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We live in a time of rage and outrage, when something as harmless as a personal plug for a certain make and model of car on Facebook provokes name-calling, profanity-laced tirades, and character assassination by people who prefer a different kind of car. As if wanting or not wanting a certain car makes you an evil person.
We live in a time of deception and deceit, when the tendency of the leader of the free world to say whatever suits him—regardless of science, facts, and even his own previous statements—messes with our heads and eats away at the quaint notion of objective truth.
We live in a time of capriciousness and callousness, when 6,000 active-duty troops are sent to our southern border at a cost of more than $200 million, but a 7-year-old Guatemalan girl named Jakelin dies in U.S. custody; when agents at official ports of entry send would-be asylum seekers back to Mexico to await their hearings after writing long numbers on their wrists in permanent ink, seemingly oblivious to the Holocaust parallels; when mothers in Yemen watch their children starve to death but the United States continues to fund the war against them because we like our oil.
We live in a time of perversity and perplexity, when a president who may have committed multiple felonies on the way to becoming president cannot, according some judicial interpretations, be indicted because (wait for it) he is the president, but a father of four whose only crime was to seek a better life for his family lives separated from them in hopes of avoiding deportation.
We live in a time of despair and desperation, when the suicide rate in the United States is at a 50-year-high, when it’s easier to get heroin laced with fentanyl than a bed in an addiction-treatment facility; when both death-by-suicide and death-by-overdose have touched members of this church recent weeks.
Which is to say: We live in the fullness of history. We live in the raw beauty and brutality of our humanity. We are part of something much older and grander, more miraculous and mundane than we can even begin to comprehend. We live in the particularities of our own families and neighborhoods. We live with the consequences of our own choices and some circumstances we never chose. We live with our regrets and our longings, our hopes and our fears, our loves and our pet peeves.
Sometimes we even live in the present moment. Sometimes we actually stop and consider who we are, who we want to be, and how we want to walk through this world.
And still we dwell, as our own Emily Dickinson said, in possibility. And still we perch in place, looking and working and hoping and praying to be here when that great, long arc of history starts bending toward justice, when the very realm of God—a time and place of reversal and redemption, equality and justice, healing and wholeness, abundance and peace, love and joy—comes to be on earth as it is in heaven. A time and place where we no longer need hope because all that was meant to be has been fulfilled.
In the meantime, we live in this precious, messed-up world God loves so much that the Word who was there with God in the very beginning took on flesh and blood and moved right in with us, to walk with us through it all and to transform us all. For now we live in this broken and beautiful world that God loves way too much to give up on, even though it continues to abuse and kill and destroy.
Every day, whether we realize it or not, whether we think of it or not, we live and move and draw our very being from the Great Source of All Things, the Heart of Love. We, each and every one of us, whether we realize it or not, whether we think about it or not, were created in the divine image, made in the mold of Love, made to love as we have been loved.
This is who we are. This is who we are meant to be.
There is, says the poet David Whyte, “inside everyone . . . a great shout of joy waiting to be born.”
A great shout of joy waiting to be born.
In the very same poem 1, he sounds as if he were standing on the banks of the Jordan, as if we all were standing in the crowds gathered on the Jordan, come to hear John the Baptist, come hoping he is the messiah, come to find a way out of our pain, out of our guilt, out of our despair, out of our suffering, out of the world’s brokenness.
“All this trying
who we are
and all this
wanting to know
what we must do,” the poet says, echoing the corrupt tax collectors and the repressive soldiers who asked John the Baptist, “And we, what should we do? What should we do?”
Inside everyone is a great shout of joy waiting to be born.
No, that’s not exactly what John the Baptist told them. He was focused on the most basic things, little baby steps like: share what you have with people who have less, don’t abuse your power, don’t be a jerk. Okay?
Jesus, the one who was more powerful than John, the actual Messiah, took things up a notch.
Love your neighbor as yourself, he said. Love your enemy, he said. Let yourself be loved, he said, with a Love more extravagant, a Mercy wider, an inclusiveness more complete, a burden more gentle, a justice so expansive that it might actually make you resentful of a God so more-than-fair to other people.
Do this, he said, that God’s love might be fulfilled in you. Do this, so that great shout of joy God put inside you may finally be voiced and heard and come alive in the world.
Do this in remembrance of me, he said. Do this as I do it, love as I love, be at peace as I am, rejoice in the Lord, and the world will begin to turn. The darkness will try but fail to overcome the Light. Your heart will start to heal. All that separates you from God and one another will fade away. The very earth will groan in gladness. You won’t be able to keep from singing. Be not afraid.
This is the subversive joy of Advent. This is the joy that shakes things up and turns them around. This is the joy that saves.
It’s not magic of course, this joy that is waiting to be born.
Joy takes courage—a willingness to let down our defenses, consider our deepest longings, and get our hopes up; to surrender our skepticism and to be vulnerable, open to disappointment, heartbreak, and despair.
Joy takes faith—the willingness to leap into the unknown because we’re following our hearts of love, to trust God’s preposterous promises, to wear sunglasses in the dark, betting everything on a Light we can’t yet see, a justice we can’t yet imagine, to believe—not in doctrines or creeds—but that Spirit is doing a new thing in us and through us, even now, and that the darkness will. not. win because Love is coming. Again.
Joy takes connection—with Spirit, with the Holy in our midst, with one another, with the poor and marginalized, with life beyond duty and screens and comfort, with the community gathered on Sunday mornings, with God’s people everywhere.
Joy takes love—a generosity of spirit, a pouring out of self, a gratitude for what we’ve been given, a delight in God and all that is good.
Joy takes intention—It is purposeful, not passive. Its birth-cry is not the glory days of the past but the promise of the future. It is based not on present circumstances but on the long, relentless track-record of our still-speaking, ever-loving, justice-working God. It finds its voice not in outcomes or successes but in the steadfast love of the Lord. It walks hand in hand with peace.
Even in the darkness, even in defeat, even in despair, Advent hope trusts that God is coming again. Advent peace believes the world is about to turn. Advent joy says, Surely God is my salvation; I will trust and not be afraid, for the Holy One is my strength and my might; God has become my deliverance.
Advent joy walks through the barren desert carrying a bucket, fully expecting to find a well. Advent joy knows the well will be deep. Advent joy understands that life in Christ is a bottomless well, that the living water will never run out. And so it stays close by, singing and shouting praises as it raises the overflowing bucket.
This is the joy that brings down the powerful and lifts up the lowly. This is the joy that feeds the hungry and welcomes the stranger. This is the joy that is coming at Christmas. This is the joy that is here right now, available in this very moment.
May it be born in us, may it be born in you, this day.