Years ago, on the third Sunday of Advent when we lit the joy candle, I had a terrible experience leading worship. I was newly ordained and it was one of the first times I served communion. When I went to break the loaf of bread, I discovered one of the elders had unintentionally bought a thickly buttered loaf of garlic bread.
Instantly, this sacred moment that I had anticipated for years turned into an embarrassing disaster. The people in the congregation understood, some even found it humorous. But, for me, it was anything but joyful.
All these years later, though, it’s become a defining moment of my ministry, and an experience that I treasure. That loaf of garlic bread helped me to learn that what we do on Sunday mornings isn’t a performance. It doesn’t have to be perfect to be real. Our unavoidable human failures can never empty God’s sacred gifts of their power. All these years later, this story does bring me joy.
Friends, the truth is that no matter how many years pass, much of the very real suffering and loss of this pandemic will never bring us joy. And, there is no real comparison to my story of garlic bread and what we are all enduring now. But, still I wonder—will some of the things that most challenge and disturb us now come to be memories we’ll someday treasure? Will some of the pain we feel now birth a wisdom and maturity that we might come to rejoice over in time?
Maybe this is the year we receive sacred joy—a defiant joy that springs up, even as we grieve and are afraid. Maybe this is the year we find the joy that Mary found when she discovered the astonishing truth that God was with her and that no word of God would ever fail.
I hope, especially if you are overwhelmed and angry and mourning and scared, that you’ll listen in to this message about joy. Even on your own you can light a candle for joy—together, we’ll discover that what God is doing is greater and stronger than anything that threatens us in these hard days.