Joy to the World

I have a simple prayer for this Christmas season. It’s a simple one, and very recognizable.

Joy to the world.

That’s it.

Joy to the world.

I’m thinking about Sama, a 6 year old child who giggled at me as the van she was in  drove by me on a crowded Palestinian street. She brought joy to her world, and I was there to witness it.

I’m thinking about Rosie, a young woman who lit up when I handed her a rainbow comma without knowing that two weeks earlier she had come out to her parents. She received joy that night, and I was there to witness it.

I’m thinking about two bands playing live music, one each on either side of a wall erected between two neighboring countries. It was a song of hope and resistance that shattered, for the moment, the fear the wall was intended to instill and replaced it with joy. And I was there to hear it.

I’m thinking of Ramir Qadry and the smile of deep and profound gratification she, a Muslim woman, showed when she was asked to deliver the closing benediction at my Installation service in Seattle. Her offering that prayer filled her with much pride, and left me filled with my own joy and satisfaction.

I’m thinking about Reed Baer, the pastor of the Barnstable Church which this past year celebrated 400 years since their organizing in resistance to religious oppression in England early in the 17th century; and remembering how he asked me if I wanted to ring the church bell that Sunday, a bell that had been cast by Paul Revere. I said yes, and felt the joy of a little child as I pulled the rope and called the townspeople to gather for worship that Sunday.

I’m thinking about the Syrian mother living in a refugee camp in Jordan just one kilometer from the Syrian border, holding her baby proudly in her arms and then trusting me to take him in my arms. The smile of pride on her face as I held that beautiful child hid the horror of her circumstances, and reminded me of a line from Paul: rejoice in all circumstances.

I’m thinking of the lone soldier who stood in the massive crowds that lined the streets of Cleveland during the week of the Republican Party’s convention this summer. He was in full uniform, medals and badges and all – holding an American flag with a peace sign where the stars should have been. I asked if I could take his picture, and he asked if I was with the FBI. I smiled and said no, the UCC. He smiled back and then said, “By all means, yes.” In that moment, joy erupted between the two of us.

I’m thinking of Byron, pastor on Dakota reservation lands, who told of how he helped young tribal members mount horses and ride with him to Standing Rock. When they arrived, they were asked by the tribal elders to stand guard for them on horseback, protecting them from armed soldiers assembled to disassemble their peaceful demonstrations. Joy was writ large across his face as he recounted to me the story of those young warriors and their new found pride and purpose as protectors of their people.

There is much in the world today that fills us with despair and hopelessness. But there is also joy. Remember the words of Thich Nhat Hahn, who once said “sometimes my joy is the source of my smile; at other times my smile is the source of my joy.” Choose your steps wisely, gentle soul, seeking pathways that bring joy to the world as you journey your way Into the Mystic.