For the Third Sunday of Advent: “Joy”

Song Clip: “Right place at the wrong time”

Anyone recognize this song from 1973? It was recorded by a musician from New Orleans who recorded under the name Dr. John. It was his only real hit, and it still shows up in movie soundtracks every now and then. It’s basically a blues song with a strong funk vibe behind it.
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Dr. John, whose real name is Max Rebennack, spoke about the song in an interview:

“That was my life for a long time. At the same time I was in the wrong place at the right time, and the right place in the wrong time, too. That was the problem. We’re always shifting those gears.”

I think that perhaps Joy is the opposite of the Blues. Perhaps the opposite of being in the right place at the wrong time, or the wrong place at the right time, would be when it lines up, and you are in the right place, at the right time. Perhaps that would be a good working definition of what Joy is.

What does it mean to be in the right place, at the right time?
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Mohandas Ghandi, in his autobiography, which was sub-titled “the story of my experiments with truth“, wrote about discovering true joy through his practice of law. He was working on a case in which one man owed a great deal of money to another. The creditor was suing the debtor, and as preparations were made to bring the case to court, it became clear that this would all lead to the debtor being declared bankrupt. The creditor would never recover what was owed, and the debtor would endure what was in his culture a tremendous shame- he would rather die than face bankruptcy. Gandhi helped the two men negotiate an arrangement before the case was to be heard, that allowed the debtor to re-pay everything owed, over a very long period.

The creditor grew in respect in the community, and the debtor retained his honour. About all of this, Gandhi wrote, “ My joy was boundless. I had learnt the true practice of law. I had learnt to find out the better side of human nature and to enter men’s hearts. I realized that the true function of a lawyer was to unite parties riven asunder. The lesson was so indelibly burnt into me that a large part of my time during the twenty years of my practice as a lawyer was occupied in bringing about private compromises of hundreds of cases. I lost nothing thereby – not even money, certainly not my soul.“

Gandhi lived these years with what he described as boundless joy. He found himself, in terms of his calling, his vocation in that stage of his life, at the right place at the right time.

Writing about the notion of calling, the American author Frederick Buechner said, “ The place God calls you to is the place where your deep gladness and the world’s deep hunger meet.”
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Buechner spelled that out a bit by saying:

“There are all different kinds of voices calling you to all different kinds of work, and the problem is to find out which is the voice of God rather than of Society, say, or the Superego, or Self-Interest.
By and large a good rule for finding out is this.

The kind of work God usually calls you to is the kind of work
(a) that you need most to do and
(b) that the world most needs to have done. “

Along these same lines, I have a quote that I love from the most famous monk of the modern age, a man named Thomas Merton, who died in 1968, but whose life and writings continue to make a difference in the world.
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He said,

“ If you want to identify me, ask me not where I live, or what I like to eat, or how I comb my hair, but ask me what I think I am living for, in detail, and ask me what I think is keeping me from living fully for the thing I want to live for. Between these two answers you can determine the identity of any person. “

These ideas about vocation, about calling, about meaning in life take us down a path that may lead us to see that Joy is something deeper, and more profound that mere happiness. You can live with a depth of joy, even during unhappy times, if there is that “rightness” to your living.

By rightness I don’t mean that you be one of those people who acts like they are always right! I mean rightness in the Gandhi sense, in the Buechner sense, that you live at the place that is the intersection between what is most needed in the world, and what gifts and willingness you have to offer. That is the rightness of knowing who and what you are, that allows joyful living even in the midst of life’s worst storms.

I think that is the joy Mary sings of in today’s Gospel reading, when she says, “My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior, for he has looked with favor on the lowliness of his servant. Surely, from now on all generations will call me blessed; for the Mighty One has done great things for me, and holy is his name.”

This was Mary’s response to the news that she, an unwed woman, was pregnant, and would give birth to a son who had a role in God’s plan for the life of the world. She sees herself as being in the right place at the right time, and finds joy in knowing that what she has to offer the world, is deeply needed.

Mary understood in her time, the same eternal truth that Gandhi came to in his life, and that is available to us in our lives, that real Joy is found in serving the needs of others. Through Mary we get a glimpse of the truth that our purpose, our reason for living is wrapped up in the well-being of others.

The question I would like to leave you with today is this:

“Where is your Joy? In what part of your life is there the opportunity for you to be in the right place at the right time? What can you do, that maybe no-one else can do, that is going to make a positive difference in God’s World?” Amen

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