February 8, 2023
This note will turn out to be my longest note so far. Not in the length of the end product, but in the length of time it took me to get my heart in the right place to write it. I first sat down to compose my thoughts for this note back in the third week of Advent. Because of that, its theme was intended to parallel the traditional theme for that week, which is Joy. I expected that my biggest challenge would have been to find something remotely original to write about, since it is such a popular topic in much Christian writing. But then, my mother-in-law was rushed to the emergency room of our local hospital. It was not her first trip to the hospital in an ambulance in her nearly century-long life on this earth. But it had become more frequent in the last couple of years; and this one would prove to be her last. She remained in the hospital through Christmas, and then with only a few hours left till the ball was scheduled to drop in Times Square, she went home to be with our Lord. If you had asked me what emotions I was experiencing during that time and the weeks immediately following, it is unlikely that I would have used the word, Joy, to describe them. Not wanting to abandon my Advent series of notes mid-stride, however, I struggled with how to use this situation to gain some new insight into God's joy. Three inputs allowed me to begin to see things from a new perspective:
The first was a comment from our Pastor, Russ Willis. He said in passing, that Joy is different from Happiness, and shared his own poem on the subject of Joy. I would invite you to read it for yourself on the website where it was published at https://thewritelaunch.com/2018/12/a-train-at-night-long-ago-friday-night-in-texas-and-joy/
The second was an Advent commentary that pointed out that the first two themes, Hope and Peace, can be viewed as transactional, while the third and fourth, Joy and Love, are generally interpreted as more relational.
The third was a song played at least twice during the Advent season by our church's Music Director, Jessica Christian. While she played it purely as an instrumental, I know the lyrics very well and the word picture they paint. The song was, Mary Did You Know?, by Mark Lowry.
The song paints the word picture of a new mother holding the infant son, she has just delivered. She is filled with a relational love and joy toward this little baby. We know of mothers who experience long and painful deliveries, and yet are still filled with joy at the sight of their new-born child. But then the composer asks the question, do you know what is in store for this new life you just delivered? Every life is filled with struggles and trauma and tests at some point. Loving parents, or anyone who fills a caretaker role for a loved one, experiences a sensation of joy, when we are able to lighten the burden, when we are in a position to provide that last bit of help, encouragement, or whatever is needed to make it through - to make it to the finish line. Now, you might call it gratitude, or thankfulness. But I think Joy also fits; but perhaps, not happiness. it is in such times, that to me they do seem like very different words, even if related. I think of my own father. In the final years of my mother's 27 year battle with cancer, he cared for her 24/7 even at times to the detriment of his own health.
I think of my wife. She, along with her siblings, formed a care team to care for their mother 24/7 to enable her to stay in her own home almost to the end of her life on earth. They found themselves tested - at times wondering if they had the ability to carry through all the way to the end. It was hard. But there was joy in "crossing the finish line." James would write in James 1: 2-4,
Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance. Perseverance must finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.
And Luke would record Paul as having said in Acts 20: 22-24,
And now, compelled by the Spirit, I am going to Jerusalem, not knowing what will happen to me there. I only know that in every city the Holy Spirit warns me that prison and hardships are facing me. However, I consider my life worth nothing to me, if only I may finish the race and complete the task the Lord Jesus has given to me - the task of testifying to the gospel of God's grace.
I am grateful for those seasons in my life where Joy and Happiness were synonymous terms. But, for those seasons, where happiness was hard to find, I clung to the Joy of having completed the task given to me with God's help. Hallelujah! Your Brother In Christ, Warren
Warren J. Ayer Jr.
Chairperson, Board of Deacons
United Church of Colchester