Advent 3 – Remember Joy

Sucker punched!  Right there in the gut when I heard the news, my breath caught somewhere in my throat and I swallowed the howl  of why as tears formed in my eyes.  

So many mama arms that would ache empty that night, many mama arms that would hold teddy bears and favourite dolls instead of children. Arms that would wrap tight around their own middles trying desperately to feel the soft of what just that morning was there in the kiss goodbye and the hug on the steps of the school.

And how do you come to grips with joy when evil just plain stares you down?   How do you celebrate the life of the Christ child when 20 precious souls left the earth on a Friday morning in a sleepy town in Connecticut?  How?

And I asked God that question so many times over the weekend.  Every news cast, every conversation, every front page was glaring the same. How?  I wrapped myself in warmth, in hearth and home and still wondered how I could find the joy in the midst of evil.

And today while three lights burned brightly in my advent wreath, we sat around with fellow community on a rainy Sunday night and read these words, “Those who plant in tears will harvest with shouts of joy. They weep as they go to plant their seed, but they sing as they return with the harvest” (Psalms 126:5 & 6). 

And I can’t help but think of the bitter tears of sorrow that watered the ground.  Tears that left more than just tracks on the cheeks of mothers, fathers, husbands and wives, tears that tore open holes in a soul and ripped through any garments of praise and thanksgiving.   Tears of unexpected and unexplainable grief. 

And even in my own grief and sense of loss for complete strangers I can feel doubt slither its way through my heart, ready to wrap me tight in disbelief and anger and strangle the life out of my faith. Because really, HOW do you do joy when this is the darkness of our world?  How do you do joy when tears are the only thing that feels right?

And I think of another time, 2000 years ago, the dark of night shrouding the earth in mystery and in a dimly lit stable a tiny baby breathes in the cold night air.  A dirty floor carpeted with straw and feed and dung.  The sounds of animals, a crude orchestra announcing the arrival of a baby.  I think of a mother, bending, back bowing and crying out as her body contracts to push, light and life into the waiting world.  I wonder, did tears track her cheeks as she endured the pain of child birth?  I wonder, as she held that baby, that God-child close to her breast, did she allow tears of joy to christen His downy head?  Did she whisper hope and future into His fragile ear as she nursed and sustained him? 

And what of the night when Joseph, her husband, wild eyed with fear, packed up his wife and son and all of their belongings because Herod was killing babies and none under two would be spared?  I wonder if tears of fear blurred Mary’s vision as she gathered their household and prepared to flee with a toddler in tow?  Did she wonder then if fear and suffering would be a way of life?

And what of the day on Golgotha, the day when the iron pounded ferocious and ripped through skin and tendons?  What of the mocking and jeering as an eternity’s worth of sin pressed her son’s back, to a splintered beam as he “humbled himself in obedience to God and died a criminal’s death on a cross” (Philippians 2:8)?  As she knelt there near the cross, the cross that held her son’s broken body, did her tears of grief water the ground?  Did she realize then that the world that had lay too long in sin and error would find hope on that tree sprouting Jesse like out of a hill of death? 

Do you suppose her agonizing howl, her mother’s grief, was absorbed and muffled amongst a throng of bodies pressed close in taunting?

And do you suppose that night when the grief gave way to shock that tears moved in to watery smiles she recounted 33 years of love and laughter?  Did her tears give way into a strange lament as first teeth, first steps and first words filled her heart with a joy that blossomed right there in her pain. 

I wonder of the mothers of Newtown, I wonder if tonight, as we enter into Advent, if they finger pictures and blankies and favourite stuff toys.  I wonder if their tears of grief even now prepare them to plant and harvest their memories of joy and love and laughter.

How?

How do you find joy in this world of darkness?   You find it there sprouting like a tender shoot, watered by tears of grief.  And just this Sunday, Pastor said and you can listen here “Joy can never do an end run around the darkness, it emerges in the middle of it. Deep joy is discovered and embraced in the darkest hour.”

And this, THIS has my arms raised in the boldest thanksgiving, the boldest of joy “To all who mourn in Israel, he will give beauty for ashes, joy instead of mourning, praise instead of despair.  For the Lord has planted them like strong and graceful oaks for His own glory…  His righteousness will be like a garden in early spring, filled with young plants springing up everywhere”(Isaiah 61: 3 & 11) and this strangles my doubt and fills my faith even though…

Tears of lament water the ground and make fertile a harvest – Joy remembered


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