If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commandments and abide in his love. I have said these things to you so that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be complete. (John 15:10-12, NRSV)
On Sunday, December 13, we marked the third Sunday of Advent by lighting the third candle, the Candle of Joy. Advent is a holy season of waiting with hope and expectation for the gift of God’s love revealed in Jesus Christ, whose birth we celebrate at Christmas. Like young children anticipating the joy of Christmas morning, we anticipate—and are called to live into—the joy that God intends for us. The words of Jesus recorded by John remind us that the Gospel is indeed good news: God’s will for us is a life of joy, the deep and complete joy that comes from abiding in God’s love and keeping God’s commandments.
Earlier this year the Clergy Round Table discussed The Book of Joy by Archbishop Desmond Tutu and His Holiness the Dalai Lama with Douglas Abrams. (If you have not read it, we recommend it!). These renowned world leaders met in celebration of the Dalai Lama’s 80th birthday and spent a week sharing what joy means to them, each from his own religious perspective and lived experience. Joy, they said, is something much deeper than happiness. It is a way of being that accepts pain and suffering as an inevitable part of life and asks not, “how can I escape this?” but “how can I turn it into something positive?” The pillars of joy are qualities of the mind: perspective, humility, humor, and acceptance; and qualities of the heart: forgiveness, gratitude, compassion, and generosity.
As we look forward to the celebration of Christ’s coming into the world, we know that the child born in a manger grew into the adult who died on a cross and rose again. I can think of no more powerful way of communicating that suffering is indeed part of life, but because of the power of God’s love for us, suffering is never the last word. God’s love wins. For me, that is the greatest Christmas gift: in the midst of suffering, even the suffering of this pandemic and all that it has wrought in our world, we can find meaning and yes, joy. God’s will for us is a life of joy, the deep and complete joy that comes from abiding in God’s love. This is my prayer for you—that you will find and live in the joy of God’s love.
For those who are suffering
God of All: We lift up to you the suffering within us and around us. Open hearts, our own and others’, to experience the hope and peace and joy that are possible because of your great love for us. We pray in the name of Jesus who lived and died and rose to reveal the depth and breadth of your everlasting love. Amen.