Thursday 8 December 2016

Joy to the world

The third candle on the Advent wreath is joy.  It’s often a pink candle, which is a nice tradition, though I can’t help wondering why we wouldn’t then let the other candles have there own colour rather than a seasonal colour with one anomaly.  What colour would you make hope?  Or peace or love?  It kind of makes joy stand out a bit, though, and I think I’m okay with that.

I know I’ve said previously that these Advent themes may well be all words that mean something different in the context of Jesus than when we might use them on a day to day basis, but I wonder if joy isn’t so much different as more.  And I don’t think it’s just semantics.  We might say happy or blissful, jovial or cheery, gleeful, merry, jubilant, the list is long for ways to describe how we’re feeling in a moment or about something.  But, to me, joy is the all-encompassing way to describe all those things at once, all those things in the context of something bigger than a moment, bigger than a feeling or a sense.

I think that’s because joy isn’t just about emotion or behaviour, it’s about spirit.  Sure, it’s all part of it, the warm fuzzies, the laughter, a smile, being “merry and bright” and all, but it’s more than that.  True joy, that's something that goes to the very core of who we are, the very deepest corner of our hearts, the very darkest place, and brings light.

I believe that true joy is found in the moment in which we find God present in our lives in a way which brings wholeness to our spirit.  There may be happiness and cheerfulness, there may be a smile or a belly laugh, but there may also be pain relieved, a moment of support that turns uncertainty to confidence, an awareness that our struggles are shared, that we are safe and secure and that we are not alone.  There will be comfort and contentment, a sense of rightness and a sense of certainty that life is good, in the true sense of the word.

There’s God’s presence, again, just like the wreath itself, connecting hope and peace and joy and love.  And just like those other “lights,” joy can’t remain just within us, but demands to be lived out.

I’m privileged to play the piano for Bashaw Community Theatre and they just did a show in our church.  Sister Act is lively and entertaining and the full house at each performance really enjoyed the shows.  And they were good shows (they’re always good shows).  I think people in the audience left each show with some joy.  Sure, the shows were good - as one of the characters might say, they looked good, they moved good, they sounded good.  But there was more.  There was spirit and warmth and connection that people on stage shared that was shared with the audience.  That brought them joy.

I know there were times when it was hard work, times when people came to rehearsal with their own issues and problems and tough days, times when they weren’t sure they could sing or dance or (most especially) do it on stage in front of people.  But I also know there was a space created where people felt safe, supported and loved, with friends that cared, where their company was enjoyed, playing and working together, and where they belonged.  There were friends and families, sisters and brothers, young and old, experienced performers and first timers.  There was people from this town and other communities, there was three generations of one family, an engaged couple, a very pregnant nun and buddies from school.  What there was, was a family, very much the kind of family that our churches and communities should be: loving, hopeful and filled with joy.  That’s life giving.

And that’s just the point of joy.  Not every moment of Christmas will be merry.  For some, it will be hard to find any moment that’s merry.  But there may be joy.  The way to joy can take us through pain and grief, struggle and disappointment, even loneliness.   But in sharing those with each other, in caring for each other, in loving each other, our spirits are made more whole and given life.  Maybe joy does deserve a candle of a different colour.

There was a child, born to a poor couple who probably feared the questions people would ask about his parentage as much as they feared being able to afford to feed him.  The baby was born with little help in a dirty stable.  Angels didn't tell the wealthy or the wise first, they told poor, struggling shepherds that nobody really appreciated or respected.  The magi who came with gold, frankincense and myrrh had to work hard to follow the star and when they found the baby, they barely escaped with their lives.  Lots of children didn't, thanks to Herod's fear.

There's lots in the Christmas story that's about struggle and pain and fear.  But at it's heart is a new life.  Joy to the world, love is come.