Joy. I can guarantee you this: if you are in a relationship with Jesus Christ, you have joy. A joy that is more than a feeling; a state of being that, because of God’s love for me and the love I have of God as well as the love of God in me…transforms me and my world.
Joy. I can guarantee you this: if you are housed in human blood, bone, and breath…joy is elusive. How many times do we undermine joy? How many times do we ignore joy? Our human condition sabotages the beauty of a life in Christ…known as joy.
When I think of Advent and joy, I usually go to someone like Mary…who sings a joyful song. I also think of the shepherds seeing the joyful angels singing. (Joy brings about song.) These people were so joyful because…well, because of what they thought God would do for them.
If you start looking at it, it might start disturbing you. Yes, they are grateful and blessed that God thinks of them, but in the next breath they are talking about how God will lay the proud, rich, and powerful low and raise the humble, poor, and weak up. They seem to be thinking in an “us and them” worldview. They want their justice! They want their justice.
But Jesus’ life was so confusing to those who knew him or tried to follow him. He was frustrating. Mary and Jesus’ brothers came to take him away because they thought him mental ill. The religious conservatives as well as the liberals wanted to pin him down in his theology and called him possessed and blasphemer. The rich and powerful ignored him…then they crucified him. The poor and insignificant latched onto him…then they crucified him.
Joy? Well, there seems to be a problem with joy sticking around even in the lives of those whom Jesus ministered to. So, what is joy? How does it stick around?
True joy, as I said at the beginning, is placed within us…or is renewed/rekindled within us when we are in relationship with Jesus. Joy will never be about what Jesus will do for you or how Jesus will make the world right. Joy will forever be based on “I am my Beloved’s and He is mine. And his banner over me is love.”
And that love ignites such a joy…well, a person can’t help but behave differently and interact with others differently. Joy doesn’t happen because of a principle or mandate or belief or anything other than God’s unconditional, cleansing love.
It is clear: some have experienced this joy, but many have not…even within the Church. So, I ask you first: are you rooted in joy? And second; Are we active in rooting others in joy? Does joy emanate from us?
I want to speak specifically about Mary and the Shepherds joyful, yet ultimately defeating, vision for justice by the power of the Messiah.
This week I was struck by the negative power of “us and them” thinking in my personal and professional life. I was heartbroken to hear of someone I care about respond negatively to a whole group of people. It doesn’t matter who this group is (Republicans, Democrats, gays, straights, Evangelical, Liberal, White, Black, Latino, Cops, Robbers, Bankers, Immigrants, Muslims, or the poor). We all are lumped into one group or another, sometimes by choice and sometimes by genetics/upbringing.
This person I know greatly desires God’s justice but in hearing the person speak, I hear echoes of Mary and the Shepherds’ “us and them” thinking. I was saddened by the expression that “God would lift us up and God would humble the others.”
Jesus did raise the meek and humble the proud; enrich the poor and taxed the rich; healed the sick and sickened the able. But he didn’t do it in the way Mary and others like her hoped for. Each person that Jesus interacts with, we see a confrontation of an old sinful way of life and a joyful invitation to a new kind of life in God’s joy.
What Jesus did and does even today is to show those who are in relationship with him that we all have areas of our lives that are meek, poor, and sick…and we must find hope in Jesus; we all have areas of our lives that are proud, rich, and able…and we must find humility in Jesus.
And that, my friends, is the beginning of joy…God’s joy. God’s justice and God’s joy does not close doors to people…it flings them wide open: “swing wide you Heavenly Gates…and prepare the way for the Risen Lord.”
This Advent I admonish us all to look at ourselves honestly. Are you fighting the “us and them” thinking that is a part of a sinful age? I hope so. Are you celebrating the justice of Jesus Christ in the joyful invitation to be a part of a new, hopeful life? I hope so.
May we hope in Jesus Christ’s love for us…may that joy ignite us with a love that looks beyond labels and sees the beauty of each person, the mark of God upon all of us. Amen.