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Joy is essential.

Rejoice always.  This is the message of the third Sunday of Advent, the third of four Sundays counting down to Christmas, so we’re almost there.  This is the week when we light the pink candle on the Advent wreath—it is set apart, a reminder of joy. 


In Advent, we read from Scripture about the world God is still creating, a realm of justice and peace for all peoples.  We look around us in this world, and we don’t have to look very far to find injustice and pain and economic hardships and brokenness.  It’s easy to get overwhelmed.  It’s easy to think my tiny contribution won’t even matter, I can’t fix everything that’s broken. 


This is the perfect time to be reminded that joy is not merely a nice feeling—joy is essential.  Joy is whatever makes life worth living.  Jesus said, “I have come to bring you life—abundant life.”  Not just existence, but abundant life.  A life with joy. 


People who have been involved with social movements know the importance of joy as a sustaining force.  Joy is what keeps people moving, getting up again and again with the goal of liberation.  So today I want to share some wisdom from people who care deeply about freedom and who inspire others to keep going. 


Tracey Michae’l Lewis-Giggetts writes about the ongoing struggle for Black equality and liberation in her book “Black Joy: Stories of Resistance, Resilience, and Restoration.”  This movement has gone on for generations, and she writes, “In order for Black joy to have longevity, for it to live both alongside and beyond our movements, it must be firmly founded in self-compassion and empathy within each individual.”[1]  Joy is both individual and communal. 


Joy is also serious business.  Lewis-Giggetts writes:

“Black joy is also a strategy.  The wider world dismisses and disregards it as frivolity at its peril.  It is a mechanism for resistance, a method of resilience, and a master plan for restoration.”[2]


“I would argue that joy, and Black joy specifically, is different.  Our joy and trauma both sit on a continuum.  There isn’t one or the other.  There isn’t a binary.  The complexities of our experiences mean that our joy can live just underneath pain.  In fact, [joy] can live alongside [pain]. 


“It’s the mother who, after experiencing the pain of childbirth, can look down at the tiny face looking up at her and feel nothing but love.  Joy is that thing, as the elders used to say, ‘no White man can steal.’  It’s that sense of hope; the feeling that something good can come out of the bad.  It’s the good part of the burnt toast.  It’s the donut tire that lasts longer than it should until you can get a new, regular tire.  Our ancestors were well versed in Black joy even when moments of Black happiness escaped them.”[3]


Those who have labored for LGTBQIA+ equality also know the importance of connecting activism with joy.  Last week I heard a podcast sponsored by the National LGBTQ Task Force, which partners with ReconcilingWorks, the group of ELCA Lutherans advocating for inclusion for LGBTQIA+ people. 


The podcast featured two speakers: Kierra Johnson, Executive Director of the National LGBTQ Task Force, and Scot Nakagawa, director of the 22nd Century Initiative.  The title of this episode is Nothing is More Hopeful Than Joy. 


Johnson talks about finding love by joining with other activists, which is where she found her own belonging and identity.  She said:

“So many of us are told, either in a very direct way or indirect, that we aren’t enough.  That we’re not worthy, worthy of happiness, worthy of love, worthy of rights, worthy to exist.


“So joy, in that context, is a very meaningful [voice is breaking up] priceless commodity, tool, to get to a place where you can look in the mirror and say “I love myself,” to get to a place where you see your people and you don’t love them despite who they are but because of who they are.


“When everywhere you look something is telling you that you don’t get to be in a place of joy and celebration—to be in it anyway, that defiance, is meaningful, it’s powerful, it’s magical.  And in a time like this, I would say it is political. It is the fertile soil, it is the fertile ground that I believe we need to then build power from.  I don’t think we can do it without joy, without hope—that’s what I mean by queer joy, when I want that for our people that we are deserving of that.  When I say it is an act of resistance, that is the context that I mean.”[4]


Nakagawa also said:

“We need to reclaim the future by understanding that the path to it is going to be a joyful one.  It is absolutely an important thing that people have learned all over the world who are resisting repressive regimes that joy is a form of martial arts and can be deployed in the advancement of movements. 


“Movements that are free of joy don’t work.  They fail.  Right?  They just fail.  But movements that are lofted by joy provide something for people that allows them to embody what the movement represents.  And feel good doing it and live it 24/7 and fight for it and keep it alive from generation to generation.  …Joy is a real political asset.”


Not incidentally, at our 11:00 worship service today, the children will present a Christmas program, telling the story of Jesus’s birth—interestingly, from the point of view of the sheep.  We keep telling this story and teaching our kids to tell the story because for us, to know God is to know welcome and belonging and, yes, joy. 


These children have practiced their lines but there’s always something unexpected that will make all of us giggle.  We’re not doing this to be silly, but we’re doing this for joy, for the joy of preparing the way for the Lord. 


Pastor Cheryl


[1] Tracey Michae’l Lewis-Giggetts, Black Joy, page xvi

[2] Ibid xviii

[3] Ibid xix


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