It is the third week of Advent. I would like to use this opportunity to reflect on joy.
I do so using two oft-heard scripture passage: though sorrow linger for the night, joy cometh in the morning.
We all sometimes slip into the easy thinking that we live in an either or world: we can be happy, or we can be sad. Life is seldom that simple, that clean. We can interpret our sadness, our pain, and our sorrow as proof that we are not happy and will not experience joy. We can live through hard times and sad times and begin to believe that this condition is chronic and will not go away.
Although I have lived through times of profound sadness, rarely have those moments come in the absence of any joy. Nor has any joy I have experienced wiped away every tear from the eye. There is a both/and quality to joy and sorrow – they don’t cancel each other out and the presence of one does not suggest the absence of the other.
I remember the day my Dad died. 31 of his family members, including all seven of his children, were at his bedside with him. Oh, how we cried in that moment. But when, in his last moment of lucidity before he breathed his last, he told us he loved us – there was incredible joy. Our hearts were heavy, and would grow heavier still with the passing hours. But we also experienced an indescribable joy in shepherding his passing from one world to another.
When I visited Palestine for the first time, I encountered conditions that make for a life of burdensome sorrow. I heard stories of pain and suffering the likes of which I will probably never know. But every person I met with who was living in those conditions also wanted to share with me their joy, their laughter, their hope. I remember being amazed at how often it was expressed and how easily the laughter would come.
I have seen the same thing in refugee camps, in prison cells, hospital rooms, and mortuaries. Wherever we are faced with the most dire of circumstances, the most brutal of pains to be suffered, or the most horrendous conditions known to humankind there is an indomitable spirit present that finds room for joy.
The presence of the Sacred, the Holy, the Divine is such that we do not suffer in isolation. The incarnation of God in Jesus gave God access to the dynamics of our suffering in an intimate way. The full embrace of our earthly toil created within the heart of God a knowing of how pain, sorrow, sadness, and suffering can diminish our capacity for hope and joy. To quote God’s voice in Exodus, God’s interactions with us produce a knowing: “I have seen the misery of my people. I have heard their cries. I know their suffering, and I come down to set them free.”
Advent is a time of knowing, of reminding ourselves that the cost of the human condition is living in a not yet world: not yet peace, not yet love, not yet hope, not yet joy – at least as it can be fully known and expressed when God’s Shalom is present.
Advent doesn’t only focus us on the not yet, though. It serves to remind us that in the midst of all the pain and suffering there is yet light breaking forth. The light of love and the light of hope and the light of peace and the light of joy.
Yes, sorrow may linger for the night – but joy cometh in the morning.
May this Advent season find you in touch with not just the pain and the sorrow and the sadness of life on this earthly coil, but also the joy that bursts forth in the midst of it all. And may laughter continue to accompany and sustain you on this, your journey Into the Mystic.