Advent’s Gift: This Joy

“This joy that I have/ the world didn’t give it to me/

“This joy that I have/ the world didn’t give it to me/

“This joy that I have/ the world didn’t give it to me/

The world didn’t give it/ and the world can’t take it away.”

My grandmother, Eva Mae Thomas, would sing this song on any given day.  One part in praise to God; the other part a theological statement.  This joy did not belong to her or to the world.  It was a given—because it had been given to her by God.  It is the same joy, that is in fact a certainty, that she passed on to me.

She was saying that there are kinds of joy and hers was not fleeting.  It did not fluctuate based on her feelings or the social temperature but was rooted in her faith.  Because she was “in the world but not of it.”  God was with her and she was with God.  Jesus was God with Eva Mae.  Her faith was God- given and no matter what happened in the world, she would have this Joy.

It was not something that could be taken away and there was nothing that could pull her away from it.  She was bound to it.  It was a promise, a covenant.  She would keep this Joy because this Joy was keeping her.

This Joy, not as a possession but perhaps a person.  This Joy is not a product that we stock up on, that the American empire capitalizes on.  Despite commercials and their appeal, this Joy is not something that we can buy.  It is not something that can be stored, bubble- wrapped and shipped.  This Joy is not something we get after six monthly installments of $19.99.  This Joy is not material or physical.  This Joy cannot be owned and it costs us nothing.  It certainly does not belong to any one of us. 

“This Joy that (we) have/ the world didn’t give it to (us)/

The world didn’t give it/ and the world can’t take it away.”

The late Eugene Peterson said, “The Holy Spirit’s literary genre of choice is story.”[i]  I bear witness to the joy that is given and then taken away as I am certain that many others are.  Things are good until they are not.  The child is happy until he is not.  The car is perfect until it is rear-ended and life is upended.

Car parts, toys and tissues for tears that are not tears… of joy.    

But then there is this Joy.  A bouncing baby boy, joy made flesh, divinity in pounds and ounces.  This Joy was carried, birthed, picked up and cuddled.  This Joy that will come under attack because Herod is a killjoy. 

“Because this Joy that (Mary) had/ the world didn’t give (him) to (her)/

The world didn’t give (him)/ and the world can’t take (him) away.”

More than two thousand years later, this Joy is here to stay.  I cannot put my finger on it but I know this Joy when I see it, when I feel it.  It is familiar.  I know the feeling and I am feeling for it during this pandemic caused by COVID-19.  More than a million dead bodies, I have lost all feeling.  Going numb is my best defense.  Because I simply cannot get my mind around this many deaths.  For this lament, this number of losses, there is no prayer list long enough to capture all this grief and anguish.

Hands in the air, I don’t know where to put it or who to point to for direction. 

Which is why I am glad that we celebrate Jesus’ arrival.  Because we need some good news.  The season of Advent is a baby messiah announcement.  The Savior of the world is coming. This Joy is coming and nothing can stop him— not a deranged king or a deadly virus.

Joy comes to us all— despite the sociopolitical construct of race, regardless of gender, social location and geographic space.  This Joy is a given, no matter what has been lost and despite all that we have taken for granted. This Joy is God- given and it is Eva Mae’s and mine and yours.

“This joy that (we) have/ the world didn’t give (him) to (us)/

The world didn’t give (him)/ and the world can’t take (him) away.”

Amen.


[i] Eugene H. Peterson, Leap Over a Wall: Earthly Spirituality for Everyday Christians, (New York, NY: HarperOne, 1997), 3.

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Seeking to lead words and people to their highest and most authentic expression, I am the principal architect of a race/less world.

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