The third Sunday of Advent, the third week of getting ready for the coming
of God With Us, is the Sunday of Joy. Whereas weeks #1 and #2 have been
about Hope and Peace, respectively, next Sunday is about Joy. But we have to ask,
HOW CAN WE BE JOYFUL?
I’m reminded of the Marine reservists standing at our intersections these
days, raising money for children’s toys. Yet what have they seen? What trauma do
they carry with them? As we thank them for their service and hand them a twenty
for the toys, we look into their eyes and wonder what destruction there has been to
Or we think of the first responder who cradles the head of an auto accident
victim, trying to calm her until his partners can cut her from the wreckage. Then,
just before they have her freed, he feels the life go out of her. And he carries that
heartbreak with him for days and weeks.
A twenty-something shoots the mother of his new baby, then later himself.
And another drives while drunk, has a wreck and kills his best friend. A pair of
parents together and repeatedly breaks perhaps our most sacred covenant, the covenant
to protect our children. While maintaining a façade of respectability, they assault
their child sexually, for years, in silence, without consequences except to the
mind and heart of the child. And we are called to JOY?
I sometimes wonder if our world might suffer a sort of mass PTSD, a communal
post-traumatic stress disorder. You see, PTSD is rooted in trauma. It consists
of a repeated rising of the emotions and trauma associated with some incident. It is
a keeping fresh of horror, repeating some terrible impact over and over. The repetition
of the trauma becomes debilitating.
I would not want to belittle the tragedy of PTSD for those individuals who
suffer from it to suggest that those of us whose lives are tranquil by comparison
could somehow have the disorder itself. Yet I would suggest that to the degree that,
as the Apostle says, “when one suffers, all suffer together,”—to the degree that is
true, it might be said that we collectively remind ourselves of the bad even when
we ourselves have not suffered from it directly. And we are, collectively, debilitated.
So, what is this Advent call to Joy, to rejoice in the Lord always? Is it a willful
blindness? Is it a call to forget?
No, it is neither. You and I, Christian and un-Christian, must learn to live
with our memories, pleasant and unpleasant alike. We must, because emotional
pain is instructive. Wisdom is not free. Hurts, sins, misadventures, good intentions
gone awry—all of these teach us. Without them, we are like the blind goose who
arises every morning to a new world and bumps his head, every morning, on the
same low-hanging tree branch.
The Apostle Paul’s “Rejoice in the Lord always” is not a Bobby McFerrin’s
“Don’t worry; be happy!” But it is a key characteristic of the Christian life. It
has more to do with confidence that the Lord is near at hand. It neither denies nor
runs from the pain. It simply does not let the pain rule. For it remembers the God
who is most clearly and completely revealed as one who enters our lives, beginning
to end, and stands with us at each moment. And that, now that, truly that, allows
I’ll see you and that guest you’ve been intending to bring under the dome
on Sunday. Remember to carpool when you can. Wash your hands often. Find
some way today to share the Good News, even if it’s only with a smile. And prepare
for Sunday’s worship by reading---- Philippians 4.4-7.