Sermon by Rev. Todd Weir
December 16, 2018
Scripture: Isaiah 12 :2-6
Today we lit the candle of joy, and in this season, we do many things to attempt creating joy. We decorate our homes and bring greenery inside, while outside the trees are bare and dormant. We light candles to push back the darkness that settles in before our evening commute. Fires burn to ward off the cold. Carolers sing in the streets, Christmas music everywhere, joy to the world. Gifts are given and received, charities are supported. In busy stores, profits are made, savings depleted. Oh well, joy to the world. From Holiday Stroll, the Hot Chocolate Run and First Night, it is a month of celebration that cushions us against the beginning of winter, the darkest time of the year. Without this enormous effort to induce joy, would anyone live in New England? December is the month we need an all-out effort for joy. Who needs festivals in June and July, where the days are long and bright? We need it now.
I embrace all these festivities, but I wonder-Does this bring us joy? Decorations, presents and festivals get us through the dark nights, but where are we afterwards? Does it help us know the joy of Christmas throughout the year, as Scrooge learned from the ghosts of Christmas? With great effort put into a season creating joy, is this collective attempt to ward of anxiety and despair; to forget the ice caps are melting, violence and injustice persist, starving people, rampant corruption. I don’t want to be the Grinch who steals Christmas by pointing out reality. Perhaps without this one month of relief, we would exhaust ourselves with despair. December festivities are the annual collective dose of Prozac, like a flu shot-everyone should get one!
I won’t launch a diatribe against the commercialization or domestication of Christmas (it is the Sunday of joy, after all.) How do we find the real, authentic joy which we are called to celebrate? What is the true source of joy? What is different about joy, compared to happiness, delight, pleasure or thrill?
This week I pondered, what are the truly joyful moments of my life? My earliest memory of joy is from age five. Our family traveled to the Grand Canyon. One morning we rose early to see the sunrise. The sun was not yet the all-encompassing outpouring of yellow daylight. It was peeking above the horizon, like an ember left over from last night’s fire. As the first light poured into the dark canyon, the different sedimentary layers of tan, brown red rock, ignited into vibrant orange, and purple and bright red. My parents took out their shiny, new Polaroid Instamatic camera, and I said I wanted to take the picture. In quiet and reverent tones, they explained to me how to take a picture, and then they let me hold the camera carefully in my own hands. I had a moment of fearing that I would drop the camera, and it would tumble down into the depths of the earth. But I steadied myself, framed the picture and pushed the button, just in time, because a few seconds later, the effect vanished.
I still remember the feeling, my first real memory of wonder, of a moment of startling, ephemeral beauty. And it’s was big deal at age five to be trusted with the responsibility of pushing the button. I had captured the moment in the photo; me, who usually spilled my milk, broke a glass or had something on my face, I participated in a rare and beautiful moment. I look back now, 50 years ago, with joy, because it was then I first recognized wonder. This was a doorway to a reality I hadn’t known before. This experienced shaped my spirituality, teaching me to be a seeker, a watcher for rare, wondrous moments.
A handful of moments since then have been nearly as wonderful. IF time allowed, I could tell stories of first kisses and new romance; of moments in prayer when I truly felt loved and in communion with the divine; a moment of gratitude after major surgery of being able to walk to the mailbox. But this was the first framing moment. Joy comes to those who wait and watch and seek. Joy is not something we accomplish or create. It won’t be achieved by just the right gift. Success can’t quite compare. While we must be present and pay attention, joy surprises us, it is a moment of epiphany beyond our control, and shows us new possibilities.
In our scripture text from Isaiah, joy is described to be like drawing water from a well of salvation. Perhaps the metaphor is lost in modern times, when we can turn on the faucet and get hot and cold water anytime. There is no joy in turning on a faucet. But If we had to walk to a well, and carry our water with buckets, we would better comprehend. In parts of the world, people spend half the day simply lugging water. If they are lucky, it is fit to drink. If you live in a dry land, where water is scarce, and drawn by hand, then we can perceive the precious sense of filling our bucket. But what makes drawing water joyful? It is hard work and drudgery. What is Isaiah telling us about this ordinary labor? Where is the joy in drawing and hauling water?
As I was writing, my mind leaped to the sign we have at our front entrance:
“In this house we believe:
Love is love
Black Lives Matter
No human is illegal
And…Water is life.”
Water is life. Yes, it is. We are walking, living water bags, precariously contained by our skin. Water is where we are baptized, water is what Jesus calls us to give to others in his name, when the prophet Amos calls for justice, he says, “Let justice flow down like waters, and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream.” Water is life – life as it should be, life as God means it to be. Joy is like the water coming to quench our thirst, saving us. It is the rains which showers the crops. We dive into its depths to cool ourselves. Water is the substance of life, and the symbol of God’s generosity that makes life possible. With joy, you will draw water from the well of salvation. With joy, beauty is revealed in ordinary moments. With joy, love comes to us when we don’t expect it. With joy, justice flows and releases people from misery. With joy, we are called to celebrate the birth of Christ, who brings us living water. Joy to the world, our God comes! Prepare room in your hearts!