Reflection on the 3rd Sunday of Advent by Lydia Caudill

Joy. When I heard Pastor Nathaniel name the four sermons open to the congregation to talk about, I knew this was what I wanted to talk about. I wanted to take it on as a type of challenge to myself. To organize and share some ideas that I’ve had scattered in my mind and wanting to find some deeper clarity with.

Recently, Joy has been a bit of an elusive creature in my world. It’s felt like riding a wave, moving up, down, in and out of Joy.

I’ve personally found this year challenging because I am new to the area, and transitions just aren’t easy. Beyond this personal perspective, nationally and internationally this year has also given me reasons to be frustrated and ultimately profoundly sad in different ways. Our country is going through growing pains, and it hurts. I will just leave that one there.

The thought that I try to always turn my mind to is what I want to share with you today. To the feeling of riding this wave and embracing the frustration. I want to talk about the concept of cycles. In Christianity, Advent is a once a year event, one that you can depend on coming and then going again. And there are cycles all around us. Sunrise, high noon, sunset and midnight. Spring, summer, fall, winter. Sprouting buds, intense growth, harvest, hibernation and rest. Birth, babies and toddlers. Teenagers. Parents, aunts and uncles and teachers. Elders and those that have passed before us. Cycles.

A Poem by Rumi
“Sorrow prepares you for joy. It violently sweeps everything out of your house, so that new joy can find space to enter. It shakes the yellow leaves from the bough of your heart, so that fresh, green leaves can grow in their place. It pulls up the rotten roots, so that new roots hidden beneath have room to grow. Whatever sorrow shakes from your heart, far better things will take their place.”

Cycles have to be.
Like the holy trinity- body, mind, and soul happen simultaneously. We are all a delicious combination of body, mind, and soul. What happens to the world outside of us is a reflection of the world inside of us. We individually go through a period of brightness, a brightening, and a dimming. A season of darkness, gathering our energies and resting, to give us the energy needed for our next bold explosion of new growth. While there are many flavors of Joy, I think this one is the sweetest. The little plant’s explosion and push of leaves out of the ground for the first time, how sweet is the sun at that moment! How little it could fully comprehend of the sun just above its head while just centimeters below the surface?

John 1:5, three translations
“The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness can never extinguish it.”
“The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness cannot overcome it.”
“The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness comprehended it not.”

Advent means the arrival or the appearing. In Christianity it refers to Jesus’s birth. Researchers say that, based on their understanding of the stars and then shifting it back two millennia, there is a very good chance that Jesus was born in the spring. So why are we celebrating his birthday now? Because the world is in darkness now and still is going deeper with longer nights, until winter solstice when the longest night occurs on December 21st. They placed Jesus, their bright light, right after the darkest night. It combined a physical celebration and reminder of the returning light with a spiritual one.

The cycles of the world are my teacher and my constant reminder, this too shall pass. And I wouldn’t want it any other way. The Joy of newness and fresh beginnings, welcome! The Joy of growth and exploration, welcome! The Joy of harvest, welcome! And the Joy of rest at the end, welcome! For me, Advent and solstice are a reminder in this dark time that Joy and light are just around the corner. And at the same time, we only have now. Only this moment can we really be aware of, and every moment has its own Joy to offer you and the world.

A Poem by Mary Oliver
“If you suddenly and unexpectedly feel joy, don’t hesitate. Give in to it. There are plenty of lives and whole towns destroyed or about to be. We are not wise, and not very often kind. And much can never be redeemed. Still life has some possibility left. Perhaps this is its way of fighting back, that sometimes something happens better than all the riches or power in the world. It could be anything, but very likely you notice it in the instant when love begins. Anyway, that’s often the case. Anyway, whatever it is, don’t be afraid of its plenty. Joy is not made to be a crumb.”

It’s amazing how many times and in how many different ways we have to learn something before it sinks in and we accept it. There are good times and there are incredibly challenging times. There are moments of darkness and there are moments of light. Joy and sorrow do not exist in two different universes, but exist on the same wave. Neither is able to exist without the other. There is no one face of Joy. It is up to each of us to see its many faces in the world around us. And accept it inside of us.

A Poem by Rumi
“My head is bursting
with the joy of the unknown.
My heart is expanding a thousand fold.
Every cell,
taking wings,
flies about the world.
All seek separately
the many faces of my Beloved.”

(Delivered December 17, 2017, at First Congregational Church, by Lydia Caudill)