By Melanie C. Gordon, from Interpreter Online
|Photo Illustration by Kathleen Barry|
As we look at Advent as a season of joy, we also have to look at the places where joy seems absent – places of famine, war zones, homes filled with anger and hopelessness, prisons, hospitals, underpasses. What does joy mean in the midst of suffering? Where is the joy?
My mother loved both the sacred and the secular of this season. I often remember her last Christmas Eve with us. I had spent the day with her in her hospital room, finishing the Christmas Eve homily and attending to her needs. She could not speak nor move much on her own. I was anxious, torn between my duties at the church and not wanting to leave my mother’s side. I read my homily for her. (Bless her heart; she could not get away from me.) There were moments when I saw her smile a little, especially when I talked about how Mary must have felt as she looked into the eyes of her newborn baby.
I preached that night in a service that almost became a fiery furnace when a visitor knocked over the Advent wreath. Afterwards, my friends, the Jordals, accompanied us back to the hospital to sing to my mother. They are creative and musical, and my mother loved all of them dearly. Jake pulled out his guitar, and we began to sing “Silent Night.” My mother, who had not spoken in days, began to sing softly, but clearly. “… holy night, all is calm, all is bright.” Stunned and overwhelmed, we continued with “Joy to the World.” I don’t remember all of the songs we sang, but I do remember the peaceful look on my mother’s face as a group of adults and not-too-ornery teenagers gathered around a hospital bed and sang songs about the coming of our Lord and God with us. Awesome!
Remembering that night, I am reminded of the joy we find in the coming of Christ even as I look at the space on the couch where my mother planted herself every Christmas Day.
Joy during Advent and at Christmastime is not a given for those who mourn the loss of a parent, a child, a sibling or a good friend. Looking at an empty space on the sofa or around the table can bring unimaginable, indescribable pain. A fresh loss creates even more confusion, unsettling us as we are surrounded by merriment. The aches are deep and not always fleeting, but believing and understanding the meaning of Advent can bring joy in the midst of despair or loss. The pain rooted in suffering will come, as it should, but joy will also come.
Joy came to us in the birth of a totally dependent infant, and joy will return to us in glory! During Advent, we celebrate the Incarnation of Jesus, the promised return of the risen Christ in final glory and the perpetual presence of Christ in the lives of his disciples.
We first read of preparations for the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ in the opening chapters of Luke’s Gospel. We read it. We hear it read from the pulpit. Even Charlie Brown gives us a bit of it! If we turn a few pages further to Luke 19, we see another time of preparation for our Lord that is not very different from the nativity story.
King Jesus was not born in the royal comfort that human history would have anticipated. Jesus was born in harsh and humble circumstances. Some 30 years later, when Jesus entered Jerusalem for the final time, he entered not as Herod did in robes trimmed in gold, surrounded by an army of soldiers. Jesus entered on a borrowed colt, surrounded by the disciples and the cloaks of the people. The people who gathered to see him praised God joyfully, not because of glitz and glitter, but because of the wonders they had witnessed from this Prince of Peace. For them and for us, Jesus is the king who comes in the name of the Lord!
As the psalmist says, “Weeping may linger for the night, but joy comes with the morning.” (Psalm 30:5, NRSV) In our Advent preparation for the coming of the Lord, we also remember the Resurrection. In the midst of our mourning, we can find joy, eternal joy in the promise of God’s coming. We can rejoice in the coming of the Lord! We can make a joyful noise! Whether Jesus comes as a baby or on the back of a colt or in God’s greatest glory, this is a time for us to prepare joyfully, for that coming.
Melanie C. Gordon is director of ministry with children for the General Board of Discipleship and a candidate for deacon’s orders in the South Carolina Annual Conference.