Third Sunday in Advent: Joy

In many traditions, this is the Joy Sunday of Advent. I like the first two Sundays better. Peace and Hope are much easier to embrace. I sometimes struggle with joy. Maybe its because of my stoic Scandinavian roots. Maybe its because I've never been good at being in-touch with my emotions. Maybe its because of periods of slight depression. But I know I seldom experience (let alone show) great joy. And I feel like as a Christian I should be a model of joy (I've got the joy, joy, joy, joy down in my heart).

Tonight's Scripture passage was Mary's song (the Magnificat) in Luke 1. Mary, finding herself pregnant, goes to visit her cousin Elizabeth, who is also pregnant. When they meet, the baby in Elizabeth's womb (John) leaps for joy, and Elizabeth blesses her (most favored amongst women). Mary then sings a song of joy. Our friend Heather shared during the message at church how Mary wasn't really in a place to be joyful: she was unwed and carrying child--a state that often meant stoning or at least complete shunning. But Mary rejoices. Heather pointed out that she most likely grew up going to the Temple, hearing the Scriptures. Her heart was prepared to receive God's word. She was ready to obey. The point being that we can ready ourselves for joy.

And yes, I do need to spend more time in God's Word--memorizing it as well. I should spend more time in prayer as well. But "should haves" only result in guilt. The fact is that sometimes we're not in places to feel joyful. Many devout Christians have gone through what St. John of the Cross referred to as "the dark night of the soul." And Christmas can be a difficult time for many people because of the memories of dead loved ones, unstable family environments, loss of job, etc. We won't all feel joy--and that doesn't mean that there's something wrong with us.

Yet, we also can cling to the fact that we have joy because "the Lord has come." Though we may not be feeling joyful ourselves, we can acknowledge the joy that is in the world. We can reflect on the moments in our lives that were joyful. And maybe in doing so, we let our heart "prepare Him room." Maybe even in that preparing we find joy. It may not be mirth-filled exuberance all the time. Joy for me might simply be a peace-produced smile as I participate in worship. It may be in that "ahhhh" moment of sitting in a comfy chair and relaxing to Beethoven. It may be masqueraded in the pride I feel when my children are singing a worship song around the house. Maybe joy is even hidden in helping a neighbor get their car shoveled out from a snowstorm.

Wherever joy is for you and however you may experience, know that joy comes fully from Christ. It is found in the working of God:
And Mary said:
“My soul glorifies the Lord
and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior,
for He has been mindful
of the humble state of his servant.
From now on all generations will call me blessed,
for the Mighty One has done great things for me—
holy is his name.
His mercy extends to those who fear Him,
from generation to generation.
He has performed mighty deeds with His arm;
He has scattered those who are proud in their inmost thoughts.
He has brought down rulers from their thrones
but has lifted up the humble.
He has filled the hungry with good things
but has sent the rich away empty.
He has helped his servant Israel,
remembering to be merciful
to Abraham and his descendants forever,
just as he promised our ancestors.” (Luke 1:46-55)
So, Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel has come to thee, O Israel!

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