Sermon for Sunday, December 17, 2023   Third Sunday of Advent

“Rejoice: Your Light Has Come”

Reverend Amy Zalk Larson

Good Shepherd Lutheran Church  

 Decorah, Iowa


Click here to read scripture passages for the day.


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

Three of our scriptures today focus on joy, on rejoicing. God knows we need some joy – not holiday cheer, not forced, pretend happiness, but joy. Joy is not dependent on external circumstances, notes author Henri Nouwen, “Joy is the experience of knowing that you are unconditionally loved and that nothing—sickness, failure, emotional distress, oppression, war or even death—nothing can take that love away.”

One person who helps others know joy through his love for them is Fr. Greg Boyle, a Jesuit priest famous for his gang intervention programs in Los Angeles. He’s written two beautiful books about what he’s learned through the organization he founded, Homeboy Industries, which employs former gang members. Boyle delights in the people that society has abandoned; he sees their goodness and rejoices in it.

Boyle often shares a story about one of these “homies” named Louie. He says, “Louie is kind of a difficult kid. He’s exasperating, and he’s whiny. And he works for me, although ‘work’ may be too strong a verb.” One day, after complaining about something again, Louie asks Boyle for a blessing, as the homies often do. So, Boyle reports, “I laid my hands on his shoulder and said, ‘You know, Louie, I’m proud to know you, and my life is richer because you came into it. When you were born, the world became a better place. And I’m proud to call you my son, even though’ — and I don’t know why I decided to add this part — ‘at times, you can really be a huge pain.’ And [Louie] looks up, and he smiles. And he says, ‘The feeling’s mutual.’”

Boyle reflects on this, “You want people to recognize the truth of who they are, that they’re exactly what God had in mind when God made them … we’re all called to be enlightened witnesses: people who, through kindness and tenderness and the focused attention of love, return people to themselves. And in the process, you’re returned to yourself. Maybe I returned Louie to himself, Fr. Boyle says, “but there is no doubt that he returned me to myself.”

(Transcript from interview with Fr. Greg Boyle on radio program On Being, with Krista Tippet).

In our Gospel reading for today, John serves as that kind of enlightened witness, a witness who seeks to return all God’s people to ourselves and to the light. The light is God made flesh in Jesus. The light brings good news to the oppressed, binds up the brokenhearted, comforts all who mourn. The light replaces our faint spirit with a mantle of praise. The light inspires songs of joy.

John points us to this light. He knows he’s not the light. He’s a witness, a voice crying out in the wilderness testifying to the true light. John knows who he is because he’s been enlightened by the true light. When he was just a baby in his mother’s womb, he leapt for joy when Mary arrived, pregnant with the baby Jesus. Even when he was hidden in the womb, the true light reached him, and he bore witness bringing encouragement to both his mother Elizabeth and Jesus’ mother Mary as he leapt. As an enlightened witness, John calls all creation to prepare for the coming of the Savior. John calls us to repent, which means to turn, to return to God and to ourselves. John never forgets who he is. He isn’t the light. He is a witness to the light.

So, it is for us. We aren’t the light, but we are enlightened witnesses. The light of Christ reaches us, reaches you, in worship. And we are called to witness to the light at work in others, even when it is hidden. We’re called to notice the light at work in others with kindness, tenderness, and the focused attention of love. We’re also called to name the light we see, to tell people of the goodness we see in them.

Where have you seen the light at work in those around you, in loved ones and strangers? I see the light in this congregation during this time of transition. Even as the future feels uncertain, even as goodbyes and change are so hard, you’re offering blessings to me and welcome to Pr. Dave. You’re supporting, thanking, and praying for leaders and staff. You’ve stepped up your financial generosity for the shared work of bringing good news, binding up the brokenhearted, and comforting those who mourn. You are witnesses to me, to each other, and to the Decorah community. You are witnesses to the light. You are practicing joy.

So, you enlightened witnesses, receive a blessing on this day of joy: “I’m proud to know you, and my life is richer because you came into it. When you were born, the world became a better place.”

You may not always feel like it, but the light of Christ is replacing your faint spirit with a mantle of praise. Even when you sow seeds of hope with tears, you will reap with songs of joy.

You can rejoice and bear witness to this light.


 Let’s take a moment for silent prayer.