Overwhelmed with joy! Will you say that with me? Overwhelmed with joy! Our scripture reading this evening says that the Magi were what? They were “overwhelmed with joy” when they saw that the star had stopped over the place where the child was. I love that turn of phrase, “overwhelmed with joy.”
I love maybe even more the more literal translation of the King James Bible. It says, “They rejoiced with exceeding great joy.” Say that with me – they rejoiced with exceeding great joy. It feels good just to say it, right? Joy in the mouth.
Slightly different emphases in those two translations. “Overwhelmed with joy” sounds like a flood of joy has risen up around you and swept you away. You were taken captive. You lost control. Joy is active, we are rushing down its river. “Rejoiced with exceeding great joy” puts us back in control. We decide that we’re going to glow in the dark, and our light will be joy. We sing, we shout, we high five, we unlock the bands around our hearts and let them free, let then rum around in the yard and jump up on the company. It’s a party and we’re letting joy hang loose.
When I was about twelve years old, my family took a vacation to Canada. We were going to Prince Edward Island or Nova Scotia or somewhere and the way we got there was by taking a long ferry ride on a BIG boat that we drove our car onto. It was a stormy day and the seas were rough and everyone on the big boat was feeling a little grey and lackluster. I don’t really understand how this worked, but somehow once this ferry was far enough out in the water, it also transformed into a casino. So, let’s recap: long trip, big boat, adults distracted by seasickness, 12-year-old boy, casino.
Apparently, back then for some reason 12-year-olds weren’t allowed to gamble with adults. And a staff member directed me to the kids’ gambling section filled with a bunch of no-guts, no-glory slot machines deemed harmless enough for children. No thanks. As of that moment, the only gamble that interested me was the one where I snuck into the real casino and pulled the arm of a real slot machine. In a crowded commotion of queasy adults, I snuck past the guards and into a dark, smoky corner of slot-machine heaven – where no one would ever find me.
Have you heard the big news? It’s happening right here in New York City, but it’s a story that has appeared on the front page of major newspapers thousands of miles away and has captured headlines across the globe. You can’t go on Twitter right now without tripping over another tweet about it. Everybody has a theory.
It started two months ago. And, in an age when something that happened three days ago is already old news, this story is only gaining momentum. I wasn’t planning on preaching about it this week, but there are times as a preacher when you just don’t have a choice. For those of you who haven’t heard yet: There is a duck in Central Park and people are going totally nuts over it.
I’m seeing a few surprised faces out there. Obviously, you haven’t seen this duck yet. You need to get yourselves down to the Pond at 59th and 5th. Or better yet search #hotduck on Instagram. He’s a mandarin duck and his exotic plumage is handsome enough to be drawing crowds from all over the tristate area.
The whole world has gone Christmas crazy! And here we are, the Church, just getting to the first Sunday in Advent. All around us it’s Jingle Bell Rock and the twinkling of Christmas lights and Kurt Douglas as Santa Claus on Netflix, and here we are talking about the Apocalypse, for goodness sake.
Beloved, do we have a communications problem here? I mean, has the world gotten the messaging of the holidays right while the church is just stuck in the past? What’s the point of four weeks of Advent, anyway – talking about apocalypse and repentance and waiting, waiting, waiting, when we could have it all right now? If we wanted, we could rush to the carols, to the sweet babe in the manger, to the shepherds, the wise ones, the angelic choir, the light shining in the darkness! Why don’t we? To the world outside, Advent is just the calendar countdown to waking up to a pile of presents, but the rest of the season arrives without any waiting at all in a frantic mob of shopping as soon as Walmart opens its doors after Thanksgiving dinner. What the heck are we waiting for?
What is truth? In the age of Russian interference, fake news, and alternative facts, Pilate’s infamously nihilistic question, “What is truth?” takes on a different sort of feeling for us. Pilate was a gloomy philosopher who was wondering out loud – rhetorically and sarcastically – if there was any such thing as truth. We believe that there IS truth. We have a bigger problem than a world without truth. We live in a world where the truth seems pretty obvious, but half the whole world seems hell-bent on disbelieving that truth that seems so plain to us. We don’t have a truth problem – truth is truth, fact is fact – we have a people problem. We know that we can trust the truth. But we don’t have much faith in most people to accept and act upon the truth in a way that will make the world a better place.
What’s interesting in regards to Pilate is that despite basically saying to Jesus that there is no such thing as truth at all, a little later in the day, as it’s looking more and more like Pilate is going to have to crucify Jesus, he drops the too-cool-for-truth act. He has one more question for Jesus. He’ll ask him, “Where are you from?”