Harrowing Of Hell
December 17, 2023

Joy to the World

The Rev. Lisa Ozaeta

To watch the sermon click here.

Good Morning. We are in the 3rd week of Advent. We have lit the pink candle…and we are full of joy, Right?

It is Gaudete Sunday. Why do we call it Gaudete? Well, because we are Episcopalians and we like words like undercroft and ciborium. Actually, Gaudete is the Latin word for Rejoice and is the first line of the Introit traditionally sung on this day. We will hear it at the 11.00 service.

Advent…yes, it is an opportunity to say words like Gaudete and light candles on the wreath but,  more importantly it is the four week period before Christmas dedicated to pause and reflection. It is a time of anticipation. We are anticipating the birth of Jesus. But we are also anticipating the second coming of Jesus.

Advent is the beginning of the church year. We start the year by thinking about the absolute end.

We don’t think about the end of the world like some do or like it is portrayed in the apocalyptic movies.

Rather, we are looking forward to the end of disconnection hat we experience in our world and in our lives and instead to the point where God is drawing all things to himself. Doyt introduced us to Teilhard de Chardin’s concept of Omega Point a few weeks ago.  Teilhard taught that the end of time was actually a culmination of the long process of evolution that has continuously been bringing us to a greater connectiveness and to a point of complete unity with God. And, that is what we are anticipating.

The themes in Advent are all connected. So let’s do a quick review.

The first week in Advent was focused on Hope. We are hoping for a time when the barriers in this world that separate us are removed. We are hoping for this complete unity promised by God.

The second week in Advent focused on Love. It makes sense that Love follows Hope. While hope is expectantly waiting for the barriers of disconnection to be removed, love is living in a way that has recognized that those barriers don’t actually exist. Sometimes seeing past those perceived barriers is difficult, but it is always the goal.

Because, when we are able to truly love each other, we experience connection, which is gives us joy.

This hope, love, and joy will lead us to peace, which is the last week of Advent. It is when we will experience Peace on Earth. We cant get to the Peace without the love and the joy of connection. Otherwise, it is a false peace that doesn’t last. It is just violence or resentment that is stuffed down until it erupts the next time.

So, this week is about Joy. Joy is not an easy concept to define. Over the last couple of weeks, I have asked people to define joy.

One person said that it was being happy no matter what was going on in life. She explained that being happy depends on what is happening to us whereas joy is constant and not dependent on our circumstances.

A couple of people admitted that they couldn’t quite define joy. It was more of a – you know it when you have it – thing.

So, knowing that children are the font of wisdom, I asked my Children’s Sermon kids last week to define joy. There were lots of good answers. My favorite was when one of my girls said that joy was when you were so happy that your whole body explodes.

This seems awesome and awful all at the same time.

Martin Buber, a 19th century Jewish philosopher had a less visual but maybe more instructive answer. He said that joy is a feeling of connection.

And that makes sense to me. God is a relational God. Our world was created where relationship is primary. This is not true for just humans. It is literally infused into the fabric of our world.

We can look at how the trees talk to each other and connect. Under the forest, there is a large network of roots that allows trees to share chemical signals and nutrients. The entire forest is engaged in a communal support system.

This is true is the cosmos as well. Astronomers have identified a web of interconnected filaments made of dark matter and gas that serve as highways of gravitational interactions. This interconnection of filament actually makes up the very structure of our universe.

Nature always reminds us that we are part of a larger web of life where every being and element is connected contributing to the harmony and balance of the natural world.

We are no different. We are creatures of connection. From our first breath, we seek to find connection. I used to work in hospitals and was amazed to learn about one of our therapeutic interventions in the NICU. When babies are born too soon and are fighting for their life, one of the interventions is skin on skin contact. The baby wears only a diaper and is placed upright so that the baby’s chest is directly touching the parent or caregiver’s skin.

The results are amazing. Skin to skin contact has been found to help regulate the baby’s temperature. It stabilizes vital signs including heart rate, respiratory rate, and blood pressure. Maybe what I like the most is that this skin to skin contact has been shown to be a pain reliever. Studies have shown that medical procedures can be performed on the baby when there is skin to skin contact because of the reduction of stress and pain that comes from the connection.

