am in prison, so I am waiting for the good news that you really came to liberate me, so that I can rejoice’. 

Point 4: Jesus said, “I have been anointed to announce a year of favour from the Lord.” In the book of Leviticus, you find the proclamation of the jubilee year. The jubilee year, once every 50 years was a time when slaves were freed, and debts were forgiven. Jubilee is a joyful word. It is a time of a release from terrible burdens. What does Jesus mean here? The first Christians felt it in their bones. His cross and his resurrection came to mean for them completely unmerited forgiveness for their sins, and liberation from their enslavement to sin. What is sin? Sin is a type of enslavement. I am a slave to my own pride, my own envy, my own anger, my own greed, my own lust and my own sloth. Christ comes to offer us eternal jubilee. Rejoice. 

The prophet Isaiah continues, “Lord, you are the Lord of my life. I delight greatly in the Lord, my soul rejoices in my God.” What does God want us to do?  God wants us to ask, “Lord guide me, Lord give me direction, Lord show me the path.” God wants us to turn our lives away from our own obsessions and anxieties.  Two spiritual masters I mentioned earlier: Augustine of Hippo and Thomas Merton said to God at some stage, “Lord, my life is not about me. It’s about you, and I’m going to let you run my life.” In that moment of truth we find joy!

Brothers and sisters, on this third Sunday in Advent, let us watch for Christ, wait for Christ, and find our joy in Christ. ‘Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances’. Amen.