Joy To The World
Fourth Sunday of Advent • December 24, 2017
What child is this and how is it that the very story of his birth, let alone his later teachings and actions, brings joy to the world? We might say Jesus was a little bundle of joy. Remember what the angel declared to the shepherds? “Do not be afraid; for I bring 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, anointed by God.” What is this Christmas joy but the profound revelation and knowledge that God is actually with us – that God chooses to come and be intimately with us in human form. To know that God is willing to experience our humanity along with us, even our suffering – that alone might be enough to bring us joy. But our joy is not just about the Word made flesh. It is also about the gift that Jesus brought us – the gift of seeing the possibility of a very different world – the gift of hope.
But there is more to it than this. Beyond representing God with us, Jesus birth calls us to a new way of being in the world – a way of being that runs counter to the ways of empire, of horrible class inequality, and of oppression based on race, gender, sexual orientation and identity. God promotes and pushes for this new world and new ways of being – and that is really good news of great joy. In Jesus’ coming, God reminded us that God’s rule, not Caesar’s, is supreme and God’s love, forgiveness, grace, and justice are for all – especially the most vulnerable and marginalized. The coming of Jesus – God with us – is a call to free ourselves from empire thinking and to believe that good news for all people is possible.
The empire stands for the enrichment of the few. The rest are used or discarded by the powerful. The empire is about hierarchies and privilege. It uses the methods of violence and intimidation. In Jesus, God calls us to be in loving relationship with our fellow human beings and with all of creation. Instead of hating our enemies and seeking vengeance, we are invited to love and seek reconciliation and restoration of relationship and community. Instead of hoarding wealth, we are invited to give to everyone who begs from us, and to give away our coat to someone who asks for it. We are called to live in deep and true and loving community with one another. In other words, even in the midst of empire, we are called to live as if the kin-dom of God is already here and to live that calling with joy.
Jesus is a source of our joy. He’s certainly been a huge source of my joy. Through coming to know Jesus over many years, I have learned from his example to experience joy even in the midst of the horrors of this world. That doesn’t mean I am always happy. You don’t have to be happy all the time to be joyful. There are plenty of things I’m not happy about in the world and even in some relationships I have with people, but I experience incredible joy in being part of imagining and working for a radically different world, one that I know aligns with God’s desire for us. Our joy is in being able to live out the vision which we participate with God in creating. Joy is in living as though the kin-dom is already here. Living in this way is a form of resistance to the empire in all its expressions – living an alternative vision long before it is fully realized. I experience that joy in being part of The Church of the Village community.
Let’s consider again the gift of Emmanuel – God with us. This is very important and is inextricably connected to our call to live into God’s vision of a new world and new way of being. At Christmas, we celebrate that God is with us in Jesus. But God is not in Jesus alone. Let me say that again: God is not in Jesus alone. Our joy is not something that arises only from outside of us, only from coming to know and follow Jesus. Joy also comes from deep within us. It comes from God who is in us. God did not become flesh only in Jesus. We can read Jesus’ nativity stories as an astounding revelation that people just like us – have the potential to incarnate God. That’s a scary responsibility! It has certainly intimidated me often – but I have learned to accept it as a way of life. And it is certainly a struggle at time to incarnate God’s love, justice, forgiveness, and grace when people around me at doing things that are not so loving or even hurt me or people I value and love. But the truth is we incarnate God when we hear and act on God’s call on our lives. We incarnate God when we love and give of ourselves for others, when we strive for justice, when we practice compassion and caring, when we forgive one another. God became flesh in Jesus is an extraordinary way – perhaps because Jesus was extraordinary attuned to God’s desire for his life – he was amazingly open to God’s Spirit in his heart, body, and mind. But God lives in each of us and invites us to participate in God’s work of love and liberation in the world. Incarnating God is a process – a process of hearing and acting on God’s call continuously and throughout our lives – just as Jesus did. And if we give ourselves over to this incarnation and this call from God, an experience of immense joy is possible for each of us.
Joy is not just a feeling. Joy is a posture and an attitude. Joy is found in building loving relationships and loving community. I find joy in our worship and the time we spend together after worship. Singing and talking with folks at the HNN food pantry brings me great joy. Even meetings at COTV can be joyful sometimes because of what we are accomplishing together in the Spirit of God. There is great joy in working and serving together. All of this joy is captured in the story of Jesus’ birth that we celebrate today – celebrating God with us, God in us, and a new world we are co-creating with God. As the song says, because Jesus is come, even the fields and floods, rocks, hills, and plains, repeat the sounding joy, repeat the sounding joy. The whole creation sings, “Joy to the world!” Joy to the world, indeed!