Joy in the Mourning

The 12th month

The time of cheer and giving and wreaths and lights and “Fa-la-la.”

And it’s dark.

I’m supposed to feel warm and fuzzy.

And I’m sick, and I’m in pain.

Looking everywhere for a glimpse of joy, for an ounce of faith, for a spark of hope.

It’s not about getting older.

It’s not even working in an industry permeated by consumerism and greed.

There’s something different this year.

Unanswered prayers, and obstacles, and opposition from the Adversary and waiting and trusting and it’s different.

In this desperate search for joy, trying to understand what on earth Isaac Watts and Chris Tomlin are talking about, doing all that I know to do.  Uplifting melodies and words and literature on gratitude and it all only takes the edge off.

“If only it would snow,” I think, “maybe that would put me in this so-called ‘Christmas spirit.’”

But I know joy is not found in the way the precipitation falls.

Maybe if I put Christmas music on.

But I know that if I hear another song about a reindeer or a snowman, paired with an empty, “Happy Holidays,” from the politically correct, I’ll scream.

Decorations. Traditions. Empty.

And I am Solomon and everything is meaningless.[1]

And I am still on this journey, this conquest for joy.

Then it happens.  The unthinkable. This tragedy.  Their faces.  Innocence lost.

Lives lost.

And this desperate search for this elusive joy, this voyage is trivial.

And our nation is glued to the television and we have our opinions and our politicians take their platforms and their angles and the story spins and our world spins and spins and once everyone has updated their Facebook statuses with their two cents and 140 characters, and said their prayers, it’s back to life as normal and shopping and, “I just need to find the right lipstick for my Christmas party,…”

And I am Job and all I want to do is tear my robe and weep and sit among the ashes.[2]

And all I see are faces.

26 faces.

Faces of lives cut short.

20 of them, unfathomably short.

And then I am reminded of the 5,000 others that died that day.  5,000 others that die every day. Faces we’ll never see.  And our country is broken and their blood cries out from the ground and God sees all this and still looks upon us with love and mercy and compassion and grace and I’ll never comprehend it.

I think further still of faces.

The faces of my niece and nephew.

My two god-children.

Faces of the kids I’ve babysat, kids I’ve taught, all the same age, and I just can’t imagine.

And I’m going about my day and encounter a stranger with their kids, and I look into the face of a child I don’t even know and I’m brought to tears again.

And I’m brought to my knees.

And prayers for their families without ceasing until prayers turn into tears and tears turn into, “God, I don’t know what to say anymore.”

And the earth is mourning, and the heavens above have grown dark and I am Jeremiah and I am weeping.[3]

Where on earth is this joy?

 

Then I’m in church, and they’re singing.

I’m in my car, and they’re singing.

And these old familiar Christmas carols are heard with new ears and the words become the prayers of the broken…

Oh come, oh come Emmanuel

And ransom captive Israel that mourns[4]

And another…

No more let sins and sorrows grow,

Nor thorns infest the ground;

He comes to make His blessings flow

Far as the curse is found,

Joy to the world, the Lord is come[5]

And another still…

Chains he shall break, for the slave is our brother

And in his name all oppression shall cease

Sweet hymns of joy in grateful chorus raise we[6]

Sweet hymns of joy.

In the midst of troubles, trials, pain, disease, murder, sin, and brokenness, we sing sweet hymns of joy.

And not just joy, gratitude.


And I don’t have all of the answers and I don’t understand but I believe

“His law is love and His gospel is peace”[7]

This Prince of Peace.

Yaweh.

God Almighty, whose name is so high and so great some would argue it is actually irreverent to write.

Creator God, who laid the earth’s foundations and marked off its dimensions[8] and made man from dust[9] came to us in love.  Came to us in the most humble and lowly of circumstances.  So we would know that he understands.

Jesus.

Who was born into a time where a certain ruler was so threatened by this baby, modern-day atheist claim was just a myth on New York City billboards, that he murdered every baby boy under the age of two living in Bethlehem.[10]

Jesus is born.

And we celebrate his birth at Christmas.

And we are grieving the loss of lives.

Just as Bethlehem grieved.

And I get it.

No, I don’t find a state of elatedness, but rather, find a new understanding of “consider it pure joy, […] whenever you face trials of many kinds,”[11] and “the joy of the Lord is (my) strength”[12]

…”do not grieve, for the joy of the Lord is your strength.”12

And I see.

We have this treasure.

“We have this treasure in jars of clay to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us.”[13]

“For God, who said, ‘Let light shine out of darkness,’ made his light shine in our hearts to give us the light of the knowledge of God’s glory displayed in the face of Christ.

But we have this treasure in jars of clay to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us. We are hard pressed on every side, but not crushed; perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed. We always carry around in our body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be revealed in our body.”[14]

And God put on flesh.

And He has rescued us from our sinful selves.

“And He will wipe every tear from our eyes.”[15]

And there will be no more cancer.

And there will be no more mental illness.

And “there will be no more death’ or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things (will) pass away.”15

And “at the name of Jesus every knee (will) bow,
    in heaven and on earth and under the earth,
11 and every tongue acknowledge that Jesus Christ is Lord…”[16]

And we will all gather around the throne of The Almighty and say “‘Holy, holy, holy is the Lord God Almighty,’ who was, and is, and is to come.”[17]

And on this cold, dark, December night, I gather around this manger scene and sing “‘Holy, holy, holy is the Lord God Almighty,’ who was, and is, and is to come.”17

And finally “the joy of the Lord is my strength.”12

And that is “Joy…unspeakable joy.”[18]

Joy to the world.

The Lord is come.

“At this, Job got up and tore his robe and shaved his head. Then he fell to the ground in worship and said:

 

‘Naked I came from my mother’s womb, and naked I will depart.
The Lord gave and the Lord has taken away;
may the name of the Lord be praised.’

 

In all this, Job did not sin by charging God with wrongdoing.”[19]



[1] Ecclesiastes 1:2 (New International Version)

[2] Job 1:20 and Job 2:8 (New International Version)

[3] Jeremiah 4:28 (New International Version)

[4]  “O Come, O Come, Emmanuel,” trans. John Mason Neale(1851)

[5] Isaac Watts, “Joy To The World” (No. 447) in Praise and Worship Hymnal (Kansas City, MS: Lillenas Publishing Company, 1960).

[6] Adolphe Adam, “O Holy Night” (1847).

[7] Adolphe Adam, “O Holy Night” (1847).

[8] Job 38:4 (New International Version)

[9] Genesis 2:7 (New International Version)

[10] Matthew 2:16 (New International Version)

[11] James 1:2 (New International Version)

[12] Nehemiah 8:10 (New International Version)

[13] 2 Cor. 4:7 (New International Version)

[14] 2 Cor. 4:6-10 (New International Version)

[15] Rev. 21:4 (New International Version) (emphasis added)

[16] Phil. 2:10-11 (New International Version)

[17] Rev. 4:8 (New International Version)

[18] Chris Tomlin, “Joy to the World (Unspeakable Joy)”

[19] Job 1:20-22 (New International Version)