Click video below to view the full service video for Sunday, December 15, 2019, posted on our YouTube Channel
Reflection by Rev Will Sparks
O God of every season in life, you inhabit this season of lights and bells and Christmas cheer as much as every other. So I pray that you would inhabit the words of my mouth, the thoughts of our minds and hearts, and the circumstances of our lives so that we might experience joy here and now. Amen.
The songs of Joy really do it to us don’t they. Joy to the World. Repeat the sounding joy… And Heaven and Nature Sing…, And wonders of his love… This is big joy that stirs the heart, gets the blood flowing, and the toes tapping. This is great preparation for a joyful night of song and story tonight at the Highlands Family Christmas Concert, otherwise known as the stand up-sit down. And if you don’t know what that means, you’ll just have to come, or if you are online, ask Andria in the chat window. She’ll reveal it all.
But Teri Meyer, in her contribution to the Pacific Mountain Region’s Advent blog this week reminded me, that there’s also this:
**Jeremiah Was A Bullfrog**
Now doesn’t that just get the juices flowing? It is really hard not to move to that music, really hard to resist getting caught up in the rhythm of it.
We want to feel the joy of this season and we want to get caught up in it. And as we make our way through the stories leading up to Christmas, today we read the one about the angel coming to Mary to bring her the news of a child who will change everything. And we read that story on Joy Sunday because, well, of course. It’s baby news, and that is joyful right? Nothing can deliver on the promise of joy like baby news.
But here’s the thing. Neither in life nor in the story of the day does the joyful news of a baby that will change everything come cleanly. Think about it. Mary, likely 13, betrothed to Joseph, which meant that she may only have known him from a distance but certainly their families would have made the plan for them to come together and create a family. But this news comes before all that. Mary is just a teen ager, and this news is terrifying.
Matthew’s version of the same incident includes Joseph’s response which has him consider breaking off the engagement because, a pregnancy? We can’t have that! So what we frame as joyful news has a lived context which is complicated.
There is a children’s book simply called “The Nativity” in which artist Julie Vivas has interpreted the King James Version words in earthy, whimsical watercolour illustrations that create a wonderful, real telling of the story. When Mary is “great with child” as the King James version puts it, it looks like this. And when the angel of the Lord appears to her, he has the battered wings of previous assignments and work boots, because, or course, how else would any real angel handle the dirt and grime of first century Palestine. And when the time comes to deliver the news, they do it over a cup of tea, because, well, how else should real and disruptive good news come but over a cup of tea.
It is joy Sunday. Not happiness Sunday; not giddiness Sunday, not excitement Sunday, though this season can be filled with all those things at different time. But this is Joy Sunday. And joy, real joy, is not reserved for the clean happy times. Real joy can exist in the hardest most complicated times, and you and I both know that hardness and complication can come at this time of year just as much as any other. Real joy actually doesn’t depend on the kindness or cleanliness of life’s circumstances at all. It is far deeper and far more powerful than that. Here’s how William Blake puts it:
“Joy and woe are woven fine,
A clothing for the soul divine,
under every grief and pine,
runs a joy with silken twine.
It is right it should be so,
we were made for joy and woe,
and when this we rightly know,
through the world we safely go.”
Happiness comes when things are going our way. Joy comes when we realize that no matter which way things are going, the God of love is with us, is real, and will never let us go. Circumstances can suck the happiness out of the best of moments. But no circumstance can touch the joy of being held in the loving hand of God- which we are, not matter what. The good news of Joy Sunday is that whether you are grappling with addiction or grief or an unplanned pregnancy, or aching bones, or climate change or any other circumstance God has woven joy into the very fabric of all of life circumstance.
There is a lighter spirit present on Joy Sunday. But it doesn’t come because the struggles of life have all been dealt with. It doesn’t come because we get a reprieve from the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune. That’s not the way joy in this life works, even at Christmas.
No, that lightness comes because the divinely woven silken twine of joy runs beneath everything we face. So on this Joy Sunday, the task is not to muster up cheerfulness, as lovely as that is. No, the task is to seek out the silken thread that God has woven beneath it all.
I think Teri Meyer actually put it best: I don’t know about you, but it feels like the world has had more than its fair share of woe in the last year. So, I pray we choose to look for the joy; to stand out under the stars and make a wish, breathe a prayer on the earth, for Peace, for Love, for Joy to fill the world; for joy to all the boys and girls right now; and for joy to the fishes AND the deep blue sea; for joy to you and me. Amen
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