Joy is a nevertheless kind of thing.
It’s an anyway, despite, and in the face of kind of thing.
Joy is defiant, ridiculous, and a little bit out of control.
Joy doesn’t say, “excuse me” “pardon me”, and “would you mind…?” and then wait its turn.
It’s an outburst, an immodest, bubble-up rush that overtakes you. Joy is unexpected pleasure, unrestrained contentment, gratitude out loud and in the midst.
At the “wrong” time and place, it’s quite a thing for someone else’s joy to roll out in front of you all raw and real, pulling you in too. Like tears unbidden or uncontrolled, joy is unprocessed and vulnerable, too close to the heart of things. In fact, it is the heart of all things, refusing to remain silent and tucked away. As Anne Lammott says, Peace is joy at rest, and Joy is peace on its feet.”
We don’t make joy, and because of its exuberance and spontaneity, its all-out nature, there is very little as creepy as faked joy.
Joy comes from God, from our very most basic selves reverberating from God’s touch –(even if our conscious, rational minds don’t see it that way). It’s the natural, uncontained response to the peeling back of the curtain and glimpsing of eternity. Joy happens in the scraping of the surface and exposing for a moment the reality underneath and behind it all, that that our lives matter, that life is infinitely valuable, and it’s beautiful. It’s a heartbreakingly, emotion-eruptingly beautiful thing to be alive. Even in pain and suffering. Even in disappointment and confusion. Life is precious indeed, and we’ve been given to one another. We get to feel our own aliveness and run into the aliveness of others, and that is an astounding thing.
The first week of Advent we zoomed way out – to life and death and past and future and the big picture painted by hope – hungry longing and trust in what we can’t see but know is coming - that what is broken will be made whole.
Our Isaiah text that week beat swords into plough shares and spears into pruning hooks and streamed all people up God’s holy mountain to learn love and peace together. It display transformation to systems of violence and oppression, and the final end to separation and struggle. And Advent begins by asking Hope to ignite us and steer us towards God’s future.
Last week in the second week of Advent we zoomed in a bit to the natural order, and the social order, to what we think things have to be because we can’t imagine them any other way, and then we imagined it another way, the way of Peace. We saw lions lying down with lambs and young children leading, and heard a picture of life flipped right, healed up and flourishing – and the promise that what is broken will be made whole, in the person of Jesus Christ, God with us, coming to set all things right, to bring life as it was meant to be. And hope pointed us to Peace, the future of God - life without fear in such harmony that we need poetry to help us imagine it possible.
This week we zoom in even more with Isaiah to a vivid picture of joy. For a hopeless, defeated and maimed people resigned to regret and without a hope for the future, Isaiah paints on a barren background a vibrant watercolor of rushing blues and bursting greens and brilliant reds and oranges as the stark wilderness breaks out in singing and celebration, erupting in color and noise, abundance and delight – breaking forth in joy.
And transformation gets even more personal and boisterous – deep peace that can’t keep us silent or still - our own human frailties and weaknesses, our limitations and our emotions, our place and our destiny so fulfilled and overflowing that the blind see it first and the deaf tune us all into the music and the lame lead the dancing and the speechless conduct the chorus and the depressed break out the fine china and pop open the champagne cork and the old and forgetful sit us down and hush us still and tell the story for us all. And we embrace the sage wisdom of toddlers and revere the gentle tenderness of the calloused stoics, and the chronically late kick off the festivities while the rigidly organized lead the messy crafts. The big slow folks and the small uncoordinated ones are first chosen and most sought out for the after-dinner game, and the hopeless allergics throw on aprons and taste test and spice up the full feast without exception.
And all those things that totalize us here, all those things that label and divide and define us finally and almost fully now are broken open and released, and a new future is unfurled before us, and we are free to be, completely and wholly, without omission or limitation or compromise or concession.
Deserts bloom brightly and dry sand becomes deep cool pools and the path is so smooth and clearly marked and shared by all moving together that even complete fools can’t get lost, and the gift of life is abundantly far more than all we can ask or imagine.
Christmas is ten days away. You and I have nine more days to squeeze in shopping and baking, to finish the cards and worry about how much we’re spending and hope the events and gatherings go well and people don’t get in the arguments they get in when they’ve had too much to drink or the wrong people are seated next to each other. Ten more days to build up expectations and tamp down disappointments and feel like life is too busy and full and breathless and pressured. Ten more days to sit in the waiting, and wonder what it is we are waiting for.
And in the middle of that I want to invite you into the joy.
I want to invite you into the joy the prophet foretells, the joy Mary sings out, the nevertheless joy that God sees it all and then also underneath it all, to what really matters, to where we really are broken and incomplete, lost or hurting, longing and yearning, to the place where we can say what we love and who we need and how we feel and where we’re stuck, and what makes us ever so achingly grateful, that raw and vulnerable place inside, all wrinkled and unshaven and without make-up where our childlike wonder still nests.
I want to invite you into the anyway joy that it is to be alive when the rest of it that clutters our minds and hearts and homes and relationships falls away for those brief glimpses of beauty and hope and peace and broken things made so whole that it makes you want to jump to your feet and pump your fist, or double over in tickled laughter.
And just so you know, now that we’re watching for it together, it isn’t when everything is perfect that the joy rears up. It almost never arrives when it all goes down as planned, and is nearly guaranteed to be absent when we successfully mask our weaknesses or disguise our limitations. Joy refuses to wait for when we’re adequately spiritually prepared or religiously ready, all cleaned up and aired out for divine inspection, and prefers, actually, to come unbidden and unanticipated.
And just like it was with peace and hope, Advent’s invitation once again is simply to pay attention, to be open, to pause worrying or rushing or fearing long enough to participate in your own life. Advent invites us to step into the waiting, where the God of peace and hope is waiting for you. And then you least expect it, and sometimes when you most need it, eternity will peek through and joy will surprise you.