This week, we light the Advent candle of JOY. And my heart is bursting with joy. As I celebrate all of the remarkable things that God has done this past year and as I think about each and every one of you and God's goodness and faithfulness in my own life and the life of our community. And just as I was sitting down to pontificate about all of this, an email pinged my inbox from our regional director and Pastor Emeritus, Rose Swetman. Her words resonated with me so I thought I would share them with you.
This Sunday is the third Sunday of Advent and is known as Guadete Sunday! Guadete, “rejoice” in Latin is represented by lighting the rose-colored candle in the Advent wreath. The theme for worship is joy. Joy is a fruit of the Spirit, a gift, an enablement of the Spirit.
Theologian Henri Nouwen described the difference between joy and happiness. While happiness is dependent on external conditions, joy is "the experience of knowing that you are unconditionally loved and that nothing -- sickness, failure, emotional distress, oppression, war, or even death -- can take that love away." Thus joy can be present even in the midst of sadness. I believe this was in Paul’s thoughts as he wrote perhaps his most personal letter to the church at Philippi:
"Always be full of joy in the Lord. I say it again—rejoice! Let everyone see that you are considerate in all you do. Remember, the Lord is coming soon.
Don’t worry about anything; instead, pray about everything. Tell God what you need, and thank him for all he has done. Then you will experience God’s peace, which exceeds anything we can understand. His peace will guard your hearts and minds as you live in Christ Jesus.
And now, dear brothers and sisters, one final thing. Fix your thoughts on what is true, and honorable, and right, and pure, and lovely, and admirable. Think about things that are excellent and worthy of praise. Keep putting into practice all you learned and received from me—everything you heard from me and saw me doing. Then the God of peace will be with you."
Neither Henri Nouwen nor the Apostle Paul are talking about some happy clappy form of fake joy, no, they are talking about the deep sense of belovedness that is our birthright, our inheritance. A belovedness that knows without a doubt that no matter what suffering comes our way there is a God that is in the process of reconciling all things to Himself. Everything in heaven and in earth has been delivered from sin and death and is in the process of being put right and the indescribable good news is that we are invited to participate in God’s renewal for our families, neighborhoods, workplaces and beyond. We have been invited to live out our faith in the Way of Jesus and become a part of the story God is telling in the world! - Rose Swetman
This, my friends, is the good news. That even in the midst of a turbulent and violent world, we are loved and we are held. Love surrounds us. It is the air we breathe and the ground we walk on. This is our joy, the light invading the darkness. The good news that the angel announced to the shepherds, “Do not be afraid; for see—I am bringing you good news of great joy for all the people: to you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is the Messiah, the Lord." [Luke 2:10-11]
GOOD NEWS of GREAT JOY for ALL PEOPLE. Regardless of what you may have heard, the wonder of God coming as flesh and blood as one of us, entering into our mess and suffering hunger, pain and betrayal so that we can know the depths of God's love, is the best kind of news imaginable. And it is for everyone! All people -- regardless of skin color, culture, religion, class, or gender. And it is especially good news to those who have been ostracized and oppressed, marginalized and excluded. And this Sunday, we will continue to explore this grand reversal of God's kingdom that brings down powerful rulers and lifts the humble poor. And so we wait, we watch, and we continue to join in the story of joy, hope, peace and love wherever we see it bursting into the world.
by Jessica Ketola