Joy! It can cause us to break out in song and dance, even if no one wishes to hear and see it! Perhaps, the song goes:
I’ve got the joy, joy, joy, joy
down in my heart, down in my heart, down in my heart.
I’ve got the joy, joy, joy, joy,
down in my heart, down in my heart to stay.
Joy is often understood to be a wonderful sense of happiness and pleasure.
It can be easy to have the joy, to hold it in our hearts, and to keep it deep in our hearts when…
- we are well in mind, body, and soul;
- we are satisfied in our personal and professional lives; and
- we have the necessary resources beyond survival enabled to thrive.
It can be easy to be joyful at the sound of amazing news for yourselves and/or our loved ones. In another words, it is easy to have joy when the pieces of our lives are in their place and all is right.
Unfortunately, it becomes challenging to have, to hold, and to keep said joy in complicated situations that compose our being, our family and friends, our communities, and beyond. Yet, we are encouraged to continue rejoicing in the most complicated situations and darkest moments.
This complicated joy is embodied in the opening chapters of Luke with three canticles (hymns) that rejoice in the Messiah who will bring good news to the oppressed, proclaim liberty to captives and release to the prisoners, tend to the broken-hearted, comfort those who mourn, and announce the forgiveness expected in the ‘Year of the Lord’s Favor’.
And yet, the rejoicing is complicated by social and cultural expectations, the anxieties about the impact of the grand leveling or reversal, and concern about the extremes that those with authority, power, wealth, and privilege will go to prevent said leveling or reversal.
The first canticle is The Magnificat (Luke 1: 46-55). Mary was a young, engaged but unwed, pregnant Israelite girl in first-century Palestine. In the later months of pregnancy, perhaps when Mary’s condition was becoming increasingly noticeable, she traveled to visit her much older cousin Elizabeth. Elizabeth is also miraculously pregnant with John the Baptist, who leapt in her womb acknowledging the unborn Christ child. Upon Elizabeth praising Mary for her faith (or trust), she responds in song.
Although we consider The Magnificat to be a joyful song, Mary was arguably not in a joyful space. Unfortunately, Mary would have been in a complicated situation lacking her own control of it, socially shamed and isolated, and burdened not only with the anxiety of motherhood but the motherhood of the Messiah, who was God in human flesh and bone.
The second canticle is Benedictus, or Blessed (Luke 1:68-79). Zechariah was a priest, the husband of Elizabeth, and the father of John the Baptist. He was inspired at the circumcision of John (the Baptist) to give thanks with a grateful heart and song. He was grateful for John being selected as the prophet to prepare the way for the Messiah, but also anxiously reminds God of the promises made. Further, I envision that Zechariah was concerned for the well-being of his son, John, because prophets often have a complicated relationship with political, social, and religious authorities resulting in social isolation, persecution, and death.
The third canticle is ‘Nunc Ditmittis’, or Now You Dismiss (Luke 2: 29-32). Simeon was a devoted man, who had been divinely promised the experience of laying his eyes upon the Messiah, the salvation, of Israel prior to death. Simeon was guided by the Spirit to be present when, per tradition, Jesus was dedicated in the temple at only eight days old. Simeon rejoices about the divine promise kept and the Messiah come, but I envision his heart dropped slightly for the ‘dismissal’ is not simply from the temple but his physical life.
Thus, joy might be less about the pleasure and happiness at the pieces of our lives in their place.
- Joy is God always and forever active in, among, through, and despite the brokenness and darkness of ourselves, our communities, the nations, and the entire creation.
- Joy is the ability to recognize Emmanuel, God with us, despite brokenness and darkness.
- Joy is the dispelling of hopelessness, anxiety, disappointment, and fear ENOUGH to enable our awareness of Emmanuel, God with us.
May we practice said joy and strive to have, hold, and keep it down in our hearts now and forever. Amen.
Emmanuel, God with us, ease our hopelessness, anxieties, disappointments, and fears enough that we can experience and rejoice in the awareness of your divine presence in, among, through, and despite our brokenness and darkness.
Enable us to have, to hold, and to keep your joy down in our hearts in hope, peace, and love. In the name of your Son, Jesus the Christ. Amen