Advent, Inner joy, Jude

A Contemplative Advent ~ Joy

I learned today that happiness in America is at an all-time low. A recent survey from the University of Chicago found that happiness among Americans has fallen lowere than it has been in five decades. What has caused the public’s happiness to plummet is fairly simple—living in the midst of the coronavirus. And that’s the current status of happiness in America.

But happiness is not joy. We can be happy when we find success, or a have a new relationship, or a win a sweepstakes, or watch our children graduate. Yet, even in a state of happiness, we can be without joy. Happiness is an emotion that brings bursts of intense pleasure, excitement, and satisfaction, while joy is a enduring state of being that results in feelings of inner peace and contentment. Joy does not depend on our good luck or our happy circumstances. Joy lives in our hearts, in the deep recesses of our souls. Happiness comes and goes; joy is abiding and eternal.

Still, joy can seem elusive in troubled times. No one escapes trouble. It is an inevitable part of life and, at times, all of us encounter pain, grief, hardship, sorrow, loneliness. Life brings us joy-destroying circumstances. Even Advent Joy cannot change that. We can light the pink candle in our Advent wreaths over and over again, but the pink joy candle cannot bring us joy. The hope, peace, joy and love that Advent might bring to us does not always reach us.

I ask myself: What is it in me that prevents joy from filling my heart? Why does melancholy replace joy in me so often? How do I find joy?

Often, children teach us by their words and actions. Most of them exude joy. I remember hearing children sing, ”I’ve got that joy, joy, joy, joy down in my heart.” The song is actually good theology for children. It is also good theology for adults, especially adults that have lost their joy. I don’t have to search for joy after all. It is ”down in my heart” or maybe down deeply in my soul.

Advent joy is not something you have to work for. Instead, it is something that you hold in your soul that stays with you always. Consider this wise thought:

When you do things from your soul, you feel a river moving in you, a joy.
― Rumi 

Or maybe this thought:

I will give thanks to you, O Lord,
    for though you were angry with me,
your anger turned away,
    and you comforted me.i

Surely God is my salvation;
    I will trust, and will not be afraid,
for the Lord God is my strength and my might;
    he has become my salvation.

With joy you will draw water from the wells of salvation.

Isaiah 12: 1-3 NRSV


Faith, Falling down, Hope, Jude, Unfaith

Falling

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In a tiny book of the Bible that has only 24 verses, we find an exhortation for understanding faith and unfaith. The writer must have known us — and known our lives and our frailties and our actions — ahead of time. He must have known about our faith, and about our unfaith.

It’s troubling at times to experience the many ways unfaith moves in on us until our faith is pushed out for a time. It happens, those times of unfaith. And I have to confess that unfaith has certainly been a part of my journey at times. How does it come on me? What causes it to attack my faith? I can describe a number of ways.

Disappointment and disillusionment in the unjust actions of the leaders of our government — That’s a big one these days.

Anger that children and families are suffering at the Southern border as our country behaves as an unwelcoming place — This is a very serious one for me.

Watching God’s Church go through the motions of religion while failing to create spaces for spiritual contemplation and justice making — Always, this has been a struggle for the Church.

Experiencing personal failure to the point of feeling completely defeated — It happens when one puts herself out into the real world.

Falling down in a state of exhaustion, frustrated with the struggle, ready to give up — It’s such a common state of being for me.

It is true that the preceding situations should not have the power to create unfaith in me. Surely my faith, a faith of so many decades, is strong enough to sustain me. The little Book of Jude offers 24 verses of exhortation to me and to us all:

“But you, Beloved, build yourselves up on your most holy faith; pray in the Holy Spirit; keep yourselves in the love of God” (v. 20). In other words, keep unfaith at bay, stand firm in God’s love, keep yourself from falling.

I happen to know about falling, spiritually and literally. I can recall times in my life when I fell into a brief place of unfaith, times when my hope was small and my spirit was assailed. I know all too well that falling is a situation in which you lose control as you completely lose your footing. It happened to me last night, in fact. In one moment, I was getting ready for bed, and in the next, I was tripping over a power cord, ending up on my back end with an excruciatingly painful knee, and slightly less excruciating pain in several other places on my body.

As my knee swelled to more than twice its size, Fred rushed in and together we plotted how I would get up off the floor. It was not easy, and on top of that, now I have to deal with the repercussions of falling: a hurt knee, painful toes, pain in my shoulder, my arm, my back, my hand and my bottom. It would have been much easier to keep from falling in the first place.

And that’s what Jude, brother of James, told us in the most beautiful benediction in all of Scripture.

Jude, a servant of Jesus Christ and brother of James,

To those who are called, who are beloved in God the Father and kept safe for Jesus Christ:

May mercy, peace, and love be yours in abundance.

Now to him who is able to keep you from falling, and to make you stand without blemish in the presence of his glory with rejoicing, to the only God our Savior, through Jesus Christ our Lord, be glory, majesty, power, and authority, before all time and now and forever. Amen.

Here we have some glorious, sublime Gospel Good News that we can count on:

We are kept safe.

God is able to make us stand without blemish in the presence of God’s glory.

God is able to keep us from falling.

Thanks be to God.