Joy

We lit the advent calendar at church last week.  I like Joy.  Joy is good.  But dang it’s hard to describe.  Sort of like describing the smell of a lemon, the sight of a double rainbow after a storm, the feeling you get at the birth of a child.  I’m reminded of United States Supreme Court Justice Potter Stewart who tried but failed to describe exactly what amounted to pornography that was not entitled to the protection of the first amendment.  Eventually, Stewart threw up his hands and remarked, “I know it when I see it.”

I know what you mean, Judge.  Some things just defy easy description and must be experienced to be fully appreciated and understood.  So it is with Joy, yet we still try to put it in words.

Poet William Henry Davies’ very able attempt reads like this:

Now, joy is born of parents poor,
And pleasure of our richer kind;
Though pleasure’s free, she cannot sing
As sweet a song as joy confined.

Pleasure’s a Moth, that sleeps by day
And dances by false glare at night;
But Joy’s a Butterfly, that loves
To spread its wings in Nature’s light.

Joy’s like a Bee that gently sucks
Away on blossoms its sweet hour;
But pleasure’s like a greedy Wasp,
That plums and cherries would devour.

Joy’s like a Lark that lives alone,
Whose ties are very strong, though few;
But Pleasure like a Cuckoo roams,
Makes much acquaintance, no friends true.

Joy from her heart doth sing at home,
With little care if others hear;
But pleasure then is cold and dumb,
And sings and laughs with strangers near.

 

The Apostle Paul made joy a theme of his letters, referring often to his joy “in Christ”.  He spoke many times about the joy he experienced even while facing persecution, imprisonment and death.  Even in those times of adversity, especially in those times of adversity, Paul experienced the joy that comes of being in Christ.
The Psalmists also talked often of joy — the joy of salvation expressed through worship and praise of God.  Joy, for the psalmist, is described as a gift from the creator.  Joy, for the psalmist, is expressed in worship, and obedience, and reverence.
But perhaps my favorite illustration of joy comes from Dr. Seuss and the people of Whoville:
“That’s a noise,” grinned the Grinch,

“That I simply must hear!”
So he paused. And the Grinch put a hand to his ear.
And he did hear a sound rising over the snow.
It started in low. Then it started to grow…

But the sound wasn’t sad!
Why, this sound sounded merry!
It couldn’t be so!
But it WAS merry! VERY!

He stared down at Who-ville!
The Grinch popped his eyes!
Then he shook!
What he saw was a shocking surprise!

Every Who down in Who-ville, the tall and the small,
Was singing! Without any presents at all!
He HADN’T stopped Christmas from coming!
IT CAME!
Somehow or other, it came just the same!

And the Grinch, with his grinch-feet ice-cold in the snow,
Stood puzzling and puzzling: “How could it be so?
It came without ribbons! It came without tags!
“It came without packages, boxes or bags!”
And he puzzled three hours, `till his puzzler was sore.
Then the Grinch thought of something he hadn’t before!
“Maybe Christmas,” he thought, “doesn’t come from a store.
“Maybe Christmas…perhaps…means a little bit more!”

And what happened then…?
Well…in Who-ville they say
That the Grinch’s small heart
Grew three sizes that day!
And the minute his heart didn’t feel quite so tight,
He whizzed with his load through the bright morning light
And he brought back the toys! And the food for the feast!

…HE HIMSELF…!
The Grinch carved the roast beast!

Joy’s not easy to describe.  But I think Paul, Poet Davies, the psalmist and Dr. Seuss, are all saying essentially the same thing.  Joy is a gift.  It is of God and from God.  It is enduring.  And it can be experienced even in the face of tragedy.  It is joy that permitted Paul to praise God even while facing death.  It is joy that allowed the people of Whoville to sing despite the Grinch’s best effort.  It is joy allows us to walk boldly and in peace even when things are rough and the future seems uncertain.  And it is Joy that will enable the people of Newtown, Conneticut to slowly pick up the pieces, press on, and sing this Christmas.
Joy to the world, y’all!
Advertisements

Peace

There He is.  The Prince of Peace.  Watching our chaos:  A country at war for nearly a decade; a government so dysfunctional that its leaders have taken the economy hostage and are threatening to throw it over a cliff; a town completely heart broken, busy preparing twenty precious and bullet riddled children for burial while the rest of us look on in shock and horror; families in constant conflict, with husbands and wives arguing endlessly over meaningless things while brothers and sisters are at each other’s throat one minute and united in open defiance of their parents the next.  And then there’s me, and maybe you, with our chaotic and stressed out minds, wracked with doubts and regrets and indecision and constant worries — so conflicted that we can barely move, much less act with any real conviction.  And in the midst of all this madness stands the Prince of Peace, watching.

