Third Week of Advent 2021

Scripture: Luke 1: 46-56 (The Magnificat)

Finally, we’ve reached Gaudete Sunday and the week of rejoicing. It takes its name from the first word uttered in the old Latin Mass: Gaudete in Domino semper, itero dico gaudete/Rejoice in the Lord always, again I say rejoice! We light the rose pink candle to mark that we are half way to Christmas, half way on our journey through the bleak mid-winter, through the shadows of fear and uncertainty; halfway to where the our little stars are leading us.

Rabbi Israel Baal Shem Tov, founder of Hasidic Judaism, is credited with returning joy to Judaism. He raised Eastern European Jews up out of the ashes of despair into disciplines for cultivating joy such as ecstatic singing, dancing, and storytelling. One cannot serve God with joy, he said, if one doesn’t daily experience that unbounded spirit of joy within oneself.

Howard Thurman reminds us: “Joy is of many kinds. Sometimes joy comes silently, opening all closed doors and making itself at home in the desolate heart. It has no forerunner, save itself. It brings its own welcome and its own salutation.”

A Beloved Community organizes itself for joy. A theology of joy requires the ability to see beyond the present moment. When the present moment is one of violence and unspeakable injustice, this is very hard to do; and perhaps impossible outside of a community of believers with a narrative history of experiences with God.

A theology of joy is more a perspective than an emotional experience. It is a lived history of God made out of sorrow, suffering, and despair. Dostoevsky described this aspect of joy when he said, “It is not like a child that I believe in Christ and confess him. My hosanna has come forth through the crucible of doubt.”

A Beloved Community holds space for these paradoxical hosannas, this unreasonable joy. It nurtures and cherishes those who have the gift of joy—”Wherever they go, they give birth to joy in others.” A Beloved Community celebrates the ecstatic moments in worship, when as a body we move beyond ourselves. It recognizes joyful awe, a feeling of transcendence that follows a “mountaintop experience” those fleeting moments when we glimpse the face of God in our child, our neighbor, our beloved, or a stranger on the train.

It’s these moments of revelation that produce a joyful response from us. From Mary: “My soul glorifies the Lord and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior” or in my own translation Miryam says “All the lives within me shall be made many in the Lord, the Spirit that breathed over the waters at the beginning now stirs up a mighty fountain within me. Together we leap joyfully into the arms of God.”

Howard Thurman said, “There is a joy that is given.” If you have received it, then “Wherever [you] go, [you] give birth to joy in others. [These ones] are the heavenly troubadours, earth-bound, who spread their music all around and who sing their song without words and without sounds. To be touched by them is to be blessed of God. They give even as they have been given. Their presence is a benediction and a grace. In them, we hear the music and the score. And, in their faces, we sense a glory, which is the very light of heaven.”

Rejoice in the Lord always, again I say rejoice! Breathe in. Breathe out. It’s Advent.

–Rose Marie Berger (delivered as a reflection to Sojourners staff on Dec. 14, 2021, with reading of the Magnificat in Luke 1:46-56)

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