On my drive home on Thursday I had my joy post formulated in my mind. Then Friday happened. Everything I thought I was going to write seemed trivial. How would someone affected by Friday’s unspeakable tragedy respond to the words I had in my head?
It is an easy week to write on Advent.
Friday all I could find the energy to pray was the Advent prayer: “Come, Lord Jesus.”
I felt the ache of hope deep within me. The kind of hope only Jesus provides. As I read through social media’s vomit of the situation, I realized Jesus is the only true hope. People were quick to respond with the solution in their politics and religion. Those in themselves are never enough. We need a person.
Friday I felt the ache of Shalom. This world is not as it should be. I felt a great longing for a restored world without death and evil and sickness. A world where children never come to harm, relationships are never strained, and we never have to say good-bye to those we love. We mourn and hope for the restoration of Creation. We need God to bring his peace: to heal, restore, redeem and act. And we need to help where we are able.
Where does joy fit into all of this?
It seemed all of the things I could say seemed trivial and cliché with Friday in the background.
My morning drive is mostly southbound. So every morning, the sun is beginning to make itself known on my left as I drive in. I think this is why I love the opening phrase of the Book of Common prayer:
Oh Lord, let my soul rise up to meet you as the day rises to meet the sun.
There words take on new meaning as I watch the deep yellows stretch across the sky and the light begins to take over the day.
But some days the sun doesn’t seem to be there.
Some days are dark and cloudy and it seems as if the day is not rising to meet the sun.
But as I have heard Greg Boyd point out, this doesn’t mean the sun is not there. It just means there are things blocking me from seeing it.
I think this is how joy works in dark times. Joy reminds us that no matter how great the darkness, God has not lost control. God is still there, he is still in charge, and the world is not spinning off its axis into great chaos. We are still loved and treasured. We have things we can rejoice in.
But some days it is hard to see them.
The Bible contains these very helpful Psalms of Lament (go here for a good template). They are Psalms where the writers have poured out all of their fear, anguish, hurt and confusion. They are raw and powerful and can even be offensive. But they usually have some sort of trust statement tacked on to the end.
But I trust in your unfailing love.
I will rejoice because you have rescued me.
I will sing to the Lord
because he is good to me
In light of all the other things said in the Psalm, you wonder if the writer really believes this. I think he believed it somewhere deep down inside, but I don’t think it felt very true when he wrote it.
Maybe this is what rejoicing has to be sometimes. Our joy is found in the God who never goes away, never gives up, never loses control. He is a God who suffers with us and for us, and He too aches for the restoration of the world.
But maybe on the particularly difficult days, making ourselves say these words is all the rejoicing we can muster.
Perhaps sometimes joy is reminding ourselves of things we know to be true, even when they feel like they are not.
When Jesus is born, it seems like God has been silent for a very long time. There is poverty and oppression and suffering. Even the announcement of his birth brings on a horrific infanticide. Yet his coming is pronounced as great joy. It is a coming joy. A reminder God has not abandoned you. In fact, He is coming near. He is close.
Perhaps on weeks like this, joy takes the form of a reminder. It is an anchor when the vertigo of a fallen world disorients us and beats us down. God is still here. He is still paying attention. He is still for us. He is close.
And he does His best work in the darkness.