Sunday, December 14, 2014 – 3rd Sunday of Advent
“May our Homes be filled with Dancing. May our streets be filled with joy.” Jesus has come, salvation is offered to all who repent and turn to him. He promises to return and invite all who are his to inhabit the Eternal Kingdom of Heaven as children of God. Yes, dancing and joy; yes, that sounds right.
We heard it when Tim and Laura lit the candle and read Isaiah 61: I will greatly rejoice in the Lord; my whole being shall exult in my God.
Mary, the mother of Jesus: “My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior.
The Apostle Paul writing to the Thessalonians: Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.
Our songs, our scriptures, our reading, our ears – we are full of joy and we should be. It is Jesus’ birthday. We are reminded that we have been born again in Christ. At Christmas we celebrate our birthday, our awakening to God, our receiving forgiveness, cleansing, and eternal life.
Psalm 126 offers a beautiful expression of what we have in Christ. We are who we are because he is who he is. “Our mouth was filled with laughter, our tongue with shouts of joy. May those who sow in tears reap with shouts of joy. We were like those who dream.” That last line calls to mind the prophet Joel (Joel 2:28). You and I will dream. We will see the Kingdom of God.
The tension comes when we take our eyes off Christmas and the magic and wonder, the holiness and love, and we look around us. Reading Psalm 126 rubs against the hard edge when we step out of the warm soft light of worship into the biting winds of the world around us.
We won’t let go joy. We won’t. We hold it, proclaim, live in it, and spread it because of Jesus. However, we do this with eyes wide open. We do this full of compassion which demands that we have empathy for people whose experience of life is different than our own. That means we have to be joy carriers. We have to carry joy to people who are having trouble seeing it right now.
America has blown up in a 21st century version of racial strife. Much of the vitriol is spilled all over Twitter and Facebook. These media can be pathways where we share the Gospel. I have participated in redemptive conversations on Facebook.
However, there is no filter. So, people can tweet, post, or email extremely insensitive thoughts. Readers see a message and respond with aggressive words. Insults are thrown back and forth and what started as a thoughtful even hopeful discourse is, in the end, a hate-stained verbal battle ground.
Remember the Psalm – our mouth was filled with laughter, our tongue with shouts of joy. We won’t let go of joy. We will spread it. This is the feel-good seasonal joy that can be reduced to a greeting card (not that I oppose Hallmark, I don’t). No, we are here talking about the deep joy of Heaven. That is what we in Christ are called to share.
Michael Brown’s family is having trouble with laughter. Their son is dead.
Eric Garner’s wife is not raising shouts of joy. Her husband, a black man, died when a white officer used an illegal choke hold to subdue him. Conservative commentator Bill O’Reily condemned the actions that led to Garner’s death.
The one that gets me is Tamir Rice, the 12-year-old child in Cleveland, Ohio who was shot by police men because he had a BB gun. My 12-year-old son runs through our neighborhood all the time playing with his friends playing with pretend guns and swords and having fake battles. Boys love BB guns. I don’t have to worry about my son being confronted by police – he’s white.
But my younger son is black. All my kids are adopted and the younger two are black. My neighborhood is mostly white we a few Chinese and Koreans also there. It is educated, middle class America. Is my neighbor going to call the police because my black son is playing too aggressively? When my white son plays that way, it is “boys will be boys.” Why doesn’t my black son get the same space and grace? If my neighbors call the police and they come and confront my black son for doing what all his white playmates have done all around him all his life, then what happens?
He’s seven. He was listening as we had NPR on recently. He asked my wife “Is it going to be hard for me because I am black?” She had to be honest and say, “Yes. It might be.”
This is real. A few years ago, someone in our neighborhood saw two black boys going door-to-door through neighborhood. She emailed the neighborhood list serve asking if she should call the police. They were football players from Chapel Hill high school selling calendars to raise money for the team. Why didn’t she ask the same question a year before? She didn’t ask because a year before, the players who went door-to-door were white.
So just to be clear, parents of black boys have to teach their kids not to play with BB guns – you might get shot. Parents of black boys have to teach their sons to be careful if you go through a neighborhood because your football team needs money – someone might call the police.
Our mouth was filled with laughter, our tongue with shouts of joy. We cannot let it. We are of Christ. We are in Christ. We know what this season, why joy is the word for it. Nor can we blithely proclaim joy as if everything is alright. Everything is not alright.
Much of what I have said is toxic and divisive. Some white people stand with their black brothers and sisters; other white people decry aspects of black culture they find unappealing. Some people damn the police – all police. Others rush to the defense of the police.
I read an impassioned appreciation shared by the daughter of a law enforcement officer. I really could feel her heart as she thanked her dad and all officers for his service in protecting the public. The work the police do is essential in keeping our society safe and ordered. When you are listening to K-Love or another radio station and the public service announcement comes on calling for thanks and prayer for those in the armed forces, also say a prayer of thanks for police officers and fire fighters. We need the people who do these tough jobs.
