Have you ever met Joy?
Last week Wednesday morning it was time for me to go lead worship over at Gladeview Health Center; something I have been doing every first Wednesday of the month since this summer. I came to Gladeview wearing my red Santa hat. The small group that gathers for some hymns, the word, prayer and the sacrament were excited to join in the Christmas carols Kim helped me prepare for my visit.
Now there is no way – that anyone would ask this group to record an album. I often joke with them after they belt out a hymn that they should go on tour, but trust me, that is not something any of them would want to do! We sing a cappella. Different rhythms. Different keys. Different voices. Sometimes what we sing is even not close to the same pitch at all.
Yet our song is pure joy.
Those faithfully gathered sing with everything they’ve got – and it is a joyful noise calling out to the Lord. The beauty of singing Christmas Carols is that many of them are known by heart (the first verses anyway) and everyone sang with big smiles on their faces. A few unfamiliar faces started looking in from the hallway just outside the room where we meet for worship. I invited them inside to join us. “Oh no thanks; just listening,” one gentleman said. I invited him to join us inside, but he and the others were just as welcome to remain where he was. Before they were all singing along with us from the hallway.
We read the Christmas story, I gave a little message, we prayed and shared communion. We ended our time together with the most joyous carol of all: “Joy to the World.”
There is something about that song when you sing it. It gives you a spring in your step – even if you are confined to a chair as most of the residents are. Even when you are feeling morose or melancholy. It is a song that is so catchy, it is difficult to say the words without starting to sing them:
“JOY TO THE WORLD THE LORD IS COME
LET EARTH RECEIVE HER KING.
LET EVERY HEART PREPARE HIM ROOM,
AND HEAVE AND NATURE SING. AND HEAVEN AND NATURE SING.
AND HEAVEN. AND HEAVEN AND NATURE SING.”
Have you met Joy?
Today would have been the 7th birthday of our friends’ son Isaiah Reither. There is no other word to describe who he was other than pure Joy.
Isaiah had many health issues which included downs syndrome, a bad heart which is what kept him in the hospital most of his life. He ate through a food bag and tube. He spoke only a few words. He scooted on his bum rather than walk or run as other children do. Yet he was the most joy-filled person I have ever met – and I know both of his parents well (over twenty years). Isaiah was pure Joy, so happy to see you, so present in the moment. Whoever he encountered – whether it was his parents, siblings, classmates, friends or health care providers – he made their day. He loved church and everybody there. They knew him by his Joy.
Though Isaiah’s earthly life ended early last February; he still embodies for me what Paul is getting at here in his words to the church at Collosae:
“May you be made strong with all that the strength that comes from (the glorious power of Jesus), and may you be prepared to endure everything with patience, while joyfully giving thanks to the Father, who has enabled you to share in his inheritance of the saints in light.” (Colossians 1:11-12)
I am still learning from Isaiah, and people like my new friends at Gladeview what it means to be joyful, and joyfully thankful. Especially when the world seems so Dark. Dreary. Lonely. Hopeless. Especially in my own and shared grief. Especially when I see things like Aleppo burning, and the faces of the terrified going online to say goodbye to the world because they don’t know if they will wake in the morning. It is especially then that the world needs our prayers. And needs our action. And needs our song. No matter how off-key it is. Because in the song of the faithful – there is Joy.
it has been a fun process researching these hymns in Advent.
I discovered this week that “Joy to the World” is the most recorded Christmas Carol in North America. But it wasn’t written in America, and it isn’t written to be a Christmas song – imagine that! There is something about this song – its message, its tune that leaves people inspired and longing to sing it again.
“Joy to the World” was written by Isaac Watts in London in 1719; who was sick most of his adult life. He had a promising future as a young man. He was very good at language – particularly in rhyming. He was also an expert logician – writing a book on logic that was used in schools and went into 20 printings. His career as a pastor at an independent chapel in London was cut short after only a few years because of a fever that ruined his health the rest of his life. He left his church and moved in with friends – a Lord and Lady being a house guest with them until he died thirty-six years later.
But he had joy. And faith. He loved scripture, especially the Psalms. “Joy to the World” is a paraphrase of Psalm 98. He wrote over 700 hymns, many of which we still sing including: “O God our Help in Ages Past”; “Alas! As Did My Savior Bleed”; and “When I Survey the Wondrous Cross.” Watts became known as “The Father of English Hymnody.”
What I find striking about this Christmas Carol is that is not really a Christmas Carol at all. You will find it in our hymnal in the Advent section. Watts wrote it about finding Joy in the promise of the second coming – Christ’s ultimate return to judge and redeem the world when it seems most dire. I find it a moving statement of faith by someone who lived with chronic pain and illness most of his adult life – but never let pain or sorrow define him.
Joy did. Have you met Joy yet this Advent?
“HE RULES THE WORLD WITH TRUTH AND GRACE
AND MAKES THE NATIONS PROVE.
THE GLORIES OF HIS RIGHTEOUSNESS,
AND WONDERS OF HIS LOVE. AND WONDERS OF HIS LOVE.
AND WONDERS, WONDERS OF HIS LOVE.”
Conspiracy theories, tragedy, division, heartbreak, terror, destruction and warfare define the times we live in. We approach the darkest day of the year a week from now, and the future remains uncertain.
Yet the promise of the One who is to come in the manger, the One who comes to die on the cross, the One who steps out of the grace, the One returns to bring us home – reveals to us that there is joy to be found in the meantime. Resting in his mercy and forgiveness, we’ve been given a faith that both waits patiently and actively pursues the restoration of all things in the name of Jesus Christ. No matter how out of tune we are or feel; in Christ we are brought into a heavenly choir to sing as if all of heaven and earth would stop everything by the power of claiming Joy’s promise:
“NO MORE LET SIN OR SORROW GROW
OR THORNS INFEST THE GROUND.
HE COMES TO MAKE HIS BLESSINGS FLOW.
FAR AS THE CURSE IS FOUND. FAR AS THE CURSE IS FOUND.
FAR AS FAR AS THE CURSE IS FOUND.”
Joy. Have you found it yet this Advent? The joy of Isaiah? Of Isaac Watts? Of Gladeview? Of one another? Of Jesus’ return upon us?
Has Joy found you? Join in the song of all the saints in light to find out.
“9bWe have not ceased praying for you and asking that you may be filled with the knowledge of God’s will in all spiritual wisdom and understanding, 10 so that you may lead lives worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing to him, as you bear fruit in every good work and as you grow in the knowledge of God. 11 May you be made strong with all the strength that comes from his glorious power, and may you be prepared to endure everything with patience, while joyfully 12 giving thanks to the Father, who has enabled you to share in the inheritance of the saints in the light. 13 He has rescued us from the power of darkness and transferred us into the kingdom of his beloved Son, 14 in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins.” (Colossians 1:9b-14)