JOY in the midst of fear.
The weeks leading up to the mystery of Christmas are full of wonder - Not just the wide-eyed bushy-tailed adoring wonder of awe and delight, but also the wonder of questions, confusion, and chaos. Through the prophet Isaiah, we see God’s promise to bring forth justice. In the story of Godly Play, the poor and outcast shepherds are invited to Bethlehem, to go and see a child who is changing everything. It IS wonder-FUL. This season is mixed with many kinds of wonder. For each promise of joy, there is also a kind of loss…fear…grief.
Bringing forth justice also means letting former things pass away. Going to Bethlehem means leaving the fields that are home. This changing reality disrupts our expectations and our plans. Whether people or places or our situation changes for better or for worse, there is still an experience of grief. We have lost something. The way we imagined things would be. We experience all kinds of loss – the loss of a person, the loss of an identity, the loss of a dream, the loss of a relationship, the loss of work or of meaningful work, the loss of health, the loss of something so small we didn’t even realized we cared so much about it until it was no longer there.
The process of letting go, of letting former things be former things is difficult, and frightening, and long, and not a straight line of progress we can push through. When we’re in the midst of it, the promise of “new things” that God is doing? Seems vague, even hollow. How could it be anything else when the ground seems to continually move underneath us? Sometimes even a song of joy, peace, and goodwill…sound frightening because it’s different than what we know or are experiencing. Like the whole of life, in this season of Advent, joy and fear are all tangled up together.
It’s like that jumbled pile of cords that…even once you’ve figured out which one is your headphones, which one is the power cord, which ones go to this or that, even once you’ve worked them free…it’s like a law of the universe that they’ll end up tangled again. And when I get so frustrated and hopeless with it all that I throw the ball of cords against the wall and vow to go off the grid and give up on everything, when my heart is beating so loudly it seems to be the only thing I can hear…another voice enters the conversation. Scripture tells us that the angels proclaim to quivering souls, “do not be afraid.” But my heart hears, “I know. I know it’s frustrating and crazy and wild and impossible and painful and just all too much. I know…do not be afraid.”
Only when I feel like the one who speaks hope has actually heard and understood my sorrow and complexity, can I also hear and maybe even possibly understand this word of hope. Only then can I release a little bit of the former things in order to be open for a new thing, because I don’t feel like I holding the former thing by myself. Only in this kind of sacred community which has space for both joy and pain, frustration and delight, can I begin to imagine that the light has not gone out, but is changing.
So I wonder….which part of you or your life is marked by grief, loss, hurt or confusion? For what part of your soul, do you long to hear God’s voice declare, “I know. I know.” ?
And holding this in your mind and in your heart, I invite you to pray with me: O God of former things and new things, we ask you to make your presence known. Sit with us in our waiting and our wondering. Speak your word of comfort and of hope to us, remind us that we’re not alone. Guard and guide us as we encounter the tangles of life. Help us in our work along this way. Put a song of joy in the air, and help us to hear it. Keep singing to us; sing good news of joy and peace and goodwill until the rhythm of our hearts take up the tune as well. We are restless, but we find rest in you. We pray in the name of the child born in Bethlehem, who is changing everything. Amen.