“Be not afraid; for behold, I bring you good news of a great joy which will come to all people.” Luke 2:9
A scene from Bernard Shaw's play Saint Joan serves as a wonderful Third Sunday of Advent illustration. First, a little background.
During the Hundred Years’ War, the teenage Joan of Arc claimed to hear the voices of Michael the Archangel and two other saints instructing her to support Charles VII and recover France from English domination. She eventually led several successful military campaigns that paved the way for Charles’ coronation and eventual French victory. That’s the history.
Now in one scene of the play Charles peevishly complains “Why don’t the voices come to me? I am king, not you.” Joan answers, "They do come to you, but you do not hear them. When the angelus rings you cross yourself and have done with it. But if you prayed from your heart and listened for the thrilling of the bells in the air after they stop ringing, then you would hear the voices as well as I do."
The theme of the third Sunday of Advent is joy. Joy is an unusual word. We don’t use it often. We talk of happiness incessantly as if it were the highest good. But happiness depends on agreeable circumstances (literally “good haps”). Joy is quite different from happiness.
Joy is a gift from God. Paul lists it as the second fruit of the Spirit. You don’t work to get joy. It’s the soul’s response to God’s grace. Now interestingly, at least to me, the word for “joy” in Greek is derived from the same root as “grace” and “gift.” In other words you can’t earn or achieve joy.
In this realm of grace we operate with an entirely different calculus. Joy is not a quantity you can increase any more than you can increase the carbon in your body. That element is there simply as a function of the organic chemistry that enables life. So it is with grace in the spiritual realm.
The key is to become awareof grace, and that is the single most important difference among people. A few are aware. Most are not. When we become aware of God’s grace then the soul laughs. Joy is the laughter of the soul that fully accepts that it is fully accepted by God. Grace leads to joy.
Joan’s reply to the king is spot on. You don’t perform any extra religious rituals to hear the voices. You simply be still and listen. The voices are constant. They will come to you. Be still and you become aware of the joy that is your birthright as a Christian. You can receive joy, and experience joy, but you cannot achieve joy.
Are you making time to be still this Advent? Don’t complicate this! Find a quiet place, perhaps with the glow of an Advent wreath, and make time for that divine hush, the pause, the selah (as the psalmist put it). Don’t rush. That little tingling you likely feel? That’s it. That’s the laughter of the soul that hears the Word telling you that you are loved, accepted, and secure. And that is good news of a great joy.
Dr. Terry Ellis
December 16, 2018