Did you know that Joy to the World was originally an Advent Hymn? You can hear the Advent themes in phrases like, “let every heart prepare him room,” or, “no more let sins and sorrows grow, nor thorns infest the ground; he comes to make his blessings flow far as the curse is found.” The hymn recognizes the problems of the world, but is full of expectation that God is about to do something new to change things.
Joy to the World feels more like a promise than a hymn. Joy like this is a state of being. Joy like this goes deeper than happiness. It is beyond emotion or circumstance. Has this joy ever found its way to you? Have you ever found joy in the midst of sadness? Have you experienced joy, not because of the circumstance, but in spite of the circumstance? I wonder if joy like this is a choice? Can we simply decide to be joyful? I don’t know the answer, but I suspect the answer is no. In my experience, joy like this only comes as a gift from God.
I found joy like this once in South Africa. I was watching as one hundred or so very happy kids were playing. I was talking to one of their parents and he mentioned that all of the kids in that group had lost at least one of their parents to the AIDS epidemic. It was shocking news, especially as I took in the scene of joyful happy smiles before me.
I remember feeling ashamed at that moment. I had lost my Dad about 6 months before, and God and I had not been on speaking terms. I had not let myself smile or feel joy. I was angry.
I had come to accept in my mind the truth that I was lucky to have had a great Dad for 25 years, but I was still ticked. In that moment of shame, I still allowed myself to feel that anger at God, but it didn’t help. I just felt more shame.
At that moment I decided to let it go. I had been holding that anger so tightly that as soon as I set it down the joy present in those kids spilled over into me. It was as if the kids decided to loan me some joy to get through the moment.
I am writing about joy today because it is Advent, and because I know the holidays are difficult. This season of “Joy to the World,” of food, celebration and family, reminds many of us of the people we have lost. We miss family and friends and joyful seasons of our lives. We have trouble feeling hopeful that the world could ever feel happy.
If Thanksgiving, Advent and Christmas only bring you sadness, my prayer for you this season is that God will give you the gift of joy. I don’t mean that your sadness will go away, or that everything will suddenly be perfect. I pray that joy will break in for a moment, or for a time. I hope we can all find a bit of joy and hope, the Joy to the World the Lord is come expectation this Advent season calls us too.
See you in church.
Fr. Tom +