Joy is seldom recognised for the incredibly restorative, liberating force that it is. Unfortunately, even in faith communities, soberness, seriousness and even cynicism are often portrayed as the marks of true spirituality and maturity. The Lectionary this week would challenge that thinking, and would call us to consider joy as the mark of true faith, of spiritual maturity and of true justice-bringers. If our work for justice and peace, for compassion and grace brings no joy – to us or to those we serve – we do not really bring liberation. But, when we can dance and sing, and draw others into the celebration, we have truly become life-givers, and reflections of the Christ who was not only a man of sorrows, but also a man of celebration and joy.
Among the Lectionary readings this week we find a promise from Isaiah of God’s restoration for God’s people, Mary’s song of faith and justice, John the Baptiser’s doubts about Jesus, and a call from James for the believers to be patient in suffering. What a fascinating mix! The message is clear, though. Doubts, struggles and suffering will come, but we have a choice about our response. We can allow our doubts to get the better of us and lead us to miss God’s way, or we can affirm our faith, participate in God’s mission, and allow hope, faith and joy to sustain us. When we consider the great challenges we face during this Advent season, this week’s message offers comfort and strength. On a personal level, many of us struggle to make ends meet, live in fear, and face the temptation to do whatever it takes to survive in an unjust world. On a global level, the constant stream of news about wars, natural disasters, and the failure of leadership can tempt us to abandon hope and faith. But, as followers of Jesus we don’t have the luxury of these responses. In the face of our internal doubts, and our external challenges, we are called to keep hope alive, and to continue to live with peace, generosity, and compassion. The truth is that when we do this, we don’t only bring life to others. We find the best possible life for ourselves. Let’s fill our sanctuaries and our world with singing and celebration this week, and let’s rediscover the healing power of joy as we wait for the incarnation event!