Ketchup and Christmas, December 13

Ketchup and Christmas

Psalm 126; 1 Thessalonians 5:16-24; John 1:6-8, 19-28

Rev. Catherine E. Schuyler

Catskill, Palenville, Quarryville United Methodist Churches online; December 13, 2020


Then our mouths were filled with laughter and our tongues with shouts of joy.


What past gathering comes to mind for you at those words?  Was it a night with friends, laughing at stories around a dinner table of BBQ ribs and scalloped potatoes?  Maybe it was at a concert, and the music was wonderful, and the crowd loved it.  I remember times at coffee hour when Barb Saxe told an excellent tale that set the whole table to laughing.  In my family, it’s games.  We gathered for a big family wedding last January, pre-coronavirus, and spent hours playing charades and Pictionary, fifteen or twenty of us, splitting into teams and trying desperately to figure out a cousin’s wild acting out of John the Baptist or my terrible drawing of lemonade.  Then our mouths were filled with laughter and our tongues with shouts of joy.


This is Gaudete Sunday, the Advent Sunday of Joy, with a rose-colored candle and a rose-colored stole, the Sunday when the texts shout, Gaudete, meaning rejoice!  Today it’s the Psalm and the word from Paul in 1 Thessalonians, beginning with Rejoice always.  In other years the word is from Philippians – Rejoice in the Lord always, and again I say, rejoice.  Or from Zephaniah, Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Jerusalem, set so wonderfully in Handel’s Messiah.  Rejoice, rejoice, rejoice greatly! Rejoice, O daughter of Zion.


In these words from scripture, we begin to hear the faint echoes of the angels on Christmas night, reaching across the ages.  I bring you good tidings of great joy.  We know we’re not there yet, but today we begin to think it might actually happen.  Christmas is less than two weeks away.  Anticipation, like that old ad for Heinz ketchup, is making me wait, but Christmas will be good this year.  Right?  


This year it’s not actually easy to find ourselves in that excitement of rejoicing and celebrating.  This has been a year of pain and fear and sorrow.  This Christmas will not be marked by parties and games and friends gathering to make merry.  It will not be marked by gatherings of family members telling stories of Grandma and Grandpa.  It will be a sober, lonely Christmas for so many of us.  Maybe we should just skip this pink joyful Sunday this year and move on.


Christmas will not be what it has been for many of us in past years.  We will not be with many of the people we love.  We will not go to parties or sing carols together at our neighbors’ doors.  We won’t sing together here in the sanctuary on Christmas Eve. But I offer you the promise that there will be joy.  Our experiences of Christmas have often been wonderful, filled with friends and love and good food, mouths filled with laughter, just as the Psalm says.  But that’s not all that Christmas is, in past years or today.  We learn pretty quickly as we leave childhood that Christmas is so much more than gifts.  We know, too, that Christmas cookies and eggnog aren’t at the heart of our joy at the holiday either.  It’s the love.  It’s the people whom we love that we get to spend time with, the grandchildren we celebrate with, the cousins we see only once or twice a year.  The friends we see at the annual New Year’s Day brunch.  That love hasn’t gone anywhere this year.  Those relationships are still real and precious and holy.  Hold onto them.  Send cards with personalized notes, call your uncle, make a scarf for your niece and send it along.  She’ll love it.  No, you may not see them, but our technology allows us so many opportunities to stay connected.  Claim it.


Remember, too, that the tidings of joy the angels proclaimed that Christmas night were not to shepherds who had any idea who Mary and Joseph were.  They were utter strangers to this baby they were hearing about.  But they knew who God was.  They knew the promise of a Messiah and of the hope of something new in the word that God had given to the people over the ages.  They had heard that promise, that there would be joy and peace.  We know that word also.  God gives us love in Jesus Christ – love wrapped up in hope and grace and salvation.  Illness and death and hardship are real, and the love of God holds us through all of it – all of it.  That’s the ultimate joy we’re offered at Christmas.  The joy of the gift of God among us, Emmanuel, not leaving us alone to our own sadness and despair, but coming to us in forgiveness and peace.  The tidings of great joy, the joy we anticipate on this third Sunday of Advent is a joy that promises never to leave us alone, even in a pandemic. God comes to us and the world, the whole world, is never the same.


In a year like this, Christmas joy is actually bigger not smaller than usual.  It comes from remembering that God’s coming to us, the incarnation, isn’t only about our lives and the lives of those we love, but about the whole world.  The promise of salvation touches us all, binds us to one another in love, even to people we’ll never know.  The love of God that saves us saves us all.  So we share food with the hungry and clothes and Christmas gifts with the needy.  Because they are our sisters and brothers as much as those relatives are whom we’ll miss this year.  Our joy is still found in connection – with God, with our neighbors, and with the world.  The angel brought tidings of joy for all people, including us, but not only us.


So don’t give up on joy this year.  Anticipate it, hope for it, sing about it, even by yourself.  And stay connected to others, even to people you don’t know.  Watch an extra Hallmark movie, don’t skip church, pray for your friends, and then pray for neighbors who are hungry.  And open yourself up to the tidings of great joy the angels bring – the love of God made manifest in the world for our salvation, for a life of fullness and abundance for all.  All wrapped up in the very human, preciousness of the Christ child.  Rejoice, friends.  Rejoice.  Amen.



1 Thessalonians 5:16-24

16Rejoice always, 17pray without ceasing, 18give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you. 19Do not quench the Spirit. 20Do not despise the words of prophets, 21but test everything; hold fast to what is good; 22abstain from every form of evil.

23May the God of peace himself sanctify you entirely; and may your spirit and soul and body be kept sound and blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. 24The one who calls you is faithful, and he will do this.











Psalm 126


When the Lord restored the fortunes

   of Zion, we were like those who dream.


2Then our mouth was filled with laughter,

   and our tongue with shouts of joy;

then it was said among the nations,

   “The Lord has done

      great things for them.”

33The Lord has done great things for us,

   and we rejoiced.

44Restore our fortunes, O Lord,

   like the watercourses in the Negeb.

55May those who sow in tears reap with shouts of joy.


6Those who go out weeping,

   bearing the seed for sowing,

   shall come home with shouts of joy,

   carrying their sheaves.





John 1:6-8, 19-28

6There was a man sent from God, whose name was John. 7He came as a witness to testify to the light, so that all might believe through him. 8He himself was not the light, but he came to testify to the light. …

19This is the testimony given by John when the Jews sent priests and Levites from Jerusalem to ask him, “Who are you?” 20He confessed and did not deny it, but confessed, “I am not the Messiah.” 21And they asked him, “What then? Are you Elijah?” He said, “I am not.” “Are you the prophet?” He answered, “No.” 22Then they said to him, “Who are you? Let us have an answer for those who sent us. What do you say about yourself?” 23He said, “I am the voice of one crying out in the wilderness, ‘Make straight the way of the Lord,’” as the prophet Isaiah said. 24Now they had been sent from the Pharisees. 25They asked him, “Why then are you baptizing if you are neither the Messiah, nor Elijah, nor the prophet?” 26John answered them, “I baptize with water. Among you stands one whom you do not know, 27the one who is coming after me; I am not worthy to untie the thong of his sandal.” 28This took place in Bethany across the Jordan where John was baptizing.



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