This coming Sunday is the third Sunday in Advent, the guiding theme is one of Joy. We are reminded of the news about joy coming, coming for EVERYONE! We are reminded God is not some distant being, far, far away. God is here, present with us. In fact, that is the literal translation of Emmanuel, God with us.
How hard is it for us to find joy in our lives and world? There are always going to be glimmers of joy that surround us, if we are attentive and look for them. I was at dinner with Moussa recently and we sat next to a family of four. A mother, father, and two children. The children looked to be a year or two apart. The youngest one was just starting to eat some table food. I watched with a real sense of joy as the father fed the baby. The father was engaged in conversation with his wife while he was eating his dinner. All the while, he just kept feeding tiny bits of green bean to his baby with the other hand. The baby would take what was offered from the father’s hand, looked at him with what I can only describe as pure love. Then the baby would look at me and Moussa and just smile. It was a moment of unexpected joy. I smiled through the whole time we were there and all the way home. That joy stayed with me, even until now as I’m relating it to you. I hadn’t expected it. I hadn’t sought it out. But there it was, right in front of me, and it overwhelmed me.
Joy is one of those things that comes upon us in unexpected ways and at unexpected times. It comes, it seems, at just the right times in our lives. Me and Moussa were feeling exhausted from a trip and just wanted to get something to eat before collapsing at home. There in the midst of our exhaustion and hunger was the most joy-filled wonder. It filled our hearts with joy that continues to renew us.
In Isaiah 35 the prophet is talking about the return of those exiled in Babylon to Zion. He talks about how joy will go forth at that time, the land and all that is in it will rejoice. In the tenth verse Isaiah says; “And the ransomed of the Lord shall return, and come to Zion with singing; everlasting joy shall be upon their heads; they shall obtain joy and gladness, and sorrow and sighing shall flee away.” This almost seems as if joy is not only palpable, but it is something that can be sought after. In other words, it is a commodity which is in the ability of the seeker to find and choose.
Driving down Central Expressway in Dallas can be described in a variety of ways, joyful would not be one that immediately comes to my mind. The traffic is frenetic and unpredictable. You have to stay focused if you want to traverse it unharmed. All along its route, your senses are assaulted by lights, tall buildings and all sorts of signage. Signs which let you know what is in those buildings, or just off the road. Signs for fast-food establishments, retail establishments, and even companies who choose to put their names in bright lights to let you know they are there. I was traveling down this route heading home recently. I was fatigued and ready to just get through the gauntlet and climb in bed. I happened to glance up and saw a small billboard in the midst of the cacophony of everything around it. There, surrounded by all the commercial interests, concrete, steel, and flashing gaudy lights, was a simple nativity scene with the caption, “Choose Joy.”
Maybe that’s the message for us today. We make such a big deal out of having to get all the pieces right in our rush to Christmas. We have to have the right tree, the right decorations, the right party. Maybe, just maybe, all we really need to do is pause, and choose joy. Joy can be a surprise, like the smiling face of a young child. I would contend, joy can also be chosen in every circumstance we find ourselves in. We can choose to find joy right where we are. Stop all the busy-ness we occupy ourselves with and simply choose to find joy. Joy, for me comes in the acknowledgment of the God who is with us. The God who is with us is present in the smile of a child, in the gentleness of a father feeding his child, in the company of people who surround us, in the pure love that emanates from those we are in relationship with.
I’m choosing joy this Advent/Christmas season, I hope and pray you will too.
Your fellow traveler on the Way,