I desperately wish He would do something.  Fix something.  Fix me or others around me.  Instead, it seems like everywhere He goes, chaos follows.  But in my better moments, I know it’s the other way around — everywhere chaos goes, He follows.  I know He’s been there amidst the fog of war, the heat of those political battles, the stress of family conflicts and the utter despair of the grieving parents of Newtown.  And He’s been there with you and me as we wrestle our stressed out thoughts struggling to keep it all in the road.

I get it that the Prince of Peace is needed most at scene of chaos.  And I get it that we are supposed to follow along.  But honestly, I wish He traveled with a giant spotlight — one with enough amperage to allow us to see clearly for miles and miles.  If He did, I think I would still follow but, no doubt, I would occasionally run ahead — either in search of the next adventure or at least in search of the next exit so that my family and I could get the hell out of some of the chaos around us.  But this is a Prince that travels light — with just enough light that we can see little more than our feet in front of us and then only if we stay close.

I suspect the Prince of Peace is more comfortable with chaos than I am. He was both made for it and born into it. I guess in that way, He’s the perfect travel companion. And so we travel with Him. Lugging our chaos from place to place.  In the dark.  Barely able to see the ground in front of us.  Following a Prince who is in search of more chaos, another place that could use His peace.

I know He is in Newtown this week.  I hope and pray that the people there can feel His presence and that they stand close to His light.  They are surely experiencing a chaos I can only imagine.  But the Prince is comfortable there.  He’s there right now.  No doubt.

Hope

Today, Sunday, December 2, 2012, we celebrated the first day of Advent by lighting the candle of hope at church.  True to form, my devotional for today was also about hope.  It was the story of Elizabeth and Zacharia and the difficulties and frustrations they experienced trying to get pregnant.  But the story goes that through it all they remained hopeful and faithful and God eventually rewarded them.  Elizabeth bore a child and his name was John the Baptist.

Yesterday, Jovan Belcher, a linebacker for the Kansas City Chiefs, shot his girlfriend and then drove to his team’s training facility, where he thanked his coach and the team’s general manager and then shot himself in the head.  It was later determined that he had shot and killed his girlfriend just an hour prior.

The story of Elizabeth and Zacharia as an illustration of hope and faith makes me a bit uncomfortable. Things worked out ok for Elizabeth and Zacharia.  But that is not always the case.  I know plenty of people who have prayed earnestly and persistently for years and years but their prayers have gone unanswered.  Some times things work out ok.  But some times they don’t.  It is when they don’t that we really need hope.

For me, hope seems to come from two different sources.  The first is my own past experience.  I have hope now because I have experienced God’s hand at work many times in the past.  I have both hope and faith that things will eventually work out, because it has been my experience that they generally do.

My other source of hope, even when things do not work out ok, is that I believe I know the end of the story.  I believe that in the end, God wins.  I believe that in the end, I’m going to be ok even if things and circumstances around me are not.  I believe that in in the end, this has all been worth it and will make sense.  It is my belief that I know the end of the story that allows me to remain hopeful even when some chapters of my story really suck.  My faith tells me that God is in control.  With God in control, even my tragedy has a context, and that gives me hope.

But I know that there are many Javon Belcher’s in the world.  There are many that have not experienced God’s hand at work in the past and for whom things have not worked out ok.  Their prayers have gone unanswered.  They are without hope.  They have reached then end of their rope.  The story of Javon Belcher tells us that that is a dangerous place to be.

I guess the take home message for me, in this season of Advent, is how easy it is for some of us to have hope, how difficult for others, but how vitally important for all of us.  And how necessary it is for those of us who have it, to spread it to those who don’t.

As for me, I can give people hope by telling of my experience — that of God and his faithfulness.  But also, I can give people hope by sharing with them my understanding of the end of the story — that despite life’s ups and downs, some of which are tragic, the end of the story has been written and it is good.

For unto us, a child is born…