December 17, 2017: "Joy"
A meditation by Andrew Philip Long
December 17, 2017: Lessons and Carols
Joy. Joy! It is everywhere today—in the beautiful music and the pretty lights and the excited voices. It is also on every page of Scripture we’ve read today. Even Adam and Eve were joyful; they disobeyed God and were removed from the garden, but God sent them out with grace for their journey. The prophet Isaiah spoke joyful words over Jerusalem of the coming Messiah. Mary was joyful—a little scared, too—that the Lord had chosen her to be the vessel of humanity’s salvation. Jospeh was joyful that Mary had not stepped out on him. The shepherds were joyful when they were the first to hear of Christ’s birth, especially since they were never the first for anything. The Wise Men were joyful when they first saw Christ’s star, but they were overwhelmed with exceeding great joy when the star led them to the child and his mother and father. And, because of all of this, we are filled with joy in knowing that God keeps promises.
For as much joy as we have in this place today, it is no secret that many things lurk around to steal that joy away. Illness, disease, hunger, poverty, political division, meanness, abuse of power, oppression. Many things can steal or deny our joy. But there is something even more powerful than these. Theodore Roosevelt identified it when he said, “Comparison is the thief of joy.” I think we know that’s true. I’ve done it, and I’m sure you have, too. Rather than be content with what you have or who you are or what you’ve accomplished, we so regularly look to others and decide whether or not we have enough based on what others have or have accomplished.
I suspect this is part of being human. We enjoy the car we drive, until we see a neighbor with a nicer or newer one. We are content in our relationships, but wonder if the couple down the street is happier. We love our kids, but we wonder if they could be more well-rounded or more accomplished, like some of the others kids we know. We feel good about our academic accomplishments and all the blood, sweat, and tears we put into it until we hear about the person who sailed through the same program. Or, from the opposite site, we see where someone has made a mistake and thank our lucky stars we’re smarter than that. Or we look in judgment on the unhappiness of a friend or coworker or family member and sadly conclude that its really their own fault.
At this time of year, comparisons are especially common. The neighbor’s lights are brighter or straighter; the kid down the street got a better bike or better computer; the Joneses are going on a more lavish Christmas vacation; your brother gets a whole week off after Christmas compared to your measly few days. The list could go on, but you get the point: no joy comes from comparisons.
So in this season, as we get close to the manger in Bethlehem, what if we committed to giving up comparisons? What if we stopped stop judging who we are and what we have based on who someone else is and what they have? Comparisons are not necessary for the people of God. Instead, let’s remember and cling to the most important things of faith and God.
Let’s remember that God gives, and whatever God gives is always enough. Like the laborers who went out into the vineyard at different times of the day, and then received a wage equal to their work, God gives enough and enough is something over which to rejoice!
Let’s remember that God does not give up, but keeps looking to find and save us all. God will not stop until every prodigal is brought home; God will not stop until every sinner has heard that they are more than their mistakes; God will not stop until all eyes have seen the light of Christ’s glory.
Let’s keep doing the things we do best as God’s people. Let’s worship God with our songs and our prayers and our very lives. Let’s open our hearts and minds and homes. Let’s lavish on our neighbors the very best we can offer. Let’s serve those who have been turned away or turned down. Let’s offer radical compassion on the most needy and least worthy. Let’s be the hands and feet, and face, of Christ to a desperate world.
Let’s do all these things and there will be no room for comparisons. In fact, there won’t be room for anything that can take our joy away. We’ll be filled with the joy of Adam Eve because God’s grace attends us every day we are alive. We’ll be filled with the joy of Isaiah because a great light has dawned upon us. We’ll be filled with the joy of Mary and Jospeh because God is faithful and deeply loves us. We’ll be filled with the joy of the shepherds in hearing the news of Christ’s birth, and we’ll joyfully follow the star to wherever God’s promise is born into our world.
And when the star stops, my friends, we’ll see him: the Wonderful Counselor, the Mighty God, the Everlasting Father, the Prince of Peace, and our joy will be complete. In him we’ll know God’s love for us; in him we’ll know God’s generosity towards us; in him we’ll know that salvation has come for us all. Rejoice, people of God. Rejoice!