Written as part of an Advent Daily Devotional for the UCC in Wallace, Idaho
I had a conversation with someone the other day for whom the full weight of 2020 is sitting menacingly. Isolation, separation from family, the absence of friends and what feels like a total and complete non-observance of Christmas. As we approached the end of our phone call, I heard a small, bone weary voice quietly sing: “I’ve got the joy, joy, joy, joy down in my heart…”
That was no mockery of an old camp song or the reality of this moment, but the deep, profoundly faithful understanding of what joy is all about. It’s not happiness. It’s not belly laughs and radiant smiles (not that is has anything against those things). It’s not dependent on life going according to plan, or delivering on our every wish. Joy is the knowledge that God’s got the whole world held protectively and eternally in a cradling embrace that can never be disrupted. Joy is holding fast to the trust that we are known, we are loved, we are held. That suffering may linger for the night, but joy comes in the morning, and we have complete confidence that morning will indeed dawn.
In the wonderful book coauthored by the Dalai Lama and Desmond Tutu, The Book of Joy, Tutu said: “Joy subsumes happiness. Joy is the far greater thing. Think of a mother who is going to give birth. Almost all of us want to escape pain. And mothers know that they are going to have pain, the great pain of giving birth. But they accept it. And even after the most painful labor, once the baby is out, you can’t measure the mother’s joy. It is one of those incredible things that joy can come so quickly from suffering.”
I don’t know what is being born in the black hole that is 2020, but I know that thinking of it as labor pains helps me to look with anticipation for signs of the new life that is even now coming among us. And sing with full throat, open heart unrestrained confidence: Joy to the World!