My only question is this. Could a black woman offer the same word of appreciation to the police? Or would her experiences of police pulling her son over to ask why someone like him was driving such a nice car lead her to a different statement? Does she feel forced to plead with the officials to give her son the same grace and guidance and protection they white boys? That such a question even warrants asking shows the complexity and difficulty in our culture.
We have to name it. We have to insert ourselves into tension and carry the joy of Jesus into it. As I said, I understand the appreciation for policemen and women I read this week. That makes sense. I think I understand that groups of people are fearful of the police. That also makes sense.
Many times in recent weeks, reading about Ferguson and Staten Island and grand juries, I have been at a loss for what to say. This morning, with the light of Christmas filling my heart and the even brighter light of Christ illuminating all of life, I know what we have to do. We have to carry joy to people whose hearts are soaked with tears so that the Holy Spirit can give laughter to those who need it most. How do we do this? I have a few thoughts.
First, we listen. I urge Christ followers to find people whose perspective is different than our own and hear what they have to say. We listen without judgment and without condition. Just see the whole picture from their perspective. Feel their pain. We listen to them and with them and we do so with compassion and understanding. You don’t have to agree with everything they say. Just stand with them and offer compassionate embrace. It will be uncomfortable, and awkward. Accept that and go there.
Second, we pray. We pray before we listen. We pray as we listen. And we pray as we watch. You turn on the news, find out the grand jury is not going to indict and the rioting and looting starts. Before we post on Facebook how evil rioting is, we turn our hearts to Heaven and think about with Jesus. Imagine simply sitting – you and Jesus together – thinking together. Why does someone see the death of a teenager as an occasion to rob stores? Because that person, that looter, does not know the joy of Jesus. He is so lost, his great joy this Christmas will be the TV he stole from a Ferguson store. You and I want to rant and rave about how stupid looting (and it is). Is Jesus joining us in our indignation?
Or do we see this from Jesus’ view? Yes, Jesus hates sin. Jesus also weeps when a child dies. Are we weeping with Him? Yes, looting is a sign of how broken the world is. When Jesus rode into Jerusalem, another broken place, he wept (Luke 19:41). Into Jerusalem, into Ferguson, into Cleveland, are we flicking our tongues in disgust or weeping alongside Jesus? When our hearts are where Jesus is then we are poised to have our tears turned into laughter. Only when Jesus has done this in us are we ready to carry his joy to another.
Third, seek. Seek out good stories amidst the not so good. In Richmond California, the chief of police led the protest march against police abuses of power. His message to the community was I see with you that something is broken and my intent is to be part of the solution. It can be wearing to constantly hear stories of more deaths, angry rants, and divisive rhetoric. It is tempting to turn it all off and stick to schmaltzy Christmas movies. We are in Christ. We cannot just stick to safe, nice things. Jesus does not do that. We have to go where Jesus is. The media magnifies tragedy because bad news sells. The media buries positive stories. But those positives are out there. We seek the good as we pray for all and listen to those whose perspectives differ from ours..
A fourth thought I have is to hold on. Hold on to joy. We cannot carry it and share it if we drop it because our hearts are full of other things – anger, irritation, judgment. Let’s drop those things and hold onto joy.
If we listen, we see the other, whoever the other is – black, Asian, police gay, immigrant – we see the other as human. Joy comes when human hearts join with each other. Our differences become beautiful variety and likenesses are signs that we are all made in the image of God and in Christ adopted as children of God.
If we pray, we submit ourselves to Jesus. We let go of everything. He sets the agenda. We have already seen in the scriptures that God fills us with laughter and joy.
If we seek the good, we are inclined toward the light and without realizing it the light of God shines through us. We gravitate toward stories of hope and people are pulled along with us.
If we hold onto joy, we release other thing, negative emotions, hateful words. We are all of limited capacity. We can only carry so much. Let joy be what we carry.
I have not mentioned protest – Christians participating in peaceful demonstrations like ‘die-ins’ and other things like that. I don’t feel I understand protest movements enough to give thoughtful comment. But I think if we commit to listening, praying, seeking the good, and holding tightly to joy, we will be equipped to be people of the light of Jesus if participate in protests. If we choose not to participate, we are at least ready to love those who do. Jesus calls us to love.
When the Lord restores [our] fortunes, we will be those who dream.
2 Then our mouth will be filled with laughter, and our tongue with shouts of joy; then it was said of us, “The Lord has done great things for them.”
Healing the world is God’s work, which began with the coming of Jesus. In the age of the church, we bear witness to Him. In His perfect time, he will return to complete the work of the cross and resurrection. This is God’s work. We carry the message of God’s work to those who need it most and we do so with compassion. Christmas highlights what God’s people are all year – joy carriers.