UCBR, December 17, 2017, “Joy to the World!” Many of you know my love for words and language. I delight to come across a new word and to savor its meaning. One of my favorite pages that pops up on my Facebook feed is “Grandiloquent Word of the Day,” which offers an obscure word for every day of the year. Words like: honeyfuggle (to entice with flattery). Quoikerwodger (to pull the strings of an old-fashioned wooden toy – also a politician controlled by someone else. Or Plisky (a practical joke). Or for those who detest all things to do with zombies, ambulonecrophobia (AM-bew-low-NEK-row-FOW-be-ya (fear of the walking dead)!
This week, A jewel of a word caught my eye: macarism. Macarism. It means to find pleasure in being the source of another’s joy. How appropriate is it that this word enters into our vocabulary today, the third Sunday of Advent. The Advent day that asks us to reflect on joy to prepare properly for Christmas. Our task today is to discover and claim the ability to be macarists – people who find pleasure in being a source of joy for others.
Joy is an attribute of God; a gift God’s bestows on us. Advent draws our heart to God, to a God who derives pleasure in being the source of our joy. A God who takes pleasure in finding joy in all God’s creatures and all of God’s creation.
We know from the study of the scriptures God offers us a daily dose of joy. The Psalmist declares “This is the day that the Lord has made. Let us rejoice and be glad in it! (Psa 118:24).” The prophet Nehemiah reminds us that “the joy of the Lord is our strength” (Neh. 8:10).
The imprisoned apostle Paul, wrote in chains to the early Christians, “Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice!” Phil 4:4). Despite the trials we face, the burdens we bear, the quoikerwodgering in the nations of the world, joy is our spiritual mandate. Joy is our strength.
We find joy in the gospels, especially in the in the details about John the Baptizer’s life – an intense man, someone we don’t necessary at first blush thin as joyful. Yet he was. He inspired joy in many. Remember when the Angel Gabriel declared this prophecy about John, “he will be a joy and delight to you, and many will rejoice because of his birth.” It is the unborn child John who leaps with joy in his mother’s womb when Mary, the mother of Jesus, enters the home of Mary’s kin, Elizabeth and Zachariah. At the end of his career, as Jesus began his public ministry, with prison and death around the corner, John’s disciples began to complain about Jesus. His disciples left John to follow Jesus. John didn’t care. John dismisses this at once, explaining, “the friend who attends the bridegroom waits and listens for him, and is full of joy when he hears the bridegroom’s voice. That joy is mine, and it is now complete. He must become greater, I must become less.”
John’s is a life overflowing with joy. Joy announced at his birth. Joy filled him as he faced death. John had a joy that enabled him to live boldly and speak truth to power. The clarity of his purpose, the singularity and purity of his thought, the consistency of his actions, produced joy. John is macarism at its finest.
The prophet Isaiah along with John, are examples of people who denounce sin, expresses anger against hypocrisy, and stand for, like Jesus, for righteousness, justice, righteousness. Their example inspires joy. Joy is there because they rooted their lives in a joyful God. So, Joy it exists whether we accept it or not. The poet Robert Louis Stevenson encouraged: “Find out where joy resides, and give it a voice far beyond singing. For to miss the Joy is to miss all.”
On this day of Advent Joy, the lives of John and Isaiah are lifted up for us to ponder. Too often those who preach repentance or who stand for justice have a hard time experiencing real joy in their lives. Anger at the cruelties and inequalities we see can dampen our spirits. The task of confronting sin and oppression takes a toll. The statistics are staggering. The work is endless. Hope seems a long way off. Without the cultivation of joy, the work can become unbearable and we can turn bitter. Joy comes from being in relationship with God who makes us whole (not perfect, whole) and holy. Joy makes our witness irresistible. Most of us gravitate towards truly joyful people – the macarists of the world, who are people connected to joy in all circumstances of life. The 20th century evangelist Bill Sunday, preached, “If you have no joy there’s a leak in your Christianity somewhere.”
Joy is the spiritual habit that beckons us, especially as we commit ourselves to righteousness and justice. It is not surprising that Jesus, when he began his public ministry, deliberately selected excerpts from passage from Isaiah that Scott read for us today that integrates joy, justice and macarism. Consider once more a few of the lines from Isaiah:
The spirit of the Lord God is upon me-
..to bring good news to the oppressed, to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and release to the prisoners; … for everlasting joy shall be theirs.
By choosing this significant, prophetic text from Isaiah, Jesus points out that everlasting Joy is our companion in a life that seeks to bring comfort, that restores health and wholeness, that uplifts the poor and the hurt, a life that exults in God. Joy is our natural state, unmarred by sin. Joy is our birthright. At our spiritual center we are macarists – we find pleasure in being a source of joy to others.
Advent joy would restore us as it points us to Jesus, because Jesus is Joy incarnate. Recall what the angels proclaim the night of Jesus’s birth: “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people…. A Savior has been born to you; he is Christ the Lord.”
Advent also reminds us how Jesus, at the end of his life, right before his crucifixion, reassures his disciples, “I have said these things to you so that my JOY may be in you, and that your JOY may be complete” (John 15:11). Jesus, like John, led a life overflowing with joy. Jesus, imbued with the Holy Spirit, was a card-carrying macarist. He lived to bring joy and wholeness to others. Giving and sharing setting an example joy, expressed every day, no matter the circumstances. We find in Jesus our invitation to glorify God in our calling to marcarism.
Listen to this story of how abiding, overflowing joy works.
One day, a countryman knocked hard on a monastery door. When the monk tending the gates opened up, he was given a magnificent bunch of grapes. – Brother, these are the finest my vineyard has produced. I’ve come to bear them as a gift.
– Thank you! I will take them to the Abbot immediately, he’ll be delighted with this offering. – No! I brought them for you. For whenever I knock on the door, it is you opens it. When I needed help because the crop was destroyed by drought, you gave me a piece of bread and a cup of wine every day.
The monk held the grapes and spent the entire morning admiring it. And decided to deliver the gift to the Abbot, who had always encouraged him with words of wisdom.
The Abbot was very pleased with the grapes, but he recalled that there was a sick brother in the monastery, and thought: “I’ll give him the grapes. Who knows, they may bring some joy to his life.” And that is what he did. But the grapes didn’t stay in the sick monk’s room for long, for he reflected: “The cook has looked after me for so long, feeding me only the best meals. I’m sure he will enjoy these.”
The cook was amazed at the beauty of the grapes. So perfect that no one would appreciate them more than the sexton; many at the monastery considered him a holy man, he would be best qualified to value this marvel of nature.
The sexton, in turn, gave the grapes as a gift to the youngest novice, that he might understand that the work of God is in the smallest details of Creation. When the novice received them, he remembered the first time he came to the monastery, and of the person who had opened the gates for him; it was that gesture which allowed him to be among this community of people who knew how to value the wonders of life.
And so, just before nightfall, he took the grapes to the monk at the gates.
– Eat and enjoy them – he said. – For you spend most of your time alone here, and these grapes will make you very happy.
The monk understood that the gift had been truly destined for him, and relished each of the grapes, before falling into a pleasant sleep. Thus the circle was closed; the circle of happiness and joy, which always shines brightly around generous people.
What is the new yet ancient word that will sustain us this season? What word shall speak to us? That the spirit of the Lord is upon us? Like all holy people, we will rejoice in God? That we are people who continue to cry out in the wilderness? Rejoice always? To pray without ceasing? To give thanks in all circumstances? That we are knit into the circle of happiness and joy? That giving is a conduit of joy?
This week, let joy be the word that speaks to us. Let macarism take hold of us. In this way, we become joy to the world. Thanks be to God.