It's been a rough year. Everyone I know has been rocked by loss, difficulty, challenges, illness, or the unexpected things that, when they show up, can be the final straw.
Our country has reeled from an attempted insurrection to terrible inflation while watching a war unfold in Ukraine with horrendous devastation. Countries around the world are fighting famine, disease, and worsening unrest. Neighbors are homeless or hungry or both and the epidemic of gun violence in the US claims lives on a daily basis.
It's been a rough year.
Things weren't all that great when the angel appeared to the shepherds on the night of Jesus' birth either. The Jewish people were under occupation by the Roman Empire and, if we go by Mary's Magnificat, there was a deep desire for justice and freedom in the land. Mary had her own rough year with twists and turns no one could have anticipated, culminating in giving birth far from her home with no kin other than Joseph to see her through her labor.
Into this uncertain, unstable context, an angel appeared in the night sky and cried out, "I am bringing you good news of great joy for all the people!" In our own uncertain, unstable context, we make that proclamation again,
"Good news, great joy, for all people!"
When was the last time you claimed joy, chose it in the face of all the reasons to crumple under despair, grabbed on to it and refused to let it go until it gave you a blessing? When was the last time you laughed so hard you cried (or had to run to the bathroom!)? When was the last time you celebrated with a friend, a loved one, a colleague or coworker and simply allowed joy for what was good and right in that moment to shine through?
I have heard people express guilt at choosing joy in the face of all the things that are bad, wrong, unjust, broken, and devastating. I have myself sometimes felt uncertain about finding things to laugh about and rejoice in when there is so much that breaks my heart all around me.
But this is where God breaks in to our world and our lives, in the midst of the times and places that are crashing over us like stormy seas. It is precisely when things are falling apart that the Spirit blows through and an angel cries out, "Good news, great joy, for all people!"
Black American poet Toi Derricotte gave us all a gift with the title of one of the poems in a series she called "The Telly Cycle."
"Joy is an act of resistance," she proclaimed.
Grabbing on to joy in times of grief or despair is a bold declaration, "I'm not giving in; I'm not giving up." Making room for joy in the midst of fighting against injustice and broken systems is a sure way to stay renewed, refreshed, and connected for the long haul. Even when voicing lamentation and loss, the hope of God's steadfast love and daily mercies point to the shining sliver of joy threading through.
Joy is an act of resistance. The angel proclaiming good news of great joy was announcing the incarnation of God's resistance to a world where people were treated as nothing more than commodities. Jesus' first miracle in the gospel of John, changing 120-180 gallons of water into fine wine, was an act of joyful resistance celebrating new relationships and the ties of community. Paul and Silas singing in their prison cell was an act of joyful resistance in the face of injustice and fear.
Sometimes we followers of Jesus forget that the angel announced good news of GREAT JOY. We forget that joy is woven through the Bible and joy is something God created us to experience. If we are going to be able to work together for the day when God's justice rolls down like streams of living water, if we are going to be repairers of the breach and restorers of streets to live in, if we are going to put our lives behind our prayer that "God's kingdom come on earth," we need joy on the journey. Joy in relationships, joy in small and large celebrations, joy in the fact that we engage in this work together as the body of Christ.
Your Presbytery staff decided to grab onto some joy as we close out this rough year. And so, for our staff Christmas gathering, we went axe throwing. Yes, you read that right. We flung axes at projected targets, whooping and shouting, laughing and encouraging, celebrating the solid thunks and bemoaning the clattering rebounds. Oh, we claimed some joy and went away refreshed.
How will you claim joy in this season, at the end of this year, as a new year dawns? How will you intentionally make space to laugh until you cry, or whoop and holler in celebration? How will you connect or reconnect with partners in this work and journey in moments of encouragement? Our hope for each of you, each of us, is that great joy will renew and refresh us all so that we can continue loving God and loving our neighbors, joyfully and faithfully.
Grace and Peace,