Text: Isaiah 35 (streams in the desert)
It was "Children's Church" again today, and so the following reflection solicited sharing from people, young and old, about times of joy and sorrow in the past year . . . Ian
And now a time for reflection. I will start with few words on today's Scripture reading and our theme of joy. After that, I want to open the conversation up so all of us who want can share memories about joys and sorrows. Finally, I will close with a few more thoughts.
I liked today's reading from Isaiah. Its happy vision fits with our theme of joy. It also reminds me a bit of our region.
Isaiah is trying to give hope to the people of Israel after their defeat by Babylon. Both Israel and Babylon are dry countries surrounded by desert and wilderness. So I can understand how the people of Israel would take images of water in the wilderness and streams in the desert as signs of joy.
Now, our region is hardly wilderness or desert. But it is one of the driest parts of Canada. And we have a wilderness park 100 km to our west. Grasslands National Park is returning former ranches to native grasses.
For these reasons, I think we also can relate to Isaiah's images of streams in the desert and blossoms in the wilderness as metaphors of joy.
During the four Sundays in Advent, we prepare for Christmas by focussing first on hope, then peace, joy today and finally love next week. We do so not because life is always peaceful, joyous, and loving, but because often it isn't. Just as farmers don't always get enough rain in the spring, we don't always avoid conflict in our families. Nor do we always feel joy or love, especially after loss or when we are hurt and angry.
At Christmas, we feel joy when we gather with family and friends and exchange gifts that show our love for each other. But our joy is sometimes accompanied by sadness or disappointment. Today, I want us to think about both sides of joy -- times when we experience it; and times when wish we had more of it.
So having said those few things, I am now going to turn things over to you. Think back, if you will, to this past year and remember moments when you felt happy or joyful. Does anyone want to share a happy memory from the past year? Who wants to start . . . Roughriders and the Grey Cup? birth of a baby? a wedding? great vacation? relief from pain or sickness? singing in the choir? . . .
Thank you for your sharing. And now, I want us to turn to the other side of life. Let us now think back through this year and remember moments when we didn't feel happy of joyful. Is anyone willing to share a moment like that? one when you felt pain or loss instead of joy? things that disappointed you or left you feeling discouraged? a death? hearing about tragic news, such as the shootings in Newtown Connecticut one year ago yesterday? my car crash . . .
Thank you again for that sharing. I am sure that we all really appreciate it. Both joy and sorrow are part of life for us all.
To finish, I will reflect on the two stories of Jesus' birth found in the Bible. Jesus' birth in Bethlehem is a moment of great happiness. In one story, angels sing "Peace on earth, good will to all" and direct shepherds to go to Bethlehem to see.
There they find Mary, Joseph and the baby in a stable. The Romans have forced Mary and Joseph to travel a long way for a census. When they arrive in Bethlehem, there is no room for them, so Mary is forced to give birth in a stable. This humble scene reminds us of how vulnerable Mary and Jesus were at his birth.
Mary is blessed with a child, but she and Joseph are poor and live under Roman rule. There is joy in the birth of Jesus, but there is also stress and a hint of the difficulties that Jesus would face later with the Romans in his ministry.
In the other story of Jesus' birth, a Star guides Wise Men with wonderful gifts to Bethlehem. But there is also danger. A dream warns Joseph to flee Bethlehem because King Herod wants to find the baby and kill him. Mary, Joseph and Jesus leave for Egypt where they spend the next few years as refugees.
Jesus survives this first scare. But he grows up as a poor refugee. Life must have been difficult for the Holy Family.
The stressful and scary parts of the Christmas stories remind us that our greatest joys also come with risk. At the birth of a child, we worry about the health of the baby and the mother. We worry that the family won't have enough money. We wonder if the troubles of the world will bring harm to our loved ones, as happens to Jesus 30 years later.
But even though life has risks, we still pursue the things that bring us joy. We fall in love. We marry and have children. We build struggle for what we believe is right in the world.
Often, the things we fear do come to pass. A life of great love can also be a life of great loss and pain.
The good news is that even when we lose what is precious to us, God is still our Source and Support. On his journey to Jerusalem, Jesus tells us that we have to lose our life to find it. When we live into this Gospel truth, we can know the deepest joy of all.
This is the true joy of Christmas, that we belong to God. Christmas comes each year to remind us that God's Love comes to us in Christ, both as helpless baby and as our crucified saviour. Even when we don't look for it, God's love finds us.
Thanks be to God.