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The word joy comes from the Old French joie, based on Latin gaudium, from gaudere ‘rejoice.’ While it’s a feeling it’s neither trite nor easily dismissed. Biblically speaking, the feeling of joy seems to come into being in relationship to the experience of God’s word, promise, faithfulness and/or presence. The psalmist poet sings of her experience of this joy in Psalm 30:4-5
“Sing praises to the Lord, O you his faithful ones,
and give thanks to God’s holy name….
Weeping may linger for the night,
but joy comes with the morning.”
A modern Christmas song intones [listen]:
“I feel the Christmas spirit blowing in the air
There’s lots of joy and happiness in the presents that we share.
No other day can take its place throughout my memory.
The world is celebrating with friends and family.”
A challenge for us in this time of Advent and Christmas is that we might easily mistake or misplace the source or object of our joy. Gifts. Family Time. Parties. Special foods. Good drink. Cookies. Time Off. The flip of these joyous things is that they can also have to be earned, prepared through a slog of work, preparation and trepidation. They might make us feel more alone and isolated than connected and part of the whole. If joy comes from a lived experience of hope, is that hope something we have to hear or something we have to feel? And where do you go to hear/feel it?
Isaiah writes to the people of God exiled in their forced deportation to the foreign capital of Babylon. They were conquered first by the Assyrian Empire in the 7th century, when was then assimilated by the ascendant Babylonian Empire. They had been ripped from their homeland in Judah/Israel and forced to cross the wilderness of the desert to a new home they didn’t chose or want. They probably suffered in their defeat and in their forced march. It wasn’t uncommon in the ancient world to physically break those you conquered as well as mentally break them to bend them to a new will. Isaiah writes lyrically of a great reversal of this trail of tears through the wilderness. God promises that the people will be led home, crossing the life-threatening desert wilderness which will be transformed from a dry, parched land into a lush fertile passageway. This promised homecoming will birth a radical joy.
Matthew 11 is connected to the larger Advent story through the person of John the Baptist. John has been arrested, for resisting and speaking against the narcissistic demagogue ruler of the time: King Herod. Imprisoned, John knows that he will either be exonerated, exiled or executed. Probably the later as Herod had quite a reputation. In his waiting, he’s understandably overtaken with anxiety, wondering if it was all worth it, what difference his life, words and actions made. He entrusted his life into the hope of a promised one coming from God. So where’s the beef? Jesus responds by riffing on the vision of Isaiah 35, pointing to the hope that will come, the joyous homecoming that God will bring about; a homecoming not to a nationalistic homeland, but to an inclusive wholeness that changes bodies and minds, in which greatness and humility are reversed, in which God’s rule reigns.
Questions for the Practice of Examen & Contemplation
Use an online study guide of the text HERE that we use in Monte’s weekly class.