Church of England Diocese of Birmingham Frankley

Rejoice! Give Thanks!

13 Dec 2020, 2 a.m.

We always have reasons to rejoice. The Pfizer vaccine is being rolled out across our land and we should be able to hug each other again by the end of June.

I am impressed that our government is inoculating the most vulnerable first, setting free those who have been locked in their homes and caring for those in care homes. Our government has not put those who would advantage our economy first.

Another reason to rejoice in the run up to Christmas is that the content of our Bible readings have become much more positive. Christmas may be pared down but it hasn’t been cancelled. We rejoice that Jesus came to save us.

My head has been so full of safeguarding regulations, surveys and form filling that I have neglected to obey Paul’s command to the Thessalonians to rejoice always.

The early church was to rejoice in the midst of persecution. Some suffered martyrdom. Whatever happened they were to give thanks in all circumstances because this is the will of God in Christ Jesus, not just for them, but for us also.

Paul was not asking the Thessalonians to put on a mask and pretend everything was wonderful.

He was asking them to genuinely rejoice in what God had given them in Christ Jesus. Jesus loved them. He was coming back. They were safe in him whatever happened to them physically.

Their salvation was nearer than when they first believed.

When we rejoice we encourage each other with these truths. We lift our own Spirits up to God and the Holy Spirit comes upon us showing us giving us the words to pray and showing us how we can serve those around us.

Rejoicing Christians are praying Christians. It is difficult to engage when we are overcome by heaviness and depression. We become lethargic and unable to function as God intended.

Thanksgiving is a massive part of rejoicing. A colleague was speaking to me about the litter left outside his church and how he was using it to give thanks and pray for those who had thrown it. Not my reaction to fly tipping in the churchyard, but maybe it should have been.

Rejoicing and giving thanks in all circumstances is not easy. It is a spiritual discipline and a mark of obedience. It is a vital for our well being and for the well being of others.

We can praise God in the car and at home through singing and music. We can use the prayer psalms and Bible readings given for each day of the week and respond prayerfully after each phrase.

We can start each day with a thank you; “Thank you Lord for being here, thank you for your love, thank you for your Holy Spirit. Bless you Lord. I rejoice in your love.”

As we rejoice the company of heaven rejoices with us. Our souls are lifted up and filled with joy.

When we feel and know we are happy and blessed we are able to bring joy and happiness to others. When we rejoice in the Lord the Holy Spirit moves upon us. He might speak personally to us or through us to others. This is the gift of prophesy.

Paul says we must not quench the Spirit and we must listen to and test prophesy.

The servant songs from Isaiah are wonderfully prophetic and beautiful. That’s why Handel set them to music and it’s why they speak to us today.

Today’s passage was written for people who are oppressed, broken hearted and imprisoned. They have a faint spirit, the Spirit of heaviness and are in mourning.

They have been allowed back into their land by King Cyrus, the Persian after exile in Babylon. Their separation from their land and loved ones is over but they are poor and powerless. Their temple has been decimated and they need to rebuild but haven’t got the energy. They need to repair their ruined cities and clear up the devastation.

They sound a little like us returning to our church building after lockdown. We too have been exiled from our loved ones and have suffered loss.

We too have to mend our walls and roof and more importantly our congregations and our lives by inviting the Lord to bind up the broken hearts of those of us who are left and of those who have joined us during this time.

Furthermore, we are called to help rebuild our nation and local communities devastated by unemployment and poverty.

Sometimes we feel we are poor and powerless. We are certainly poorer than we were before the pandemic started.

Jesus identified himself as a servant at the beginning of his ministry by standing up in the synagogue and reading the opening words.

We can and should place ourselves in the role of servants who bring joy to others.

Jesus was good news and we are called to be good news by binding up those who are hurting and bringing freedom to those who are oppressed.

We have done this to some extent through our gifts to Frankley Plus children’s centre and the food bank. The needs of the community and our needs however are immense

And many of us are elderly and broken ourselves. Where will we find the energy and finance needed?

Those oppressed in Isaiah’s day and those suffering under Rome in Jesus’ day must have been asking themselves the same question.

“This, Jesus quoted, is the day of the Lord’s favour.” He longs to pour out his Holy Spirit upon his children. He has all the resources we need.

Jesus stopped reading the passage at that point. The day of vengeance of our Lord, which Isaiah also mentioned, is a future event when this earth is rolled up.

The ministry of Jesus in Galilee began with him being anointed with the Holy Spirit as he was baptised by John in the River Jordan.

Prophets, priests and Kings were anointed for service. Jesus fulfilled all these roles but not in the traditional way. Primarily he came to serve, not to Lord it over others. As he ministered to the broken in body and Spirit they were set free.

There must have been much laughter as the deaf heard; the blind saw and the dead were raised to life. Spirits bound by depression and mental illness were set free to rejoice and be happy

If Jesus needed the anointing of the Holy Spirit, so do we. God’s holy oil brings an ease to what is difficult. He smooths the rough places.

We are called to a practical ministry, Isaiah says, to comfort those who mourn, and provide for them.

Those mourning the loss of loved ones and jobs are mourning. They feel powerless and helpless. Most of us know what it is like to feel this way.

God’s suffering servant came to bring victory to defeated lives, a garland instead of ashes.

We are here to provide more than handouts for the poor. We offer them our friendship and give them opportunity to share in ministering to others. They are also called by God and have gifts too.

Through serving others in the power of Holy Spirit and encouraging them to praise and worship, their mourning turns to gladness and they become bold.

We are to put on the mantle of praise and as we do so our heaviness and fear will vanish. However tough things have been, we will become strong in Christ

God wants us all to be strong oaks of righteousness planted in him.

Only then will we be able to rebuild, repair and restore what has been devastated.

We are blessed! The writer rejoices. He will greatly rejoice in the Lord. He might not feel like it but he will do it anyway. He says his whole being shall exult in God. We use everything we have and own, our voice, hands, musical instruments, ability to dance; everything to worship Jesus and bring him glory. We use our work, possessions and finances

We serve because of what God has done for us. He has clothed us with the garments of salvation. He has brought beauty and vitality into our lives. He has brought us into a loving relationship with himself compared in Isaiah to the love a bride and bridegroom have for each other.

There are new shoots of life bursting through, new opportunities and hope, new people to be nurtured and loved.

Thank you God for your favour and the many gifts you have given. Holy Spirit, empower and reenergise us. Make us strong in the Lord as we restore, renew and resource those in desperate need around us. May many come to know our Lord by seeing his working in our lives. Amen.