1When God restored the fortunes of Zion, we were like those who dream. Then our mouth was filled with laughter, and our tongue with shouts of joy; then it was said among the nations, “YHWH has done great things for them.” YHWH has done great things for us, and we rejoiced. 4Restore our fortunes, O God, like the watercourses in the Negeb. 5May those who sow in tears reap with shouts of joy. 6Those who go out weeping, bearing the seed for sowing, shall come home with shouts of joy, carrying their sheaves.
61The spirit of YHWH is upon me, because God has anointed me; and has sent me to bring good news to the oppressed, to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and release to the prisoners; to proclaim the year of the YHWH’s favor, and the day of vengeance of our God; to comfort all who mourn; to provide for those who mourn in Zion— to give them a garland instead of ashes, the oil of gladness instead of mourning, the mantle of praise instead of a faint spirit. They will be called oaks of righteousness, the planting of YHWH, to display God's glory. They shall build up the ancient ruins, they shall raise up the former devastations; they shall repair the ruined cities, the devastations of many generations. ... 8For I, YHWH love justice, I hate robbery and wrongdoing; I will faithfully give them their recompense, and I will make an everlasting covenant with them. Their descendants shall be known among the nations, and their offspring among the peoples; all who see them shall acknowledge that they are a people whom God has blessed. I will greatly rejoice in the Lord, my whole being shall exult in my God; for God has clothed me with the garments of salvation, God has covered me with the robe of righteousness, as a bridegroom decks himself with a garland, and as a bride adorns herself with her jewels. For as the earth brings forth its shoots, and as a garden causes what is sown in it to spring up, so the Sovereign God will cause righteousness and praise to spring up before all the nations.
Advent this year is all about living the vision- what and how we can participate in Gd's righteousness making activity in the world... God's vision of a world where healing and reconciliation are the hallmarks of a Godly people.
Week 3 is all about joy. As the Psalmist writes, 'May those who sow in tears reap with shouts of joy!' If we would have read the Thessalonians text for today we would have hear the familiar words of Paul-'rejoice always, again, I say rejoice.' The candle we lit today symbolizes 'Joy' specifically the joy of Mary, singing joyfully, 'My soul magnifies the Lord!' And the text I just read to you from Isaiah speaks to a people who had lost their land, their homes, their identity, and were being told that despite what they are facing now, a time is coming where they shall be greatly rejoicing. "My whole BEING shall exult in my God!"
So lets recap Advent so far- week one we were told that we are to be seekers of hope, week two we learned we are to be bearers of peace, and today, we read that we are to be joyful all the time, even while we're seeking hope, and bearing peace... and not to get ahead of ourselves, when you look ahead to next week, birthers of love... holy cow! Is it me, or is the list is getting exhausting?
And, not to sound whiny (too late, perhaps), but just that first item, seeking hope- is hard enough to tackle for the whole season. The world seems upside down right now- and so dark- and people are reacting to all of the things we have seen and heard and felt- in the news or in our neighborhoods or across the globe. This gets worse if we've experienced personal harm, or are going through hardship, or illness, or grieving a loss. It's almost like a full time job, looking for signs of the Spirit- signs that all is not dark- to affirm that God is present, and working, and readying the world for the birth of a Savior... hope...
Then add in item 2- so while we are seekers of hope, we are to be bearers of peace. OK- I mean, I get it- if we aren't doing something with the hope we have found, then it's just self seeking and self edifying- so yes to peacemaking. But peacemaking is hard work. Being a disciple, working for justice, proclaiming good news, living the gospel message- and when you apply it to real life, it both touches and changes almost everything you do- everything you buy- every way we interact with the environment, every conversation with another human, even the way we see and relate to God, changes when embrace the peacemaker in us. Bringing comfort doesn't mean just bringing a pillow to someone, or a glass of cold water to the thirsty. The word, 'comfort' in Hebrew means 'the ability to bring new life." So we aren't just calming things down when we bring Peace, we are setting the world on a course where new life can spring forth. We're confronting those who oppress, we're challenging those who discriminate- we provide a light for those imprisoned so they can experience release. Thats very different than our modern interpretation of comfort. But that's what peacemaking is all about.
OK, while we are seeking hope and bearing peace, we are to be joyful! Well, yippee!! But really, don't you wonder where that joy comes from, or where we are supposed to find it, or how to cultivate it, so it becomes part of our being, and we can draw upon it as naturally as anger, or sarcasm? (Those things seem to come so easily... maybe because we practice them...) But somehow we've made joy into something we often have to be intentional about-perhaps thats why the Christmas season is so joyful. People make a real effort to be joyful and spread joy to others... lights, gifts, sweets, good cheer... we actually celebrate joy!
