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Joy, Always Joy

Image of a gnome (or a Tompte) with a red hat cross country skiing

Here we are at the third Sunday of Advent. Traditionally, this is the Sunday of Joy. On this day we shift from penitential waiting to joyful anticipation. The tone of Advent shifts from somber to joyful. We know that God is drawing near. We celebrate the Christ who was, who is, and who shall be. We may not spend much time contemplating the Second Coming. However, we might envision a world in which people more fully embraced life in Christ. This would be a world filled with joy for sure.

In the meantime, though, in the midst of pandemic, where is joy? How do we rejoice in the Lord always when we are surrounded by sickness, grief, and isolation? Is it possible to be joyful in this particular Advent season? I believe it is. It is possible because joy is deeper, more steady, than happiness. Our happiness is in question, and should be given the state of the world. However, our joy need not be absent.

I think of joy as being rooted in the very center of our beings. It grows from those times and places in which we are aware of the human spirit and the Holy Spirit touching, even in a fleeting way. Joy comes from knowing that God is present, that we are God’s beloved, no matter what is happening on our lives or in the wider world. We would do well to take time to be still and find that place within us and anchor there. The ways to find this place within are as varied as humans are. Find your way. Perhaps it is prayer or meditation… or maybe hiking through the woods, the prairie, the desert… or maybe in the flow of a river, the sounds of the ocean… through music or art… through worship or scripture… find your way to remembering and knowing God’s presence and God’s love for you particularly. And then the work begins. Or, maybe, begin the work and let the joy follow.

Either way, Isaiah gives some clear instructions on how to live out and share the joy of life in the Spirit:

  • bring good news to the oppressed
  • bind up the brokenhearted
  • proclaim liberty to the captives
  • bring release to the prisoners
  • comfort all who mourn

These kinds of activities will allow others to join in God’s love of justice and continue the spread of joy by:           

  • building up the ancient ruins
  • raising up the former devastations
  • repairing the ruined cities

I don’t think the prophet was speaking in metaphors. I believe he was telling us how to live as God’s people, instructing us on how to prepare the way for God and save lives. If we were to update this language perhaps we would say that in order to prepare the way of the Lord or embody Christ in the world today, we can:

  • call out oppression in all its forms and create systems built on equality rather than racism, misogyny, transphobia, ablism, homophobia, xenophobia, etc
  • care for the vulnerable among us by providing food, clothing, shelter, mental health care, healthcare, etc.
  • free people from ICE detention centers and cages at the border
  • eliminate for profit prisons and free POC imprisoned by racists systems
  • support those who are mourning, especially in these pandemic times

If we are able to do this work, joy would truly blossom in the lives of many people. Trusting that loving-kindness is the way God desires us to live, creates hope and makes room for joy even in the midst of pandemic. The ancient ruins we are meant to be building up are, perhaps, the ruins of the way in which God desires us to live in peace with all our neighbors. The former devastations are, perhaps, all that has been destroyed by racism and other fear based or power based systems. What would the world look like if all who claim to follow Christ sought to repair the breach between what is and what God desires for us?

Joy is not the simple pleasure in having something good or doing something good. Joy is deeper. It comes from being in relationship with God and being in community with God’s people. Joy can sustain us when all else seems lost. Joy grows when we follow God’s commandment to love our neighbors as ourselves. We need joy now in this 2020 Advent season. If you have joy, please share it. If you do not have joy, hold on. This candle we light symbolizes the Light that no hardship, no despair, can truly extinguish and we light it for you until you can experience it for yourself.

Rejoice in the Lord always and let us pray without ceasing as we prepare and embody the way of the Lord.

RCL: Year B Third Sunday of Advent December 13, 2020 Isaiah 61:1-4, 8-11
Psalm 126 or Luke 1:46b-55
1 Thessalonians 5:16-24
John 1:6-8, 19-28

Photo: CC0image by Susanne Jutzeler, suju-foto

By rachaelkeefe

Hi. I am a pastor, an author, a painter, and a poet. Find out more about all of my work, including spiritual direction and suicide prevention, on my website (BeachTheology.com).

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