Rise Up to Joy
Isaiah 35:1-10; James 5:7-10; Matthew 11:2-11
Dr. Carol S. Franklin
The last month has been tough. Seeing the writing on the wall, I took to my bed the evening of November 8th and might still be there if the boys hadn’t finally insisted it was going to get ugly if I did not get up and see to them. My distress was not just about politics or about the fact that my candidate lost. That’s happened before without this deep sense of malaise. More than any other time in recent memory, we seem to be at a turning point. Change is coming, and I don’t just mean politically. As a people, our story is more than a political saga. It is a story of our countless generations, those who have passed to glory, those we journey with now, and those yet unborn. This is the story of a country and a people of every hue and persuasion who toiled and cried, celebrated and worshiped and in the process built a great nation.
My malaise is rooted in the realization that the national narrative once grounded in limitless possibility has changed, becoming one of fear and hopelessness, of a deep distrust of the other. It is a sense that the glass is not only half empty, but the odds of it ever being filled are seen as stacked against a broad spectrum of the population. In the face of all that, my next gambit was to declare that Christmas was cancelled. If Christmas never came, then neither would the new year and all the changes it would bring. Then I realized I’d be preaching during advent on Rose Sunday, what Pope Francis calls the Sunday of Joy.
Who can feel joyful when our nation has become an alien landscape in which language and action against those who are different is seemingly more acceptable? Though I have no illusions that matters of race, or gender, or orientation were issues of the past, the current social climate seems to have given license to speak what was once at least politically incorrect and publicly unspeakable. Then I remembered what Ghandi said:
“When I despair, I remember that throughout history the ways of truth and love have always won.”
I acknowledge the reality that I can’t stop time and really don’t want to. At a time like this, the upsurge of hope and joy that Advent heralds is as needful to me, to all of us, as breath.
In trying times, when all seems lost, we need to remember that God has not brought us this far to drop us on our heads. The theologian Henri Nouwen defined joy “…as the experience of knowing that you are unconditionally loved and that nothing – sickness, failure, emotional distress, oppression, war or even death – can take that love away. Thus joy can be present in the midst of sadness. …” Instead of despair or that malaise I was feeling, we are called to rise up into that joy. As I read Isaiah, it was like a prayer and a promise offered for those of fearful heart to be strong and not dread.
Isaiah reminded a captive people that they were God’s chosen people, being given strength for the journey ahead. In Matthew, John wants to know if we have to wait longer or if Jesus is the one who will lift those who are bowed down. Jesus rephrases Isaiah, affirming that the wait is over. The eyes of the blind are being opened, the lame leap like dear, the ears of the deaf are unstopped, and sorrow and sighing flee away. Advent reminds us that we too are exiles who, living in hopes of God’s liberation, are called to rise with joy and lift our voices with strength, proclaiming the glad tidings – “Here is your God!” and He will save you.
In this season of expectation and preparedness, our lessons remind us that Advent isn’t about gift buying and gift giving – it’s about letting go of anxiety and fear. It’s about being cleansed and reborn, awakened to the saving grace of God. It’s about change and transformation, it’s about being refined, perfected and made ready to engage with God in the work of kingdom-building. As a people in community and a people of God, we are at a crossroads. What we say and do in the coming months and years will matter. Advent reminds us that we are on this journey together. We must also be awake and ready to let God work through us to transform the future we all share.
Perhaps my great grandfather said it best in a speech at the Cotton States and International Exposition of 1895 “…Here our dead are buried. Here we are bound by the most sacred ties that ever touched or stirred or thrilled a human soul. …”
In the face of hate, God wills us to acknowledge that common bond and to love all of his children enough to make the uneven ground level and the rough places plain. This is the good that God desires us to do.
Like John the Baptist, we must move beyond this liturgy of worship to a liturgy of living. Though we may feel that we are crying out in the wilderness, we are the voices that must witness God’s grace in the world. As we await patiently for his coming, we are called to sing a new song, one of hope and redemption, like Andra Day’s Rise Up.
To paraphrase, “we must rise up in spite of the ache. Rise like the day, rise unafraid and together move mountains.”** Rise up and speak truth to power. Rise up to joy and give voice to the hope and promise of God’s love and care for all of his children and all of his creation. On this Sunday of Joy, let us rise up and embrace a liturgy of living. This is a liturgy which we will carry the anticipation, hope and promise of that child for whom we await – and the man that he will become into this needful world. Rise up to joy!
**Written by Cassandra Monique Batie, Jenifer Decilveo. Copyright Warner/Chappell Music, Inc.