Isaiah 61 is strong in its characterization of the God of Advent:
The Lord says, “I love justice and hate oppression and crime.I will faithfully reward my people And make an eternal covenant with them. They will be famous among the nations; Everyone who sees them will know that they are a people whom I have blessed….Jerusalem rejoices…like a bride dressed for her wedding….As surely as seeds sprout and grow, The Sovereign Lord will save his people, And all the nations will praise him”.
Our third Advent Candle, pink in colour, is sometimes called the “Gaudet” candle from the Latin “joy” or “rejoice”. As we move along exploring the Gospel or Good News of Advent, we move today to Joy in the context of peace and hope. Our Advent readings this morning continue to speak of restoration and renewal. As April pointed out last Sunday, we long for voices of integrity in our society. Our hope is in the correction of communal wrong – something we can have a part in as we walk the way of Advent where Joy springing from hope is itself one of our life journeys.
Isaiah knows that joy is generated by the yearning for peace that results in action as we put hands and feet to our hope for a restored cosmos. Joy, I think he suggests, is the manifestation of hope in action. The Advent Joy we celebrate today goes far beyond the isolated personal happiness of “I’m all right, Jack”, to embrace something much deeper.
That something deeper is a response to God above, within, and around us as we create the reign of God in ways suggested by Isaiah. We rejoice, because we put into action the hope of God – the hope given to us in Jesus of a better world based on justice. Seeds sprout and grow; God’s people act and all the world sees. The deepest human joy involves being part of something incredible; not seeking our own individual happiness. Joy is the fruit of a certain kind of relationship with the divine and with one another.
You may have seen Gretchen Rubin’s book,, “The Happiness Project”. Granted, her focus is on fulfilling our own need for personal happiness, but she presents a marvellous insight into the nature of true joy that is at the basis of our Advent Gospel.
She writes: Generous acts strengthen the bonds of friendship, and what’s more, studies show that your happiness is often boosted more by providing support to other people than from receiving support yourself. I certainly get more satisfaction out of thinking about good deeds I’ve done for other people than I do from thinking about good deeds that others have done for me. It’s a secret of adulthood: Do good, feel good.”
Dr. W. Edwards Deming, renowned expert in quality management and business efficiencies goes even further. He states that “religious belief and participation in a religious community strongly correlated with happiness”. He points out, as the Scriptures do, that religion is often the basis of community life, creating strong social networks. In terms of ‘joy at work’ Deming points out that joy is rarely derived alone. It comes from teams and teamwork in the workplace. We know that creating natural social bonds in the workplace creates both happiness and leads to productive behaviour”. Almost all innovation he says, is the result of trusting relationships and teamwork. We see God working in us in our joyful Advent expectation that leads to being the hands and feet of Jesus in the world. Our fullest Advent joy is in community, not centred in personal feel-good activity.
Unlike the philosophy of novelist Ayn Rand who advocates “create selfishness” as the highest motive in human life, we are called to joy through seeking the Shalom of God and giving action to our hope imparted to us by God in Jesus. As we give to one another, the Spirit of God is manifest through a joy that goes beyond personal emotional well being.
The great Russian author Tolstoy wrote, “Joy can be real only if people look upon their life as a service, and have a definite object in life outside of themselves and their personal happiness.” This kind of joy welcomes God into our lives over and over again in ways that we may not expect and ways hither to unknown to us. Thus joy IS a life journey – a response to the God who continually comes to us in ways unknown. Joy is a characteristic of purposeful community that is moving forward together in the mission of God.
Joy comes from our contributions to restoring right relationships between people and God and people and each other. Even the great secular writers of the 19th century Romantic movement recognized this reality. We’re all familiar with Beethoven’s Ode to Joy from his Ninth Symphony. He sets to music the ringing assertions of the German poet Schiller who affirms in that song, “Joy springs from the Creator. Can you sense the Creator, world, Seek him above the starry Canopy…Above the starry canopy, A loving father must dwell.”
And that loving creator, the source of universal joy calls us to act because that Creator acted in coming down from above the starry canopy (to Adopt Schiller’s three-storied view of the universe for a moment) to take a place with us in the person of Jesus and in the Risen Christ. That is the reality of Advent joy.
Thus we are called to Joy as an adventurous journey — God coming to us in Jesus as “one unknown” in our daily encounters with the people that God places in our midst and within our sphere of influence. We celebrate because God is with us – Emmanuel – putting hands and feet for our longing for voices of integrity in our society, the righting of communal wrong in our world.
This Advent, let God come to us in the Long Expected One in ways unknown. Be open to unexpected joy. As we work together in covenant as a community of Christ, let God surprise you with Advent Joy.
Steve Bailey is a deacon at St. Laurence, Coquitlam and a blogmaster at NW Anglican Blog. May you experience the fullness of Advent joy in your Christian Community.