15 December 2019
Joy is seldom recognised for the incredibly restorative, liberating force that it is. Unfortunately, even in faith communities, soberness, seriousness and even cynicism are often portrayed as the marks of true spirituality and maturity. The Lectionary this week would challenge that thinking, and would call us to consider joy as the mark of true faith, of spiritual maturity and of true justice-bringers. If our work for justice and peace, for compassion and grace brings no joy – to us or to those we serve – we do not really bring liberation. But, when we can dance and sing, and draw others into the celebration, we have truly become life-givers, and reflections of the Christ who was not only a man of sorrows, but also a man of celebration and joy.
Let’s fill our sanctuaries and our world with singing and celebration this week, and let’s rediscover the healing power of joy as we wait on the joyous incarnation event.
Isaiah 35:1-10: God’s promise to restore God’s people, creating a land of peace and prosperity for them, and providing a safe and sure way for them to return home, guaranteeing their arrival in God’s Zion where they will find gladness, joy and an end to their suffering.
Psalm 146:5-10: A celebration of the God who helps those in need – the poor, the blind, the prisoner, the bent over, the widow, the orphan – and who trips the wicked up.
Luke 1:46b-55: Mary’s song of praise to the God who has chosen her, even though she is lowly, and who helps and sustains the weak and needy, while opposing and bringing down the rich and powerful.
James 5:7-10: James encourages the believers to be patient as they wait for God’s coming, even as the farmer waits for rain, and as the prophets of old faithfully endured their suffering with patience.
Matthew 11:2-11: John the Baptist sends his disciples to question whether Jesus is the One or if he should wait for another, and Jesus assures him with the example of his ministry of liberation, healing and proclaiming the Good News. Then he teaches about John’s role, explaining that, as great as he was, those who embrace God’s reign are greater still.
REFLECTIONS ON THEME:
The invitation to find fullness of life in the commonwealth of God resonates through all of this week’s readings. God’s grace and love cover and protect those who seek God’s reign, and God guides them – provides a ‘way’ for their journey – bringing them joy and gladness as they enter God’s home. The journey, though, is not easy, even though it is protected. It is a journey requiring patience (James), and in which the poor, the needy, the vulnerable and the weak are to be served and protected – for these are the marks of God’s reign, both in those God ‘chooses’ (like Mary) and in the Messiah God’s people seek to follow (as in Matthew’s Gospel). Ultimately, though, those who endure and stay on the path will find an end to their suffering (and that of those they have served) and eternal joy. What an awesome vision!
CONNECTING WITH LIFE:
GLOBAL APPLICATION: What does the word “Joy” mean in a world of suffering, inequity, war and terrorism, and climate change? In what ways can God’s reign be seen as an invitation to joy for the weak and vulnerable of our world. Sometimes joy is seen only as a distant hope awaiting us after death, and historically this joy has been inspiring and sustaining for the exploited and poor. However, sometimes this promise of joy has also been used to excuse injustice in this world. Joy must be embraced, then, as both a goal for us to work for – the quest for ‘a home’ for all people, and for peace and equity to flood our world – and a characteristic of those who do this Christ-following work. God’s reign is seen in the way God’s people find joy in whatever circumstances they face, and it is seen as they spread joy around them through healing, uplifting, and proclaiming Good News. Our call then is to be cheerful, but firm, activists, identifying the places in our world where joy is being robbed, and challenging the unjust “killjoys” in our society, while joyfully serving those who mourn and grieve. This is the call of Jesus’ example, of Mary’s song, of Isaiah’s promise and the Psalmist’s celebration. It is also the source of patience and hope as we wait for God’s reign to be fully realised, both in this world and the next.
LOCAL APPLICATION: Where are the places of greatest grief and hopelessness in your community? What are the sources of this pain, and in what way do we, perhaps inadvertently, contribute? In what ways have you allowed a future hope to “let you off the hook” of bringing joy to those in need? As we wait, in Advent, for the coming of the One who brings joy and Good News, how can we allow this hope to inspire us and empower us to Gospel action? It may mean simply addressing areas of complacency and neglect in your community – cleaning up rubbish dumps and fixing broken windows wherever you may find them. It may mean refusing to buy into the suspicion and scepticism of the times, and committing to hope and compassion. It may mean speaking out against the politics and religion of fear and slander that so easily become the loudest voices in our world. In small ways we can become those who make this world ‘homely’ even for the most vulnerable, and we can speak prophetically against any power that would seek to control through fear, grief and corruption. In the way we live, speak and interact we can be “counter-cultural” demonstrating that joy can be known in this world without oppressing, bombing or ignoring others, and without buying into rampant consumerism and “achieveism”.