Let the Weary World Rejoice

St. Peter’s Detroit. Photo credit: Denise Griebler

By Rev. Denise Griebler,
Preached at St. Peter’s Episcopal Detroit on December 12, 2021
Zephaniah 3:14-20; Isaiah 12:2-6; Philippians 4:4-7; Luke 3:7-18

Let the Weary World Rejoice

This past week I stopped in the Geez office – and there were these beautiful and simple cards – a pine comb, a pine branch and the words:  “Let the weary world rejoice.”  It broke me open. Because if this isn’t a weary world, I don’t know what is.

Today is Pink Candle Sunday – the day we open our hearts to both longing and joy and we let joy have the first and last word.  Even in the midst of a pandemic that is about to cross 800,000 deaths in this country alone, even after a school shooting, even after a night of tornadoes that wreaked havoc and suffering and are harbingers of more climate chaos to come. Still. We light the Pink Candle and sing Rejoice! 

There may be some here today for whom the idea of rejoicing always as St. Paul urges, seems a stretch.  To you I gently say: Still.  Even so.  Anyway.  And if you really do just need to sit this one out, that’s ok.  The rest of us will hold joy for you this year.  You may need to hold it for some of us in the days or years to come.

Our readings encourage and even compel joy and delight.  Dorothy Day commended such as a way of cultivating spiritual depth. Jack Gilbert’s poem “A Brief For the Defense” puts it like this:

We must risk delight. We can do without pleasure,
but not delight. Not enjoyment. We must have
the stubbornness to accept our gladness in the ruthless
furnace of this world. To make injustice the only
measure of our attention is to praise the Devil.
If the locomotive of the Lord runs us down,
we should give thanks that the end had magnitude.
We must admit there will be music despite everything.

The prophets Zephaniah & Isaiah wrote about joy in the midst of exile and political oppression. Paul wrote his encouragement to rejoice always from a prison cell and John the Baptist – who you might not think of as a preacher of joy – John insists on a a vision of salvation and redemption that takes us down a path to joy – don’t hold on to things so tightly.  Think of a fist tightly closed and clenching.  Now thing of a hand opening, offering.  You tell me which seems more like joy.  Share what you have with the poor – stop taking what’s not yours – stop using your position to bully and threaten and as an opportunity for extortion – Be human! Act humanly!  Incarnate your human being.

I’ve been thinking about this idea that we are called to incarnate our own lives.  To become fully human – like Jesus did – fully present in the world and with and for the sake of others. When we do,  joy finds us – or we wind up with others who get found by joy,  and then we get to share their joy. (Of course, we also get to share eachothers’ sorrows and the sorrows and injustices of this weary old world.  That’s the deal.)  Still.  Even so.  Anyway.  We open ourselves to joy.

When has joy come to you?  When have you experienced joy?   When or where has joy come where you least expected it?  Or most deeply? Have you ever been broken open by joy?   Think about that. Maybe journal about that.  Let it be your prayer. You might be led more deeply into your life.  The only life you actually have to experience and offerand enjoy.

Here are some ways joy has come by surprise in my life:

  • In prayer – once God breathed in me and I knew it!  More than once I have all of a sudden known myself connected to everything/everyone else.  I’ve moments when I knew that everything, EVERTHING is holy;  I’ve been overwhelmed by the beauty of the humans all around me, or the beauty of some sweet detail in nature that I was totally present to.  All of it filling me with such gratitude and joy.
  • Being with people in hard times – accompaniment/solidarity, becoming more vulnerable – along with poor people. I think of one summer with Appalachia service project, a decade in the sanctuary movement, visits and stays in communities in Chiapas, El Salvador, Guatemala and Nicaragua during civil war, organizing with and accompanying neighbors against racist injustice and violence in our neighborhood, going to Standing Rock in the midst of the violence and denouncing and ritually burning the Doctrine of Discovery.
  • Visiting immigrants in jail  – back in Chicago a group of us got permission thru Homeland Security to board the busses of immigrants – who were shackled and bound for O’Hare airport and deportation.  We’d have about 2 minutes to “pray” with them.   We’d speak through a little opening in the bullet-proof plastic that divided the bus driver from the detained men.  We would try to connect humanly with the men – acknowledge their humanity and denounce the injustice of their situation, offer cards with the address and phone number of the casa migrante in the border town destination.  Assure them that it was a safe place that would receive them, where they could rest, eat, make phone calls, gather their thoughts, make a plan.  We’d remind them that this wasn’t the end of their story – that they should take care of each other on the way.  And then we would pray for their safe journey and offer space for their intercessions which were almost always for their families and for others in harm’s way. Sometimes there would be shared laughter or tears, always gratitude flowing between us. It would break me open every time.

More recently in Michigan, we organized pastoral group visits with immigrants in detention at the Monroe County jail – I’d always bring my guitar for singing during the short liturgy – but then we’d turn to passing the guitar around the circle – there was almost always one or more of the men who played and sang.  So much joy.

  • Being with people and their families during the dying time.  Being vulnerable and centered, bringing calm and sometimes prayer or singing or Eucharist to the holiness of the time.
  • And I remember being with my late husband, Curt Koehler, in his illness.  Sometimes we would laugh so hard!  Or make up silly songs or sing love messages to each other.  And how he would ironically and wholeheartedly proclaim: “Who ever know having brain cancer could be this much fun?”  Of course it was also terrible and tragic.  But we shared so much joy during that year and a half.
  • Being with people who honestly struggle, who know their need for God, love, justice, mercy, healing.  And being with people who know this weary world needs those things, who struggle side by side.
  • Being with children – with my children, of course, but perhaps because the responsibilities are not so never-ending, there is so much joy in being with grandchildren!

It’s always about being broken open and becoming more human.  Joy is a gift that we bring to this weary world – it’s not polyanna optimism, it’s not like that – joy comes from a deeper well – and is present in the midst of the real world of suffering and injustice – not in a way that denies them, but which resists being overwhelmed by them.

Joy resists.

For the sake of our own souls – but also for the sake of this weary, hurting, fragile, beautiful world.  Joy is a form of resistance. 

Mary Oliver poem:  Don’t Hesitate, by Mary Oliver

If you suddenly and unexpectedly feel joy,
don’t hesitate. Give in to it. There are plenty
of lives and whole towns destroyed or about
to be. We are not wise, and not very often
kind. And much can never be redeemed.
Still, life has some possibility left. Perhaps this
is its way of fighting back, that sometimes
something happens better than all the riches
or power in the world. It could be anything,
but very likely you notice it in the instant
when love begins. Anyway, that’s often the case.
Anyway, whatever it is, don’t be afraid
of its plenty. Joy is not made to be a crumb.

Eight years ago, Bill Wylie-Kellermann and I got married on Joy Sunday (it was not the most convenient time of year for a wedding!)  Lord knows we had both suffered deep and even untellable sorrows.  But we also had come to know joy as a choice, a practice a gift, a form of resistance to the power of death. Like Juan Diego receiving good news in his native tongue (it is after all the feast of Guadalupe today!), Bill and I shared a language and experience of sorrow and joy.  Joy Sunday was perfect!

Joy is a choice.  A practice. A gift.  A form of resistance.

May joy find you by surprise and meet you in your weariness.  May that meeting help you to know the deep well of salvation, restoration and peace.  And may you find surprising ways to offer joy as a gift in this weary world.

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