This might be my favorite Sunday of Advent- the pink candle of Joy. I love that the third week is different than all the rest and although we've still got a ways to go until Christmas, we're turning our hearts toward joy. I cannot hear the word without thinking of one of my favorite animated movies, Inside out.
One of my favorite memories of youth ministry, and certainly my best Halloween costume, was when I dressed up as Joy from Inside Out, along with four of my students. It's the character I most resonate with and it's always such a compliment to me when someone says I remind them of Joy. One of my favorite parts of the movie was the way that Joy learned nuance. The character learned that moments of joy often came not in spite of sadness, but because of it.
Joy is not unadulterated happiness or blind exhilaration. I think we too often use it as a synonym of happiness, but I think that is a mistake. I think while happiness is a state of being, influenced by circumstances, whereas joy is something much more profound. Joy is not just a product of our circumstances, but it comes from somewhere deeper. We can have joy in the midst of unhappy, even tragic, circumstances.
Being in Seattle, particularly on a clear and sunny day when my favorite mountains are in their full, snow-capped glory, brings me such deep joy. As I walked through my old neighborhood this past week, listening to music that makes me feel like I'm in a musical or movie, I was overcome with gratitude and joy for the life I get to lead. It is certainly not perfect and I would probably say 2017 was the hardest year of my life. This year has put me through the ringer and made me question who I am and what I have of worth to give this world.
Yet, despite the stress, the doubt, and the heartache, I am filled to the brim with joy. I find joy in sunny Seattle days, sunshine, a well-executed joke on twitter, or the indescribable feeling of being home. Joy really does come in the morning. Joy is found sitting next to a friend at church, who is mourning the loss of a parent and yet is holding on to hope and joy in the face of death. Joy is found even at my grandfather's graveside, grieving his loss from our lives but rejoicing that his pain was gone. It's a strange paradox and I'm learning to live into it.
I've also been finding joy in the mystery of what life holds. There are a million ways that my life could go. I don't even know a fraction of what my life will look like- jobs I'll have, places I'll live, people I'll love, books that I'll read, adventures I'll take. No matter how much I plan and prepare, I still have no idea what the future will hold. To my great surprise, this lack of control is incredibly freeing. I love to have control over my life, but I also get overwhelmed and stressed at trying to control situations I clearly have no control over. Letting go of my need for control and embracing the mystery of my future has brought a joy that no amount of control ever could. I suppose that's how life works- it starts with recognizing the idols that we cling to (the need to be in control, to be unique, to be loved, to be best, to be fun, to be needed), whatever they may be. It's only then that we can start to let go and find joy.
Dear friends, let's hold on to joy. Not the sticky, candy cane fueled happiness that lasts only as long as our circumstances. Let's hold on to joy that can be found even if the darkest of places, the joy that can sustain us for a lifetime.