Today is the third Sunday in Advent, and as we light the candle for Joy, I close my eyes and breathe a silent prayer, a confession of sorts. For these days, if I’m being honest? Joy seems so very far from my reach. Maybe it’s the same for you?
We are walking through the darkness of these Advent days, friends, magnified by the literal darkness that permeates our days as we inch ourselves closer to the winter solstice, crawling there on our knees. And in these long, cold days, I find myself intricately attuned to the darkness of our world, too, so much that it physically hurts. This past week, the federal government carried out two more executions, making the total for 2020 seventeen lives lost to state-sanctioned murder. One case, that of Brandon Bernard, gained a lot news coverage, for five of the original nine jurors stepped forward and said if they had known twenty years ago of the new evidence that recently came to light, they would not have sentenced him to death. Brandon was fully repentant, and still, he died on December 10th. My birthday. International Human Right’s Day. And the darkness grows heavier, just like the grief in my chest.
The fact is, it’s a hard year. These past months have been marked by so much loss, so much mourning, so much suffering, so much rage. And you want us to celebrate Joy, Lord?
Every year, we bring our neighbors Christmas cookies, accompanied by a little card to wish them happy holidays. Every year, our one neighbor Les, two doors down, stops by to tell us how much he appreciates our gift, how yummy they are, how thankful he is that we think of him. This weekend, as I planned our cookie list, tied a bundle of shortbread together with string, I thought about Les, about the ministry of baked goods and what it means to love your neighbor as yourself. I think maybe, just maybe, Joy is what happens when we choose to be the good we want to see in the world. I am aching these days for the good. Perhaps you feel it, too?
Maybe a batch of cookies is a Joy-seed, one we plant in the soil of a world that sometimes feels overwhelmingly cold and dark. Maybe every time we make the effort to be the good, another seed is planted.
When we wear a mask to protect society’s most vulnerable.
When we buy coffee for the person behind us in the drive-through line.
When we right our wrongs.
When we forgive our enemies.
When we send in our end-of-year donations.
When we speak the hard truths with gentle love.
When we practice saying thank you for the gift of enough.
When we keep our mouths shut instead of trying to prove our point.
When we refuse to other those who are different than us.
We plant the seeds, even when our hearts are heavy, and the beautiful thing is that Joy, at the end of the day, isn’t just a feeling, and it is not at all dependent on us. Joy is our promise, our inheritance, and it doesn’t have to stand around and wait for our permission in order for it to be true.
So this week, may we reimagine Joy. May we narrow our focus to the faces right in front of us, and may we seek to sow the seeds there. May we remember that Joy, after all, is resistance because it sees the dark, it sees the pain, it sees the suffering, and like Mary, it sings out anyway.
You are loved this week, friends. This week, and every week.