Greg's Weekly Word: "joy"
Before I write anything else, enjoy this bit of classic '90s cinema...
In this week's worship service we celebrated the Advent Sunday of Joy, which we need more than ever this year, it seems. And which seemed harder to come by than usual. It has been a year of losses - lives, jobs, health, safety, graduations, weddings, normalcy. And with loss comes grief and sorrow and struggle.
One of the lectionary passages for this Sunday of Joy is Psalm 126:
When the Lord restored the fortunes of Zion, we were like those who dream. Then 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.” The Lord has done great things for us, and we rejoiced.
Restore our fortunes, O Lord, like the watercourses in the Negeb. May those who sow in tears reap with shouts of joy. Those who go out weeping, bearing the seed for sowing, shall come home with shouts of joy, carrying their sheaves.
The Psalmist remembers a time of "when hope was high and life worth living" (to quote a song from my favorite musical) - a time when God brought the people out of exile and returned them home and transformed their sorrow into joy. It had been like a dream come true...
Of course, with everything that we've collectively experienced this year, not to mention what we all experience in any given year (losing loved ones, strained and broken relationships, despair and fear and guilt...), the possibility for such joy might seem like a dream... a pipe dream. It sounds like a fantasy. Like watercourses in the Negeb. It sounds unrealistic because it is - the desert is a place that (by definition!) does not have water.
Then again, maybe the Psalmist saw "Planet Earth," the docu-series about our natural world. Perhaps the Psalmist knows that sometimes life can spring forth in even the most barren and despairing places...like Death Valley, which is the hottest and one of the most desolate places on earth. But occasionally – maybe only every 5 or 10 years, or sometimes 50 or 100 – there is just enough rain for seeds that have lain dormant for decades to sprout, carpeting the desert with wildflowers. (You can watch a clip of it here.)
And if you saw it happening, you might think you are dreaming. And yet that is the Psalmist's prayer and hope (and ours, too!): that God's restoration and renewal would come and transform our sorrow into joy. Because it is in times of sorrow and struggle and despair that we need that kind of hope-filled joy the most.
Of course, that kind of renewal doesn't happen instantaneously. Often, it doesn't even happen quickly. "Planet Earth" can use time-lapse footage and comparison video to show the transformation of a desert. (Below are satellite images of Los Padres National Park, taken four months apart.)
Our lives, however, happen in real-time, which can sometimes feel like slow motion. I admit: joy is often difficult to come by, as we wonder if the seeds of God's kingdom will ever blossom into the reality of our world; if God's dream for our world and for our lives will ever be realized. But perhaps we can do the work to which Christ calls us - the work of God's kingdom - seeking and sharing joy whenever and however we are able, in ways large and small, living "like those who dream." And in doing so, maybe we can make that dream come true.