Once per month I lead the daily chapel service held at Riverview Estates, a nursing home in Riverton, formerly known as 'The Baptist Home." It is one of the high points of my month. The service is attended by anywhere from 15-20 residents and also broadcast live to the rooms so that those who want to watch, can do so.
Though the chapel service is meaningful and often very moving, the real gift is in talking to the residents after the service. Each month I learn of and am impressed by some new way that the community cares for one another.
I asked them this week, since most have them have been around a little longer than me, 'what brings you joy in God?' Someone immediately shouted out, "serving!" Interesting, right? Because most of us think about the thought of service to others, and we think of it as a chore- a necessary one, perhaps, but still something we are 'supposed' to do as disciples of Christ. We think, "OK well, I'll go help that person shop for groceries, but them I'm coming home and relaxing!" or "I'll go to work day at church, but I'm not staying more than an hour- I've got stuff to do." For these residents however, it was the other way around. They look for opportunities to serve, because they know it brings them, what they call, the joy of the Lord.
This week I learned that 6 of them participate in what they have named, 'Dove Ministry.' The purpose of that ministry is to sit with residents who are dying so that they are never alone in their last days. The 6 'dove' women divide the day into shifts and take turns being present with the dying 24 hours a day, until that person passes on. I was truly amazed at this. Not only are these women elderly, they have severe physical limitations that hinder their mobility, sight, and hearing. Many of them suffer from chronic pain and find it difficult to even sit in a chair. Yet they put all of that aside in order to do ministry, active and tiring service! When I asked the resident explaining this to me where they find the strength to get out of bed in the middle of the night to go and hold someone's hand, she said "well its just such a joyful ministry! You are sitting with someone, and they open their eyes, and you see their sparkle, and then the next minute you don't. And then you know they are with God."
Last Sunday evening, a group from our church and the community went Christmas Caroling. The list of people visited included everyone from the elderly, to people of any age who have experienced loss this year, or may be going through a difficult time. It took a bit longer than some in the group had allotted, time wise, and so the group dwindled a bit as the night went on. But let me read to you an excerpt from an email I got the day after from a participant who made it to the very end:I came home last night a bit exhausted, but overjoyed by the smiles we all brought to others... it seems like we made a difference.
One more story, I get up really early on Sunday mornings to pray and meditate and read over and tweak the sermon should something come up between when I've written and that day- so this morning I got up as usual and had all but finished when my husband woke up and came out to sit in the same room where I was. (not that this was necessarily a bad thing...) but then I got up to make myself some breakfast. He did not follow. As I stood in the kitchen deciding what to have, I was weighing out what was both the quickest and healthiest option, as I wanted to get back to tweaking as soon as possible. A single egg would do it. But as I reached for the carton, I remembered hubby sitting in the next room, and that he would also probably like to have one. I had just been writing about how service brings joy, and so what's the right things to do, right?, so I called in "do you want an egg?" Now, I don't know if it was the tone of my voice (I know some of you cant even imagine, right?) or the slight hesitation between words, but instead of the 'absolutely' that I'd anticipated, I got. "Um, I don't know." "I don't know?" I snapped, "what does that mean?" Quietly he said "Well, I dont want it to be an inconvenience."
Busted! Only those closest to us can do that, right? But as I started scrambling his egg, it did give me time to think about the times we do serve because we feel we "have to" or out of obligation. Whether we are serving because we want to, or because we have to, we can be pretty much assured that the people we minister to, know it. And though we might walk away from the encounter feeing as if we have done something good, and even joyful, is this the message we want to bring to the world? Is this what living the vision is about?
NowI'm not saying that every time we go to serve, we are going to necessarily feel like it- or that we will be filled with unspeakable joy, or even feel good about the work that needs to be done. There are undoubtedly going to be times when we dont feel like getting out of bed to go and sit with someone who is dying, or leave our arm chair to go work at the food pantry, or even give a smile to someone who needs it. We are normal humans, and that is precisely why there is so much talk of helping others in the scripture- we need to be reminded over and over- so if you're listening to this and thinking, that's me- I never want to get outside myself and go serve anyone- know that you are among the millions that have gone before you and will come after you- and it's ok.
But what I am saying is simply that joy comes through service. Listen to the people who have lived longer than you and I. Read these scriptural truths that have lasted thousands of years. Believe the one who put that little voice inside you that says from time to time, 'maybe I should go help someone." Because that is how we live the vision of God. We, the seekers of hope, the bearers of peace, shall bring joy to world!