I will never have the means to acquire an antique sports car, so I suppose someone could ask me how I know whether obtaining such a choice vehicle could give me comfort and joy. But perhaps I could ask it this way. Can such a thing give comfort and joy on the COVID ward? Can it solve a national or international crisis? Can it enlighten a mind darkened by prejudice, fear and fantasy? Can it bring healing? Can it give light even in the shadow of death?
In the name of +Jesus, who was, and who is, and who is to come. Amen
It’s happened again – I’ve seen another Christmas commercial with the words ‘comfort and joy’ attached to the idea of getting a certain very expensive Christmas gift. I don’t think it was jewelry. I want to say it was a car. Now don’t get me wrong. I like cars. We need cars. It is good to have a car. But ‘comfort and joy’ from a car?
Didn’t they ever watch Ferris Bueller’s Day Off? Cameron Frye’s father had a rare like-new 1961 Ferrari 250 GT California. ‘Oh, yeah.’ But he never drove it. He just wiped it with a cloth diaper. He loved the car, he hated his wife. Cameron himself only knew a little bit of freedom once the car was destroyed beyond recognition. Comfort and joy? I think not.
I will never have the means to acquire an antique sports car, so I suppose someone could ask me how I know whether obtaining such a choice vehicle could give me comfort and joy. But perhaps I could ask it this way. Can such a thing give comfort and joy on the COVID ward? Can it solve a national or international crisis? Can it enlighten a mind darkened by prejudice, fear and fantasy? Can it bring healing? Can it give light even in the shadow of death? An automobile is necessary in today’s world, and yes, perhaps fun. But it cannot do great things like this.
How do we experience joy? First is to know how it doesn’t come. It doesn’t come through creature comforts. Perhaps this is so obvious that it doesn’t bear repeating. But in a world that often seems so dark we are perhaps apt to grasp for such light as we can. Perhaps I should be more sympathetic to those who seek comfort and joy in playthings. It’s not so different than when I was a kid and was convinced that heaven was an endless toyland. Still, we eventually need to grow up.
Many have grown up enough to know that joy cannot be found in luxury goods. A place at the table of earth’s bounty is good enough for us – family, friends, food, a little fun. Joyful those these things are, it should give us pause that it is so hard for us to give them up this holiday season. Are we really only joyful when these things can happen? Or must there be a deeper joy than is found around family, food, and festival?
Some cannot find joy in a world that is dark. Everything, at least everything with others, must be fixed in order for them to experience joy. Life becomes a joyless endeavor of correcting all the evils in the world. How can there be joy until all that causes suffering is gone? Even worse may be the state of those who cannot experience joy because they see the disorder in their own moral and spiritual lives.
When the apostle Paul wrote his letter to the congregation in Thessalonica, he told them to ‘Rejoice always.’ The congregation did not assume that it was because they were always going to be getting new cars. The rejoicing is in something else, something far more valuable.
Why were they to rejoice? Because God had come to the world in Christ. Because the Word of God had come to them and they had been filled with the Holy Spirit. Because Christ would come again to judge the living and the dead.
True comfort, true joy, can only be in God. To know oneself as created by God, redeemed by Christ, being made holy in the Spirit for the great day of salvation can bring joy even in the COVID ward, even when the feasts of family and food cannot be celebrated as normal, and even in the presence of the shadow of death.
In this sense, Paul can say to the Thessalonians and to us, Rejoice always. For the joy Paul talks about is eternal. It is not based upon our external circumstances, the health of our bodies, whether others are well-disposed or ill-disposed towards us. It is an internal joy that bubbles over into the visible world.
True, joy will look a little different in the COVID-ward, at holiday tables which have fewer people around them or holiday church services in which the voice of singing is stilled for a time. But there should be no less joy because it looks or feels or sounds different. At these times, perhaps, we may rejoice because the suffering that seems so evident will one day be no more than memory and perhaps even less than that.
In the old church calendar where many Sundays of the Church Year have Latin names, this day is called Gaudete Sunday, Gaudete means ‘Rejoice.’ This is why on many Advent wreaths the third candle is a rose-pink instead of a somber purple, For those who have a discipline of fasting in Advent, the Third Sunday a day of relaxing the fast. It anticipates the joy that is to come when the fast is over, giving us strength to continue our journey to its end.
In the same way, in the midst of our sorrows and struggles on earth, we may rejoice with an everlasting, for the life and joy Christ brings is eternal.
E’en so, Lord Jesus, quickly come.