Sermon for Williamstown Uniting Church
17th of December, 2017
Isaiah 61:1-4, 8-11
1 Thessalonians 5:16-24
For my twenty-first birthday a friend gave me the two-volume Shorter Oxford English Dictionary. (Yes, I have always been a nerd.) When thinking about today’s service I decided that I would make use of it and I looked up ‘happiness’ and ‘joy’.
Happiness, according to the Shorter Oxford is:
- Good fortune, success.
- Pleasant appropriateness, felicity.
- Deep pleasure in, or contentment with, one’s circumstances.
Joy, on the other hand, is:
- Vivid pleasure arising from a sense of well-being or satisfaction; exultation; gladness, delight, an instance of this …
- A pleasurable, happy or felicitous state or condition, especially the bliss or blessedness of heaven …
- A source, object, or cause of happiness; a delight.
And so, it makes sense that the theme of the third Sunday of Advent is joy, not happiness. We’re not talking about good fortune or success. People can be fortunate and successful at the expense of others. They can be happy doing things that harm themselves, other people, animals and the environment. We sadly see this every day. In fact, it can sometimes seem as though happiness comes from harming other people and the planet, or at the very least ignoring the harm that lavish lifestyles do to them.
But, joy, on the other hand, joy, I want to argue, is the feeling that comes from what the Shorter Oxford describes as ‘the bliss or blessedness of heaven’. When we experience ‘joy’ we’re exulting and delighting in God. Two days after the final report of the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse was released this may seem unforgivably naïve, but I believe that this joy cannot be felt by those who do harm, but only by those who are obeying God’s commandments and loving both God and their neighbour. Continue reading