Always be glad because of the Lord! I will say it again: Be glad. Always be gentle with others. The Lord will soon be here. Don’t worry about anything, but pray about everything. With thankful hearts offer up your prayers and requests to God. Then, because you belong to Christ Jesus, God will bless you with peace that no one can completely understand. And this peace will control the way you think and feel.
- Philippians 4.4-7 (CEV)
With all my heart I praise the Lord, and I am glad because of God my Savior. He cares for me, his humble servant. From now on, all people will say God has blessed me. God All-Powerful has done great things for me, and his name is holy.
- Luke 1.46-49 (CEB)
By the time we reach the third Sunday of Advent, there are fewer pilgrims on the road to Bethlehem. Some get foot sore, others have been distracted by the glitz and glitter Christmas in the big city has to offer. Others, however, lose their way through no fault of their own. They hang in there through hope and even peace, but it’s hard to celebrate the joy of Christmas when you’re grieving the loss of a loved one, marking your third year without a job and nothing on the horizon, or having received news that the chemo didn’t work as well as hoped. Under such circumstances it’s hard to celebrate Christmas joy.
Or is it? Perhaps it depends on the type of joy you’re seeking. There are, of course, plenty of folk who cling to what Barbara Gerlach calls blind joy, which survives by refusing to see the sufferings of the world. They maintain some semblance of happiness by shielding themselves from the darkness… by simply refusing to look at the world’s brokenness. Such blind joy is brittle, vulnerable, and short lived. But there is another joy, a deeper joy given expression, for example, in the exclamations of Mary and Paul cited above. They share in common a focus not on their personal situations but on God, and maintaining this focus they learn a secret about the world: even the darkness is an unlit wick that needs only the touch of God to become a sacred flame (as Francis of Assisi expressed the matter). Joy runs too deep in the creation to be effaced by life’s ills. This is a joy we can all share; this is a joy we can all celebrate; and this is the joy we will seek together on Sunday.