If There is No Joy
While we all follow the same calendar, every church I know of has their own rhythms and rituals around Advent and Christmas, and these tend to be some of the most dearly held rituals within the congregation.
At Wilshire Baptist Church in Dallas, where I served before coming to Macon, our annual “Hanging of the Green” service on the first Sunday of Advent was a “can’t miss.” Growing up, I remember attending, and then participating in, our big, seasonal choir concert, in which we at different times donned black dresses and tuxedoes or seasonally colored turtlenecks (it was the 90s’).
And of course, we here at First Baptist have our own rituals as well. It wouldn’t be Christmas if the three-year olds didn’t sing “Little Grey Donkey” in costume (we’re excited to have a little grey donkey in our house this year). It wouldn’t be Christmas without our tree in the sanctuary adorned with the beautiful chrismons, handmade by members of our church. It wouldn’t be Christmas without candles on Christmas Eve, and it wouldn’t be Christmas without our choir’s Service of Lessons and Carols on the third Sunday of Advent.
Lessons and Carols is without a doubt one of our most anticipated services of the year, and for good reason. It is nothing short of miraculous how every year our choir, of course under the direction of the one and only Stanley L. Roberts, finds new ways to open up the rich musical tradition of the church to once again bring us into the presence of the God for whom, and in whom, we wait.
And it always feels so appropriate that we have this service on the third Sunday of Advent, which is traditionally celebrated as the “Joy” Sunday. We mark it with a rose colored candle in the Advent wreath, and in the rhythm of the season it is meant to serve as a reminder at the halfway point that though we wait in darkness, we do so for the light that’s breaking on the horizon.
In my own reflections over these past few weeks as we’ve begun planning for Advent this year, I’ve found myself meditating on the importance of “joy” in this season, and in the Christian life more broadly. Yes, each of these four themes we lift up—hope, peace, joy and love—are important, and even vital to this season. But if there is no joy, what kind of Christmas could this be? If we have no joy, what kind of Christians could we be?
As people of faith, if we have no joy we have missed something vital about the good news of God’s dwelling among us. And yet if you polled people outside the church as to what word best describes the Christians they know, I suspect “joyful” would not be anywhere near the top of the list. What a shame. What an opportunity.
Over these next four weeks in worship, even as we lift up these different Advent themes, we’ll give special attention to joy as the thread that weaves them all together. Joy is what gives hope a heartbeat. It’s what keeps peace from freezing over. And it’s how you know the love you feel is truly love. In the end, joy is what we long for in life, and so it will be what we seek together this Advent as we prepare our hearts and our lives for the one who promises to make our joy complete.