Joy, Joy, Joy!

Year B, Advent 3

Isaiah 61:1-4, 8-11                    

Psalm 126 or Luke 1:46b-55 

1 Thessalonians 5:16-24

John 1:6-8, 19-28

Every text this week sings out its message with the challenge of joy! How can joy be a challenge? Don’t we all want to be joyful, full of joy? I have no proof of this but it is my sense that joy goes deeper than happiness. Joy can abide even in the midst of great sorrow and adversity. When tears are spent and our anguish is lamented until our voices are hoarse and our souls are aching to the core…the joy of discovering we have been heard when we thought we were deserted lies beneath our lost hopes.

This is the promise of our scriptures this week…we are heard by God. And God sends the Anointed One “to bring good news to the oppressed, to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and release to the prisoners…”…those who sow in tears reap with shouts of joy. Those who go out weeping, bearing the seed for sowing, shall come home with shouts of joy…”God restores our fortunes…though, of course, we may still be waiting for the unexpected ways that God works. We may not know how but God has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts. God has brought down the powerful from their thrones, and lifted up the lowly; God has filled the hungry with good things, and sent the rich away empty.”

Everyday I hope it will be a happy day. But sometimes in spite of my best intentions…it is not. With a great deal of practice, trial and error, I am learning that I can find joy in each day no matter the circumstances or outcomes of my best efforts. For joy is at the heart of God’s promises for God’s Kingdom of heaven on earth. As I learn to live more fully in gratitude and trust I discover that joy.“Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.” Everyday is not happy or easy…but within each day is a seed of joy living moment by moment in partnership with God’s Spirit. I am learning the answer to how is “yes” when I offer my best and then get out of the way for Spirit to work.

Stories

As we move closer to Christmas this Sunday I think of two stories that share the joy of Christ’s coming and echo the imagery found in the lectionary texts. The first is a Jewish tale from Tunisia titled “Elijah the Slave. It is part of the great wealth of folk tales about Elijah the Prophet and his wonderings throughout the world heralding the coming of the Messiah. You can find this story in a beautiful picture book by Isaac Bashevis Singer as well as in a collection of Elijah tales by Penninah Schramm. .” Click on this link to read a New York Times review of the picture book. The story will connect with themes in the gospel lesson where John the Baptizer heralds the coming of Jesus. You can also find this story in Robert Bela Wilhelm’s iBook, The Innkeeper’s Gift, which is available free on his website until December 31, 2017. The book contains 52 stories for lectionary Year B. Click on the link above in the book’s title. 

The second story or group of stories comes from the many tales that surround St. Brigid of Ireland. Brigid who was reportedly born just a few years before the death of St. Patrick was named for a Celtic goddess of fertility and abundance who figured prominently in ancient Irish spirituality. She is a bridge figure between the “pagan” and Christian times of Ireland and the stories about her reflect the best of both spiritual cultures. Stories abound of her extravagant hospitality to the poor and unfortunate, her kindness to all of God’s creatures and her stubborn resistance to the cruelty of established authority. There are many stories of Brigid in collections of Celtic Christian texts and Irish folk tales. Below are some websites with more information on Brigid.

Here is one of the stories about Brigid that reminds me of themes from this week’s lectionary texts.

Brigid was said to be the daughter of a pagan Irish chieftain and a Christian slave woman. She grew up under her mother’s spiritual tutelage and the hard work discipline of her father. She lived in both their worlds. Once she was asked by her father to assist with cooking in the kitchen in preparation for a great feast he was hosting. Her father gave her five pieces of prize bacon to boil for one of the centerpiece dishes. Brigid took the bacon to the kitchen and began to cook it. At the door she heard a scratching sound and when she opened it she found a poor, wee hound shivering with cold and starving for nourishment. She brought the animal inside to warm by the fire and gave it a dish of water and warm milk. Then she looked at the bacon cooking. There were five large pieces. One would not be missed. She slipped it out of the pot and into the hound’s dish. The animal ate with such relish that Brigid gave took another piece of bacon from her cooking pot and slipped it into the dish. And you can imagine what happened after that. Soon all five pieces were gone and the hound was sleeping peacefully by the fire. When her father called for his platter of bacon Brigid calmly explained what had happened. He flew into a rage but Brigid simply laughed and pointed at the sleeping hound. “Father,” she said, “Can you not see the great joy that good food has brought this poor, wee creature of God? Does it not bring you joy as well knowing that one life has been saved and still no one at your great feast will go hungry tonight?”

Websites with information and resources about St. Brigid:

Blessings on your Advent story journey,

Jane Anne

©Jane Anne Ferguson, 2017 and beyond. Photos and commentary may be reprinted with permission only. Please find and tell the stories!


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