Gaudete

joy14Sing aloud, O daughter Zion; shout, O Israel! Rejoice and exult with all your heart, O daughter Jerusalem! 15The Lord has taken away the judgments against you, he has turned away your enemies. The king of Israel, the Lord, is in your midst; you shall fear disaster no more. 16On that day it shall be said to Jerusalem: Do not fear, O Zion; do not let your hands grow weak. 17The Lord, your God, is in your midst. (Zephaniah 3: 14-17a)

This past Sunday, Gaudete Sunday (“Rejoice”), our third candle on the Advent wreath was the candle of joy.  I think that joy is hard for many of us to get our head around.  We Western Christians spend a lot of time pursuing happiness.  Our culture promises happiness if we will only…if we will only buy this or wear this or eat this or do this or go here or believe this way.  Many of our churches promise that God will shower us in happiness and prosperity if we will only…if we will only pray this way and do this and believe this and be this.  But happiness is elusive.  Happiness is fleeting.  Happiness is temporary.  But joy…God desires not that we be happy but that we have joy.  Joy is deep and abiding.  Joy overcomes.  Joy overpowers.  Joy can exist in the midst of the darkness—perhaps even break through the darkness given the chance.  Joy is found not in ourselves but beyond ourselves.  Joy is not something we pursue; joy is there for us already.

In this Advent season, we look for the signs that we so desperately want to see that will confirm God’s Presence.  But the signs are everywhere.  Rejoice!  Perhaps we are so busy trying to make our lives work out the way we want them to work out, to work out in the way that we think will bring us the most happiness, we are missing what is right in front of us.  As we near that holiest of nights, as we prepare to light our candles and sign Silent Night, and, if even for one moment, to feel the joy again, we need to practice by opening our eyes to God who, even now, is in our midst.

We have ten more days.  (Aaaaaggghhh!)  OK, let’s try again.  We have ten more days.  Rejoice!  The true joy of Christmas is that no matter what the darkness holds, no matter how all-encompassing it feels, no matter how many times our journey seems to lead us into quicksand, we are reminded that God comes into the tiniest of places and to the lowliest of spaces and claims them.  God claims us.  God claims you.  How can you NOT rejoice?  The celebration of Christmas reminds us that even though happiness is sometimes elusive, the joy of God-with-us settles into our soul and our minds and even our bones and stays.  God does not just come once a year in that magical candle-lighting, Silent Night-moment.  The Lord, your God, is in your midst.  The darkness may still surround you, but Joy has come and claimed a home.  Rejoice!  Gaudete!

The fullness of joy is to behold God in everything. (Julian of Norwich)

FOR TODAY:  Look around.  God is in your midst.  How can you NOT rejoice?

Grace and Peace,

Shelli

Finding What You’ve Waited For

dancing-joy(ADVENT 3C)

4Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, Rejoice. 5Let your gentleness be known to everyone. The Lord is near. 6Do not worry about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. 7And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. (Philippians 4: 4-7)

Do you remember a couple of years ago when that “don’t worry, be happy” slogan was everywhere? I hated that, to be honest. It always seemed a bit sappy to me. Just forget your worries and be happy. Just forget all your cares and skip down the yellow brick road of life. Ok, see, even Dorothy (of Wizard of Oz fame) had some issues along that road. The Scripture doesn’t tell us not to worry so that we can be happy. The Scripture tells us to not let our worries consume us.

Our culture spends a great deal of time searching for happiness. We watch TV and we see sitcoms and commercials and now those strange reality TV shows with happy people giving us their own clues as to how to get happy like they are. It seems to be our goal in life. After all, what makes you happy? Are you happy when you are with friends or family? Are you happy when you are traveling, seeing parts of the world that you do not know? Are you happy when you are eating ice cream? Or at the beach? Or shopping? Or surrounded by beauty? But anyone will tell you that happiness is fleeting. It’s not the same as joy. Joy is deep and abiding. It exists in the deepest part of our being and rather than covering us up with a sort of pink cloud temporary existence, joys comes from within and fills us. Think about it. Most happy people will describe themselves as happy. But to say that one is filled with joy is different. Joy is being filled with that which surpasses all understanding. Joy is being filled with something that makes no sense and doesn’t have to.

So, here is Paul, probably writing from a prison cell. It would be odd for him to fill his letters with words that might convince his readers that he is happy. He is NOT happy. In fact, Paul is frustrated beyond belief. He wants to be out there doing the work that he is called to do, helping the fledgling congregations that he has barely gotten off the ground. But here he sits. No, Paul is NOT happy. This was not the plan. But beyond what the world understands, beyond what the world can even imagine, beyond any happiness that may come about, is joy. Rejoice in the Lord always. Happiness is fleeting. Joy breeds joy.

So, no matter what is going on, give thanks to God for your life. Give thanks to God for the life in Christ that you have. Let it fill your life. Do not let your worries consume you. Do not let them turn you into someone that you are not. When it’s all said and done, this WILL come out alright. That’s the whole promise. So, when life gets rough, when happiness seems to elude you, talk to God. Pray for peace. Don’t worry about praying that God will fix what is wrong. Just pray for peace to wash over you. Pray for joy to fill you. That’s all you need. Because there you find the heart and mind of Christ.

Think about it. Jesus was born into a waiting world, a world that was sure that all it needed was someone to fix its problems and put its adversaries in their proper place, a world that had figured out what it needed to make itself a happy place. But Jesus showed up on a dark night in a dingy stable in the middle of the poverty of the land and almost immediately began a life that would consist of evading the status quo and those in charge. And roughly 2,000 years later, the world is still not a happy place. So, perhaps this season is not about what makes us happy but rather what gives us reason to rejoice, what makes us whole and fills us and makes us who we are. For into the darkness, came Light and into our dying days came Life. Rejoice in the Lord always!  And, there, there you will find everything for which you’ve waited.

Joy is the most infallible sign of the presence of God. (Pierre Teilhard de Chardin)

 

Grace and Peace,

 

Shelli