Greg's Weekly Word: "joy"
I'm sure by now most of you are listening to Christmas music. Some of you have been since Halloween!
And, of course, we all have our favorites...and our least favorites. (Don't get me started on "The Christmas Shoes"!) We even have our favorite versions of songs, don't we? For some, it’s Karen Carpenter singing “Merry Christmas, darling…” Or Willie Nelson whining about “Frosty the Snowman…” For others it may be Mariah Carey's "O Holy Niiiiiiiiight..."
One of my favorite Christmas carols, though, is "Joy to the World" (including the guilty pleasure version by Neil Diamond).
The carol sings,
Joy to the world, the Lord is come!
Let earth receive her King!
Let every heart prepare him room…
Except the Lord is not come. Not yet.
And yet, this past Sunday is traditionally known as the Advent Sunday of Joy. What I’ve noticed about a lot of these Christmas songs, though, is that some of them are not very joyful. They talk about being lonely and longing for someone, or wondering if war or hunger will ever end. And I began to realize how often I sense the distance and disparity between the merriment of this season and what we experience in our lives.
Just yesterday (Tuesday), we lost one of our beloved church members - Ted Taylor - as he transitioned from this life into the next. It looks like we will lose another - Pearl Kelley - later today or tomorrow. This week is the 9 year anniversary of the Sandy Hook Elementary shootings, which also fell during the Advent week of joy.
How can we speak - much less sing - of joy in such times? How could those in our Advent stories bring themselves to sing? They did, you know... In Luke's Gospel, we hear songs from Zechariah and Elizabeth and Mary and Simeon. But not because everything was always perfect, or even all that good. They lived as an oppressed people under the Roman Empire. Mary was an unwed teen mom. Simeon was about to die. And yet they sing. Why? How?
Maybe because that's when we need the promise of joy the most - in moments of national crisis, in experiences of personal pain, in times when hatred and fear seem to smother hope and peace and love and joy... This is when we need Christmas most – not to fake our merriment or pretend our way through the pain, not to cover up our conflicts or act as if tragedy doesn’t exist, not to ignore the realities of our lives and the brokenness of the world and the stories in the news, but to tell a different kind of story.
This is when we need Christmas, because this is when we need Emmanuel. This is when we need “God with us” – as we rejoice and as we mourn, as we celebrate and as we grieve, with hymns of praise and songs of lamentation, with shouts of joy and cries of anguish. We need Christmas now more than ever because we need God’s promises to be born into our world in a real, tangible, touchable way – something we can lay our hands on. We need God’s words to become the Word made flesh, to dwell among us in One who knows our suffering and our happiness, our joys and our pains.
I was reminded of this just yesterday, by my seven year old daughter. We've been moving through the Advent blocks Pastor Christine gave families with children, reading a short Bible story each day.
Unbeknownst to us, she recorded her own lesson on our iPad. And I think it captures the joy and pain of this season, and our Advent hope. Enjoy.
And if the holidays are a hard time for you, or you simply want to be in the presence of God or in the presence of others, I hope you'll join us on Tuesday (December 21st) at 6:00 pm for our "Longest Night" Service of Comfort and Healing. We will have prayer and song, light candles, and I will offer a reflection on the birth of God who has a "soft spot" for us all.