One of the worst pastors I ever encountered called the Third Sunday of Advent, in his best Texas accent and completely without regard for the fact that this word is French, “Gaud-ette Sunday.” He was such an oaf, but like most oafs he was oblivious to his oafishness. He affected joy – the theme of this Sunday – quite well as he climbed the church corporate ladder to avoid coping with his severely disabled daughter, but in the end he stepped down from the high position he had coveted for so long and finally achieved. I have always suspected it was because the joy he sought was not hiding where he believed it was. There was no success that could offset the pain of his daughter’s condition that was caused by a forceps delivery that was botched. There was no secret answer or degree of faith that was going to magically heal her, no matter how much he wanted to believe there was. In many ways, his own belief system made joy impossible.
It’s easy to shake our heads at his story, but how many of us do something similar? How many of us are, to paraphrase a country song from back in the day, looking for joy in all the wrong places? How many of us look for cheap joy, the kind of joy that is relatively easy to achieve and therefore short lived? What if real and lasting joy requires sacrifice and loss – and a sacrifice and loss not of our own choosing at that? What if the truth is that if we want to achieve joy, something – and quite likely many somethings – must die?
Joy is hard work. It’s not easily achieved, nor is it for the faint of heart. It’s also, to a certain extent, different for each of us. Is it worth the sacrifice to achieve joy? The truth is that we will not know until we get there, and by then the price will be paid and the question moot. Maybe the real question is whether or not we are willing to settle for joyless lives that we barely tolerate. We see examples of this all the time and all around us. People stay in loveless, stifling relationships because they lack the gravitas to do the work to change the relationship or, failing that, to leave. How many of us know that person who stays in their unfulfilling job because leaving is just too much work (pun intended), and as a result they die a little bit each workday?
Obviously, this scale of shift is a major project. Deciding that the things we have believed would make us happy are not, in fact, the things that will isn’t a quick and easy process. Joy doesn’t mean being blissed out all the time, but it does imply a general sense of well being and of standing on solid ground. It means knowing that life is good even when it is challenging. Joy doesn’t mean we will never feel challenged, but it does mean that we won’t see those challenges as personal attacks from on high – or next door. You won’t get there if you don’t get started!