Joy is a marvelous increasing of what exists, a pure addition out of nothingness. — Rainer Maria Rilke
Making the journey with a few wise companions by your side can keep you from getting lost and make the journey less lonely, even fun. Fun especially when we discover that we may also be of help to our companions as they strive to find their place in the world –Eric Elnes
Ever since Happiness heard your name, It has been running through the streets Trying to find you. And several times in the last week, God Herself has come to my door— So sweetly asking for your address, Wanting the beautiful warmth of your heart’s fire. –Hafiz
Luke 6:20-21 (Scholars’ Version) Congratulations, you poor! God’s domain belongs to you! Congratulations, you hungry! You will have a feast!. Congratulations, you who weep now! You will laugh! –Jesus
The theme for the Third Sunday of Advent is Joy. It is important to make room in our longing hearts for the immediate experience of joy. Joy sneaks up on us. We are unaware of its presence until it forces a smile. Our immediate reaction is to cover it. Did I do that? Did someone see? A slight reddening of the cheeks. Too late. Joy surprised you anyway.
We may object that is not mete and right to be joyful in the midst of so much sadness in the world.
Mete, spelled M- E-T-E is that wonderful old sounding word that means just. In the 1559 Anglican Book of Common Prayer we hear:
It is very mete, right, and our bounden duety that we should at al times, and in all places, geve thanckes to the, O Lord holy father, almighty everlasting God.
Because of course gratitude is married to joy. They are lovers. They are “bounden.” Once gratitude slips out, not a cursory ‘thank you’ but a gushing expression that just leaves you like a belch, you can’t help it, gratitude bubbles out and with it a smile, joy. Thanks, I needed that. We say with a giggle. Is it right? Is it mete?
Yes, say all the wise ones. Don’t postpone joy. Don’t keep it at bay. Don’t say, “Come back another time.” If you make a place in your heart for sadness, you can make a place for joy. They will get along just fine. They will, in fact, enrich each other and tell bawdy jokes.
It is OK. More than OK, It is mete and right, even in the midst of grief to allow yourself to embraced and kissed on the lips by joy.
Thus, Jesus, that happy misfit, had the audacity to declare to those whose hearts were torn out, whose bellies were empty, their accounts in debt,
Congratulations, you poor! God’s domain belongs to you! Congratulations, you hungry! You will have a feast!. Congratulations, you who weep now! You will laugh!
It is the language of pronouncement. In thus saying, he declares it so.
That collection of sayings was voted Christmas red by the Jesus Seminar. That is most certainly our man, Jesus, they said. Going around congratulating the poor, the hungry, and the grieving. Too weird a thing for any normal person to do. Must be Jesus.
It is natural to object. There is something unjust about joy.
I lost my lover. I lost my child. I lost my parent. Is it just for their sakes that I experience joy? Mustn’t I carry the banner of grief for their sakes, for their memory, for their honor? How can I let joy sit at the table when they will be absent?
That’s real. Whether we come out and say it, that is there. We are betraying our lost love if we are happy. Only sadness is noble enough to keep them alive in our hearts.
So we turn away joy at the gate. Not today. Come back tomorrow. Or better yet. Don’t come back until I call you.
Joy understands. Joy knows you need your space, as they say. Joy understands but joy does not obey. Joy resorts to trickery. Joy sneaks in through the back door and jumps on you like a puppy. Joy, like Clarence the clownish angel in “It’s a Wonderful Life” jumps off the bridge before sad and guilt-ridden George Bailey can, and of course, George saves Clarence and now it’s too late for George. Joy has him.
Joy is sneaky. Joy is persistent. Joy won’t give up. Not until you sm-i-i-le.
Joy is mete and right.
We have been walking through the Dark Wood during autumn. I have been borrowing that metaphor from Eric Elnes, a minister who wrote, Gifts of the Dark Wood: Seven Blessings for Soulful Skeptics (and Other Wanderers). I have been basing my sermons on the seven gifts he names that come upon us unexpectedly. We may not think of them as gifts, but they turn out to be that.
Those gifts are the gifts of Uncertainty Emptiness Being Thunderstruck Getting Lost Temptation Disappearing And finally the Gift of Misfits.
The Dark Wood is the place where it is possible to be moved and transformed. In the Dark Wood we are able to find a direction, discover our voice, earn some wisdom, or whatever it is we need.
We enter the Dark Wood because we struggle. Eric Elnes says that is the only requirement, that we struggle. We don’t have to be smart or holy or beautiful or even above average. We just need to be struggling.
The final gift of the Dark Wood are other travelers or misfits. Those who have gone before or who are going with us in the present and those who have just entered and we may be the misfit for them.
Eric calls these fellow Dark Wood travelers misfits because in many respects, Dark Wood wanderers are a bit of a strange lot. Most religious institutions don’t want people to enter the Dark Wood. They want people to be certain, to be full, to follow the rules, to believe correctly, and so forth.
If there is sadness and grief, well move through it quickly. If not, we might think you are lacking faith and you are making the rest of us uncomfortable. In contrast to that, the misfits who travel the Dark Wood allow for the sadness. They allow for you to be you.
The misfits, our fellow band of rogues, are our source of joy, not because they want to drive the sadness out of us, but because they have experienced the depths of it and have discovered they can laugh at themselves. They, too, have been surprised by the stealthiness of joy.
Advent and Christmas is a bit of a challenge for me. I am not whining about it, just being honest about it. We were Christmas central for many years, for the past 30 really, mostly because I did Christmas Eve and my wife’s sisters and later their husbands and families would come to our place. Of course, our children were with us.
After we lost Zach, Christmas has been a Dark Wood time for sure. His memory is most vivid. It isn’t hard during this time of year for tears to fall like Portland rain.
He was just so funny. So much joy those Christmases past. The children were really insubordinate. The family Christmas television special was Christmas Time in South Park with Mr. Hankey the Christmas Poo and Cartman singing O Holy Night.
It is true that grief is the measure of love for the one lost.
And yet, my grief is not the only thing that holds him to me. It will always be there. Nicholas Wolterstorff lost his 25 year-old son in a hiking accident. He wrote a book in response called, Lament for A Son. He wrote:
“It’s the neverness that is so painful. Never again to be here with us – never to sit with us at the table…. All the rest of our lives we must live without him. Only our death can stop the pain of his death.”
Yes. No sure sugarcoating that. That is the truth.
But that pain is not the only thing that holds him to me. Even as it is more sharp at certain times of the year, and Christmas the time leading up to Christmas, likes to draw it out, nonetheless, nonetheless, Joy pokes me in the ribs, makes a funny face, and I have to giggle.
Is that mete and right?
Yes, it is. And it is thanks to misfits, other Dark Wood travelers who travel with their own sadness and who have found surprises. They point them out. Never giving advice, never saying what others should do or think. Just telling their own experience and not afraid, not worrying about what to say or what not to say, because it is all natural and we know without even speaking, but we speak anyway.