This third week of Advent is the Sunday of Joy. We previously celebrated Hope and Love and now Joy. Our Scripture reading from Thessalonians calls us to “Rejoice always” and “give thanks in all circumstances.” My first reaction is, “Rejoice? In the middle of a pandemic with close to 3,000 people dying every day? I don’t think so.” But the more I think about it, maybe that is exactly the point.
Each Advent week we have had to hold paradoxical ideas. Actually, we are called to “live in the paradox.” This week I heard a neat illustration of this idea.
Consider this coin. It has two sides. Let’s consider one side to represent the struggles of life. The pandemic, the illness, or the loss of loved ones, unemployment or economic insecurity. This side of the coin includes the depth of systemic racism that some of us are just now coming to understand has been going on for centuries. It can also be the devastating depression many people face this time of year. Pile all of that onto one side of the coin.
Now flip the coin over. This second side represents the paradoxical ideas of rejoicing always, and giving thanks in all circumstances. This side represents that sometimes we can find glimpses of joy even in the most difficult times of life. We can find God’s presence, a reason to rejoice, even in the mess.
When we think of rejoicing in the mess, Janet and I often come back to the Christmas of 1990. Our youngest son Steven had just been diagnosed with leukemia and we were lucky to be able to bring him home from the hospital for Christmas. But that was a quarantined Christmas, no family gatherings, no church, no outside contact. On that snowy Christmas morning of 1990, we answered a knock at our front door to find a small group of our closest church friends had come to carol for us and love us (socially distanced of course). It was beautiful. In spite of our worry and anxiety we still look back on that Christmas as one of our family’s best Christmas’ ever. God’s love was present and tangible in the love of friends and family. (Steven is now a happy and healthy husband and father of two of our precious grandchildren.)
But these are two sides of one coin. When we pick up that coin and hold it, we necessarily hold both sides of the coin. You can’t separate them. Maybe that is true of life as well. The challenges, the mess, are real and they are a part of life we cannot escape. But just as real are the joys that are found even in those difficult times. We hold the coin and both its sides. We hold all that life brings, trouble and joy, and we lift it all up to God. God who knows us and who knows life, accepts all we bring and holds it with us—good and bad, pandemic and thanksgivings for health, mourning the losses while rejoicing in all we have received.
This joy that we find is a gift from God, not something we come up with through our own strength. It is a work of God in us—and through us and out into the world.
On this rejoicing Sunday let’s hold the coin, both sides. Hold the paradox. Find the joy. God holds you.