This world is made for connection. We are made for connection. Nature knows it and even a baby’s premature body knows it.

At Epiphany, we say that Relationship is primary. This is because we believe in a relational theology. This is seen in the works of Martin Buber. He teaches that joy is found through connection. His most important book was called I and Thou and focused on the nature of relationships emphasizing the significance of genuine, mutual encounters between individuals.

Buber noted that we often approach others as antagonists or as pawns in our own strategy game. He warned against interacting with people in a way that does not fully acknowledge the divine in them. Rather than seeing others as “him, them, or it” we should see them as thou – recognizing the sacredness in each person. It is when we see this sacredness in the other person that we can experience meaningful connection.

Of course, at Epiphany, we recognize this teaching as seeing the imago dei in others and seeing each other as soul to soul. So this teaching is not new to us. We say it almost every week.

What Buber offers that is new is this idea of what happens between the I and the Thou. Buber suggests that the divine is encountered in the space between I and Thou. He says that when people connect with each other authentically, they create a space where the presence of God is felt.

We have talked about how our life can be placed on the visual of the cross because we have our relationship of love with others…which is the horizontal cross bar, and we have our relationship with God as the vertical beam.

When I think of what Buber is saying about this created space between us (when we see each other as souls) and that in this space the presence of God is felt. I think that this intersection to the two beams of the cross … our horizontal and vertical life as the intersection of joy.

It is the ultimate connection. It is when we are connected to others and to God.

The motion of this relationship is completely interdependent and a self-repeating virtuous cycle. We can see others as souls because of our anchoring in God’s relationship to us as we see and affirm the dignity and worth of each other, we invite God into our space which only allows us to more fully see each other and love one another… growing in both love of God and love of others. This is joy.

Last week, I was ordained to the transitional diaconate. The service was at the Cathedral. The pews were full and there were a lot of people from Epiphany there. Thank you for coming. I had six people including Doyt, Kelli Martin, and Susan Pitchford present me to the Bishop. They walked with me to the front of the church where the Bishop asked if they believe that I am qualified for ordination according to our faith and the requirements outlined in the Book of Common Prayer. Thankfully, they said yes. After a sermon, the five other ordinands and I go to the front of the church. One by one the Bishop lays hands on us and ordains us to the deaconate. Each of us will become a priest, but this is holy stop on that journey.

I have been asked by several people if I feel different after the ordination. We believe in ontological change at ordination meaning that we believe that we are forever changed by the grace of God. It is an unrepeatable sacrament. So, how did it feel?

I was not quite sure how to answer this question. People asked me looking out of the side of their eye or with a furrowed brow. The question felt like it was trying to see into a mystical reality. Was there lightening in your soul? Was it a mystical event?

The answer is that it was. It can only be described as pure joy. I don’t think it gets more mystical than that.

It was full joy because people from Epiphany were there. I felt connected to all of the people even if I had never seen them before. The Bishop has this way of looking deep into your heart that says – I see and celebrate you. My wife and two daughters put my deacon stole on me. The Bishop said that we do this in front of the congregation because it symbolizes the whole church vesting us in our ministry.

So this day was the culmination of what started as a quiet voice and personal prayer to connecting with family, the parish, other ordinands, and the whole church. People told me that I looked radiant. I was. There is no other way to describe it than to say it was pure joy radiating in, through, and out of me.

This is considered the season of Joy. It is a season to gather and connect. We connect with family and even strangers.  Sometimes this gathering can feel nightmarish because you know…Uncle Jerry …enough said.

But, this is not about repressing emotions or accepting bad behavior…and by bad behavior, I mean cheering for Texas at a bowl game.

But, it is a time that we are called to remember that we are waiting for Christ’s second coming…where we are called to that place of unity where we are all completely connected and that the non-essentials don’t matter. And, it is all non-essentials.

My prayer for this season is that you feel the gravitational pull to the unity point. That you are able to avoid the non-essentials and be drawn into love where we can experience true joy.