J is for Joy

printable-letter-j_5627eada83283December 10, 2019 Second Week of Advent – Day 10 of the Advent Alphabet

J is for Joy. On the third Sunday of the Advent season, we will light the candle for Joy. What do we mean by Joy?

“ joy is the intersection between the human and the divine, and that’s why at some points, when you experience joy you throw your hands in the air, you laugh, you dance, but at other times you experience joy you cry, and you like release in this other way, and it’s the same thing, and its coming from this place of letting go…”

That came from a hip-hop artist named Michael Franti, who leads a band called Spearhead. I heard him interviewed on the CBC radio show Tapestry. Franti is a deeply spiritual person who was raised a Christian, and is now a Yoga teacher. He uses music as a way to work for peace and unity.

I am attracted to Franti’s idea that joy is found at the intersection of the human and the divine. During my training for ministry I worked and studied with Quakers. Many Quakers say that every moment, of every day, is potentially sacramental. (God is equally present with us at all times, everywhere, but there are times when we are more open, more able to accept what God is offering us, which is Presence.)

I don’t think God ever “goes away”. God is everywhere, in everything, including us. But most of us are not able to sustain that awareness of God’s Presence all the time. There are times when we feel like God is very far away, or that God is just an idea, and not a reality.

The image that comes to mind is of feeling so weighed down with the pain and grief that we all experience, that we are unable to look up. Our head is downcast, and our eyes are pointed at our own feet. All we can see is what is just ahead. It becomes hard to imagine we might ever feel different, or better.

In our culture there is a powerful tendency to avoid feeling bad. We have numerous medications and distractions available. There are all manner of short-term highs we can use to numb our feelings, or mask them, or allow us to feel something other than what is real. But these do not lead us to joy.

There our times when our spiritual path must take us through the sadness, through the famous “valley of the shadow of death”, before we can come out the other side.

In the first chapter of Luke, Mary’s first response to being greeted by an angel was to be “greatly troubled”.

When the angel told her that she would bear a special child, she said,  “I am the Lord’s servant,” Mary answered. “May your word to me be fulfilled.” 

Mary accepted the angel’s news. But then she got moving.

“At that time Mary got ready and hurried to a town in the hill country of Judea, where she entered Zechariah’s home and greeted Elizabeth.”

It was only after a physical (and perhaps spiritual) journey to her cousin Elizabeth’s home, that Mary said,  “My soul glorifies the Lord and my spirit rejoices in God my Saviour”.

Mary’s did not immediately rejoice, when the angel told her about the baby.  I wonder if she used the time on the road to pray, to come to a deeper understanding of how God was with her, and would sustain her, even in those challenging circumstances. Only then could Mary sing the song of joy that has come to be known as the Magnificat.

Michael Franti talked about this in musical terms: “in the history of African-American music we have the blues, which is this expression of deep sadness, and sorrow, and struggle, and then once you have passed through the blues you come to funk, which is the same chords, just played faster, and now you have music that is celebration, and it is that transformative quality of music…”

When we find ourselves open again to God’s presence, there is a transforming power. The song of sadness can become one of celebration. Our slow sad shuffle through life can become a dance of joy.

The Advent Alphabet is a ministry offering from Rev. Darrow Woods, pastor at the United Church in Harrow, Ontario. Each day in Advent, a different letter of the English Alphabet will be a jumping off place for a reflection. These reflections will be sent out via email to those who have asked to be on the mailing list, and will also be posted to Rev. Darrow’s Facebook page.


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