Do you ever find it difficult to experience joy?
Our lives are, at times, full of trouble. Sometimes the trouble is worldwide, and we have certainly seen our share of trouble around the world this year. Sometimes–oftentimes–the trouble is personal, and we have all seen families, communities, accidents, illnesses in which joy has become a foreign experience. Sometimes, the trouble is hidden from others, and while we smile and laugh at parties and churches, our trouble is compounded by painful, isolating loneliness. Sometimes it's possible to carry the pain of profound loss tucked away inside while folks may think the time for grief is past. Sometimes we could cry out with the slaves of old, “Nobody knows the trouble I see, nobody knows but Jesus, nobody knows the trouble I see….”
But then that African American spiritual sounds remarkable words, as if the singer found peace, hope, and light right in the midst of pain; “Nobody knows the trouble I see…Glory, Hallelujah!”
That “Glory, Hallelujah!” is the courage of joy at Christmas, indeed joy in life, even when joy is difficult to find.
How? When, where can we find the courage to sing in the face of the troubles of our lives, “Glory Hallelujah?” When, where can we find the courage of joy at Christmas?
Well, consider the season of Advent. The Gospel for the first Sunday of Advent this year, heralding the coming of Christ into our world, speaks of "...suffering...the sun...darkened...the stars falling...heaven and earth (passing) away..." (Mark 13:24,25,31, NRSV). Not exactly a happy clappy time, huh? But in the midst of the trouble, Jesus is bold to say “…my words will not pass away" (Mark 13:31, NRSV). A parallel passage proclaims, in the midst of the troubles that accompany God's coming into the world, "...your redemption is drawing near" (Luke 21:28). “Glory, Hallelujah!” indeed.
And consider the Biblical account of the first Christmas. The birth of the Christ came in the midst of terrified shepherds, the political monster Herod murdering children, and the King of Kings born, not in the sanitized mangers of our Christmas pageants but in a stall full of cattle poop and urine, then exiled by way of a very uncomfortable donkey ride to a foreign land. But in the midst of the troubles that attended that birth, the angel beckoned, “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, NRSV). “Glory, Hallelujah!” indeed.
God does not eliminate or deny trouble, the difficulty of joy; He is born, He makes His Advent right in the midst of poverty, excrement, murder, disease, deprivation, political unrest, and others of ” the thousand natural shocks that flesh is heir to” (Shakespeare).
God's Advent doesn’t wait for convenience or ’til trouble is past or ’til life is fixed and dressed for a nice Christmas eve service. God comes to us right where we are, just as we are; Jesus is born in us right in the stalls and exiles of our troubled souls.
And so, in Christ's presence, we can have the courage of joy at Christmas.