Sermon for Sunday, December 12, 2021 – “Justice and Joy”

Third Sunday of Advent – Good Shepherd Lutheran Church – Decorah, Iowa

Rev. Amy Zalk Larson

Click here to read scripture passages for the day.

Beloved of God, grace to you and peace in the name of Jesus.

What then should we do? The crowd listening to John the Baptist despairs at his words. What can be done, what should we do? John has sounded the alarm: all is not well. Human sin and compla- cency are taking hold, thwarting God’s justice, uprooting God’s shalom.  John warns the crowd, warns us of the consequences. Life apart from God’s ways is like a tree cut off at the root; we can- not bear good fruit. When we creatures turn away from our creator’s intentions, the whole crea- tion becomes wrathful, fiery, unsafe.

What then should we do? What should we do in the face of fires and floods, desecrated trees, 

fields of grain ravaged by drought? What should we do when modern day prophets cry out warn- ings, raising the alarm about injustice, violence, and greed? John provides some guidance. What then should we do? Repent, return to God. Bear fruit: do justice, practice honesty, give freely, be content with what you have.

The rest of our scriptures today provide other essential guidance. What then should we do?

Rejoice, praise, give thanks, exult in God with all your heart, shout aloud and sing for joy. These refrains seem out of tune with John’s strident calls to action in the face of injustice. Is rejoicing even appropriate in such difficult times? Is praise a way to escape the hard work John calls us to do?

Yet, I wonder if it is rejoicing that fuels our repentance, if the practice of joy empowers the prac- tice of justice. Singing praise stirs an essential fire within us, releasing the energy we need to bear good fruit. Finding delight in God’s good creation stokes our generosity. When we sink deep into God’s abundance, we know we have enough, we rejoice to share.

And maybe turning to God in praise is what repentance looks like. We return to God and are re- turned to ourselves. As our voices join with others in praise, we’re reminded of our place in the family of things – all of us small, all of us significant. We offer our energy; we are carried by the offerings of others. And repentance happens.

Perhaps rejoicing and repentance are two notes in one chord, in harmony together helping us 

sing an answer to that question: What then should we do? Rejoicing and repentance help us to 

sing the essential song of justice and joy. Yet sometimes calls to rejoice feel even more strident 

and challenging than the calls to repent. Sometimes the notes of rejoicing get stuck in our throats, 

thwarted by all the pain of our lives. How can we rejoice always when our souls are deep in win-  ter, when the night is long, when the cold presses in? 

Even then, especially then, there is good news of great joy for us. The essential song of justice and joy does not depend on us. It is the song of God: the song that birthed creation, the song that fuels all life, the song that holds us all together. We’re called to enter this song for it heals and helps us.

We’re called to rejoice and praise in all circumstances, for these practices open us to God’s joy and justice. Yet these gifts are showered upon us freely, no matter how we receive them. Sometimes we can sing out boldly. Sometimes we can only listen and receive. Always, we can trust that God is singing on our behalf. God rejoices in us, in you, always, even when you cannot praise God. God de- lights in you always, even when your soul is in winter.

As the prophet Zephaniah reminds us today, God is in your midst rejoicing over you with gladness, renewing you in love. God exults over you with loud singing as on a day of festival. God turns your shame into praise. God’s singing is what fuels all our repentance and our rejoicing.

What then should we do? As God’s people …

We learn to listen for these notes of justice and joy sounding everywhere.

We practice joining this song together.

At times we sing loudly.

At times others need to carry the song for us.

Always, God’s song resounds.