Wednesday, December 24, 2008

December 24 in Advent 4

Isaiah 35:1-10
v.10 And the ransomed of the LORD shall return and come to Zion with singing; everlasting joy shall be upon their heads; the shall obtain joy and gladness, and sorrow and sighing shall flee away.

This great poem of joyful restoration ends Advent for us. It has all been for this: joy. The word appears over and over again in this text, twice here in the last verse. Yahweh's intention for his people, indeed for the whole creation, is joy.

We are used to the triad of faith, hope, and love. St. Paul taught us the importance of these three. But joy should be a fourth (maybe Paul didn't know enough joy?). The great 20th century Orthodox writer Alexander Schmemann said that the harshest criticism that could be leveled against Christians is that they have no joy.

As values all these four have careful, "expensive" characteristics. That is, they also have "cheap" versions that do not meet the biblical depth of the words. Hope's cheap alternative, for instance, is optimism. Joy's is, I think, happiness.

This is not to say that happiness is a bad thing. I wish it upon all of us. But we all know it is fleeting; it is dependent on circumstances. Joy, the joy that comes from God, ultimately does not depend on cisumstances. It is like an everflowing river, a deep current in the soul. It is the deep confidence that we are God's beloved, in spite of everything.

This means that joy (as love, hope, faith) is part of the imprint made on us at creation. If we are made in God's image, the we are made not only for joy, but in joy. Joy is in our bones, we would say. The great Christian writer Frederick Beuchner once wrote,

Joy is home...God created us in joy and created us for joy, and in the long run not all the darkness there is in the world and in ourselves can separate us finally from that joy, because whatever else it means to say that God created us in his imge, I think it means that even when we cannot believe in him, even when we feel most spiritually bankrupt and deserted by him, his mark is deep within us, We have God's joy in our blood (The Longing for Home, p. 129)

A joyful Christmas, my friends.

No comments: