not that moment of elation when things come together
or that gleeful feeling like when you're about to dive into dessert.
not that rush of hype that is always temporary
like the thrill of a roller caster that takes you high before falling.
not that feel-good that excites our senses
and leaves us craving more and more and more.
Joy: the exultation of a sunrise, glowing pink through the fog.
Joy: the soul-satisfying assurance of love from a friend, from a lover, from family.
Joy: the confidence of faith that no one and no thing can take God's presence from you -- not death or life, not slander or condemnation, nothing in the heavens and nothing in hell, no power or ruler, nothing in all creation can take God from you.
Mary -- pregnant, unwed, teenage Mary -- claims joy
not because her own circumstances are so spectacularly happy,
but because she believes that her pregnancy is holy evidence
that God is still struggling to relieve the hungry and powerless,
that God hasn't forgotten those who cry out for a savior.
and great things for all people.
God has shattered the proud and lifted up the lowly;
God has filled the hungry with good things
and remembered his mercy.
And God will do it again."
Isaiah -- persevering, disillusioned Isaiah -- proclaims joy
to a depressed people home from exile only to meet more hardship,
proclaims joy and faith and hopefulness in God for the brokenhearted,
announces that joy will be like a bright garland or a flower lei
placed around the necks of the devastated and the weary.
like royalty all decked out in robes,
I will give those who mourn a fresh garland instead of ashes,
the sweetest perfume to dispel the stench of destruction,
bright clothes for the holy days even though the temple isn't rebuilt."
Joy is the confidence of faith that no one and no situation can take God's presence from you: not teenage pregnancy, not exile and displacement, not dishonor, not seasons of death, not fears of money or loss of power. Joy is the confidence that God is still working, that God is still struggling to relieve and to save and to heal.
Let God drape joy around your neck like a sparkling necklace that you can't afford. Let God drape joy on your door like a fresh evergreen wreath that shows beauty and life even in the dead season of winter. Let God drape joy on your shoulders like a brand new winter coat that isn't faded or patched or hand-me-down.
Let God show us joy like bright colorful lights sparkling across a world that has filled us with cynicism. Let God instill us with joy like the sweetest hot chocolate warming our stomachs (except it doesn't disrupt our sugar levels or get cold after sitting for too long). Let God show us joy that is so far beyond holiday happiness or the thrill of presents or the waning pleasure of hearing tinny Christmas music at the mall.
Let God show us joy and get us all decked out with faith to comprehend:
a celebrated birth amidst uncertain times,
a song and a dance amidst sorrow and mourning,
glad confidence amidst holy mystery,
exuberance amidst doubt,
joy at all times.
Joy: because God's presence is unfailing.
Joy: because God's working is ongoing.
Joy: at all times!
12/11/2011 sermon preached at Grace United Church of Christ, based on Luke 1:47-55 and Isaiah 61:1-3, 10-11.