If you are following along, I am releasing my blog on Sundays during the four weeks leading up to Christmas that we call Advent in the church. Instead of a reflection on the week, as my TGIFs have been, these are more thoughts for the week ahead, on the topics pertaining to each week in Advent: Hope, Peace, Joy, and Love.
Today marks the start of our week of Joy, and I was posed with an interesting question after church at St. George’s today: what about those of us who don’t feel particularly joyful right now?
What I am Thinking About
This morning in my readings, I was given a passage from Philippians (4:4-7) and the translation that was used had Paul urging his listeners to Rejoice in all things. This reminded me of a similar instruction in 1 Thessalonians (5:16-18) to Rejoice always…and give thanks in all circumstances. Paul was writing to churches who, by all accounts, had little to celebrate and rejoice about. Their leaders were being martyred all over, often in very gruesome ways. They were not behaving in especially generous or charitable ways to one another. They were mostly poor and ostracized. Perhaps they too asked Paul about how they were to embrace joy – to rejoice! – in the midst of their less than happy existence.
This takes me to the meaning of joy. What is joy? What isn’t joy? The dictionary defines joy as “a feeling of great pleasure and happiness” offering synonyms of delight, gladness, and ecstasy.
This is not what we mean in church.
Joy is what is translated in the Bible and other ancient documents from the Greek word χαρά (chara) - this is a variant of the word χάρις (charis) or as we know it, grace.
Joy, then, is not circumstantial, it is not based on events or surroundings, as happiness is. Joy is a gift from God that comes as a deep sense of rootedness and well-being, of assurance and confidence of love. Joy is a part of God’s very essence and resides within each one of us, especially as we walk deeper and more intimately with God. It is deep and profound and something that affects the whole and entire personality.
C.S. Lewis wrote about it as an “unsatisfied desire which is itself more desirable than any other satisfaction. I call it Joy, which is here a technical term and must be sharply distinguished from both Happiness and Pleasure. Joy has indeed one characteristic, and one only, in common with them; the fact that anyone who as experienced it will want it again…I doubt whether anyone who has tasted it would ever, if both were in his power, exchange it for all the pleasures in the world. But then Joy is never in our power and Pleasure often is.” (from Surprised by Joy: The Shape of My Early Life)
Joy will often surprise us at times when we least expect and most need it. We find ourselves joyful in spite of ourselves and our circumstances, knocked off balance by a jolt of love.
If joy is a gift from God can we choose it? Yes. I believe we can. By giving thanks and choosing to connect with the Divine whether we “feel” it or not. By gathering in community and receiving support or giving support, depending on where we find ourselves. By suiting up and showing up for someone else. But you see, I believe that God is available to us all the time, in any way or shape we find ourselves in. I believe in a God of second, third, and 589th chances. I believe that as soon as we start even considering God, our eyes are opened to the reality that God has always been there waiting for us to notice, trying to get our attention, loving us regardless. And that when we say yes to joy we are, in fact, saying yes to God. Not to some flimsy and waning quick fix of happiness, but of a joy that we can barely begin to understand.
What I am Grateful For and Inspired By
Well, this might be an easy one, but…JOY! On Friday I was honoured to offer the blessing to two families as they received their new homes through Habitat for Humanity North Island. As is the custom, the families each received a Bible; salt – that their lives would always have flavour; bread – that they would never know hunger; and a toolkit – that they would always have what they need. You could feel the love and gratitude flow – just as you could feel the rain that poured down on us! Those families knew they were loved: the thousands of hours that they and so many volunteers had put into those homes filled the spaces to the brim with joy. Joy flowed from their eyes as their trembling hands carefully slid the keys in to unlock the door, and joy radiated from all of us as we were welcome in as the first guests to peek in and see what can be accomplished when love and justice (God!) are the driving force in a huge project like this.
How I am Practicing My Faith
By choosing Joy, even when I don’t want to.
These last days before Christmas can turn into a harried, frantic, cranky, mess of a time. My children are over-sugared and under-slept (and truth be told, so am I). There are things to bake, wrap, deliver, and exchange. The days are short and stormy and the dog needs to be walked (and truth be told, so do I). There are services to prepare for and musicians to consult with, candles to find and matches to lose.
And in all of the chaos, it is easy to forget about joy. Easy to forget about what we are really doing. So in these last days of Advent, I choose Joy. I choose to run around with my children instead of bark at them for misbehaving (say a prayer for me!). I choose to eat simply and not over do it (prayers here too please). I choose to be gentle with myself and those around me, because we all need tenderness. And I choose to laugh about the things that get forgotten, or misplaced, or stay unfinished as a result of more playing. And I will keep on praying, because God knows I need God to do it!
How will you choose Joy?