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Trail Notes

Trail Notes: 12/15/2019

Posted 7:52 PM by

The Gift of Joy and Wonder

As is so often the case in the Church, I find that there is a tension inherent in this Third Sunday of Advent. This week we light three candles on the Advent wreath – including the singular pink one, meant to symbolize joy. It is “Gaudete” Sunday, which takes its name from the Latin for “Rejoice in the Lord always: again I say, rejoice” (Philippians 4:4). What an inviting command! And yet as the candles burn down, they also remind us of the finitude of time and the abundance of items still on our “things left undone” lists. I sometimes feel as though those candles are mocking me: the shorter they get, the more anxious I become. Joy seems an improbable, if not an altogether unattainable, virtue when I am stressed or worried or exhausted or heartsick.

Nevertheless, joy is one of God’s greatest hopes for us; our Book of Common Prayer certainly indicates as much. In Baptism, for example, we pray that God would give the newly-baptized “the gift of joy and wonder in all [God’s] works” (p. 308). Likewise, the union of two people in marriage “is intended by God for their mutual joy” (p. 423). In the Episcopal Church even the Burial liturgy “is characterized by joy” (p. 507).

But how do we reconcile the imperative to joy with what we see on the news or hear around our own dinner table?­­­ Doesn’t it seem incongruous with the reality of the world as we know it? How can we rejoice in the face of so much sorrow and need around us?

The Rev. Barbara Brown Taylor, whose writing I commend wholeheartedly, wrestled with this question more than twenty years ago, yet her words are every bit as timely today. She writes:

Joy seems almost irreverent in a world where so much is going wrong.
Who can be joyful when babies starve and teenagers shoot each other and
whole tribes of people try to wipe each other off the face of the earth?
It’s hard to get jump-up-and-down joyful about any of that. Except joy has
never had very much to do with what is going on in the world at the time.
That is what makes it different from happiness, or pleasure or fun. All of
those depend on positive conditions – good health, good job, happy family,
lots of toys. The only condition for joy is the presence of God. Joy happens
when God is present and people know it, which means that it can erupt in a
depressed economy, in the middle of a war, or in an intensive care waiting
room…It is a gift, not a just dessert, so all we can really do is want it, believe
in it, and oh yes, stop doing those things that get in its way.[1]

What might you be doing to get in the way of God’s intended gift of joy? How might God be calling you to do things differently? Why not bring these questions with you to the Altar this week?

See you in Church,

Patty+

 

[1] Barbara Brown Taylor, “Surprised by Joy,” The Living Pulpit, October-December 1998, pp. 16-17.

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