Fourth Sunday in Advent
The Epistle. Philippians 4.4.
Brethren: Rejoice in the Lord alway, and again I say: Rejoice. Let your moderation be known unto all men. The Lord is at hand. Be careful for nothing: but in everything, by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving, let you requests be made known unto God. And the peace of God, which passeth all understanding, shall keep your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus our Lord.
Today St. Paul has described for us two different ways that we are marked as being obviously Christian. The first way, or mark, is really rather evident; Joy. The second mark is not quite as simple: the mark of moderation. I’m going to talk about the simple one; moderation will be saved for another sermon.
I refer once again, most annoyingly, to the dictionary for the definition of the word “rejoice”; to be glad; take delight; to make joyful. This is, of course, an action word. Rejoicing is not what we are, it is what we do. As Christians we have any number of reasons to rejoice, but the primary one, as we all know, is the Birth Our Lord and the Salvation that this event guarantees.
And this cause for rejoicing has nothing to do with how many presents we will get at Christmas, or how much food we will eat, or even how many friends or family members we may get to see during the holidays. Christian joy is independent of all things on earth because it has as its source the continual presence of Christ. As Christians, we can never lose our joy, because we can never lose Christ.
Likewise, our rejoicing can take on many forms. One way is through our actions while we are here in God’s house. It may be somewhat loud, as when we belt out the hymns, or it may be quite soft, as we should be at all other times when we are in the Church. However in both cases, rejoicing is at the heart of our experience here.
You see, primarily for us, our rejoicing is expressed at the Mass. It is at the Mass that we lift up our hearts and our voices in praise and thanksgiving for that precious gift of the Body and Blood of Our Lord. It is at the Mass, the great prayer of the Church, that we truly display that mark of rejoicing; and how we comport ourselves while we are here is a sign to others of the Faith that we hold. Let me expound on that for a moment.
“The Blessed Sacrament is reserved in this Church for the needs of the faithful. You will see a white light burning at the place of Reservation. There Jesus Christ, God and Man, is Sacramentally present, and therefore Catholics bow the knee towards the tabernacle, and often say their prayers before it. So we ask you to behave with great reverence here. We try to keep this Church clean, beautiful, and to make our services stately and dignified because of the Presence of Jesus Christ in the Sacrament of the altar”.
Anyone here recognize what I just read? I imagine you should. These words are part of a tract that is bolted to the wall just outside the knave. That tract has been there since at least Fr. Irwin’s time here. It describes who we are, what we believe, and obviously, how we should act in Church. I have spoken with visitors from other churches, who have been quite impressed with this particular statement, because apparently in their place of worship the people lack such reverence for God’s house.
You see, the Church is not a place to carry on conversations about where we will go to eat after Mass or about how the Browns or Cavaliers will do on Sunday, or about the vagaries of the weather. The Church is where we come to offer our prayers, and our thanks. It is where we come to join in the worship of God from the opening prelude and introit, until the last prayer or the organ postlude. The Church is where we come to reverently rejoice in the Lord. The rest is what we have a parish hall for.
Let me put it to you another way by telling a little story about why we should be reverent in the Church. A number of years ago, my home parish, St. Paul’s, was holding their annual vacation bible school. As usual, it was my mother’s job to shepherd about the five-year-olds. On one particular day, she decided to teach these youngsters how they should properly behave in Church; and so she lead them in, not noticing that the sacristy door was open.
As mom brought her little group down the center isle, she explained to them in a low voice that they needed to be quiet, and that if they were very still, they might even be able to hear God speaking to them. Just then, our rector, who was out of sight in the sacristy, began talking to the other person who was with him there. Immediately, one little boy threw up his hand and excitedly exclaimed, “Mrs. Jennings, Mrs. Jennings, I CAN HEAR HIM, I CAN HEAR GOD”!
Out of the mouths of babes, indeed. This little boy hit the nail right on the head. It is only when we enter God’s house in reverence and quiet that we may hear God. It is only when we approach His altar knowing that that He is truly Present, that He is always present, that we may experience joy. And it is only then that we may rejoice in Him.
And so as we look forward to the coming Nativity of Our Lord, let us always remember that this place, this Church is God’s house. Let us remember that Jesus Christ told us that God’s house should be a house of prayer. Let us remember that when we are in this house, that we are always and continually in His presence.
Let us acknowledge this with all due humility and reverence and let it be the cause of our joy. Whenever we are in God’s house, let us quiet our hearts, our minds and our voices, so that we may hear and receive God and rejoice in Him, alway. Brethren: Rejoice in the Lord alway, and again I say: Rejoice. Let your moderation be known unto all men. The Lord is at hand.