Dec 12th, Make Room for Joy, with Rev. Dr. Steven Koski.
Dec 12th: Make Room for Joy, with Rev. Dr. Steven Koski
I’m often asked this time of year why one of the Advent candles is pink. What’s with the pink candle? The pink candle is reserved for this third Sunday of Advent. The candle of Joy let me back up and offer a little history of the liturgical practice of lighting Advent candles. It’s a tradition created by a German pastor as a way to teach kids about the coming of Christ into the world.
In Hamburg, Germany, in 1833, Johann Henrik Vikaran would gather children together. He’d turn out the lights and let the darkness settle in. And these are children who knew all too well about darkness as they lived in a house Vicarin opened, which sheltered, orphaned, abused or neglected children. And every night of Advent, Johann gathered the children living in this house. He told them stories about how Jesus would welcome all children and how Jesus would tell every child that they are loved and precious in God’s eyes and nothing or no one could take that from them.
And Johanne would pray with these children. And then he would light a candle every night and he would tell the children the candle represented the coming of Jesus, the light of the world, and to accommodate all of those candles he was lighting every night. He built a wheel shaped chandelier around which evergreens were then twined. And visitors and supporters of this house for children were so impressed by this display and this custom of lighting candles during Advent that the custom spread. But those who initiated what Johanne Vikkan started reduced it in size to four candles, one for each week of Advent.
We now light one candle a week leading up to Christmas Eve. When we celebrate the birth of Jesus. Lighting the Christ candle proclaiming the light shines in the darkness and the darkness cannot overcome it. Now three of these candles are purple, the color that represents repentance and penitence. The season of Advent originated in the fifth century.
Actually, it began as a season of fasting for 40 days in preparation for Christmas. And then Advent was reduced to four weeks in the 9th century. And the purple candles remind us of the words of John the Baptist, who said, Repent for the Kingdom of heaven has come near. Prepare the way of the Lord, make his path straight. The Greek word Metanoia that we translate as repent, literally means to turn or a change of mind and heart.
So we light the purple candles, preparing our hearts to make room to receive the light of Christ. Now the third Sunday of Advent, this Sunday is called Goddess Sunday. When we light the pink candle, the candle of joy. Goddette is a Latin word that means to rejoice the third Sunday of Advent. Lighting the pink Candle The candle of joy is intended to create space in the midst of the seriousness of penitence and repentance, to be reminded of the presence of joy, to make room for joy, to make room for joy in the midst of our grief and sorrow and struggle for it’s joy.
It’s joy that makes it possible to live with life’s. Sorrow. It’s joy that makes it possible to face life’s heartbreak without becoming broken.
That’s why on the third Sunday of Advent, we like the pink candle, the candle of joy. I thought I knew where this sermon was going to go today. And then came the news of yet another school shooting in Michigan with four teenagers killed in their classroom. I thought, how in the world am I supposed to preach about Advent joy?
Because right now I don’t really feel like I want to be consoled.
I’m weeping for young people I don’t even know. I’m weeping for their parents. I’m weeping for their friends. I’m weeping for teachers and administrators. I’m weeping for troubled souls who don’t know what to do with their pain.
So they turn to violence. I’m weeping for a country that worships guns and has an insatiable appetite for violence.
I’m weeping for the fact that we continue to weep for so many senseless deaths and nothing changes.
I’m also weeping for so many of you experiencing immense grief. So many of you I know who are hurting and struggling and facing uncertainty. And this is the week of Advent. We focus on joy. The first place I go to right now is not joy.
Deep sadness, anger, bewildering dismay, sorrow, sorrow too deep for words. Fear all of those emotions, but not joy, you know. And it’s right to feel all those things. We need to allow ourselves to feel all of those things. It’s so very human and okay to feel all of those things.
And then, in the midst of devastating despair, in the midst of that sense of, how can I find joy?
There was this light and this light that broke through the darkness. Maybe you saw it as well. Here’s a picture of McLaren Hospital, where the entire community of Oxford, Michigan, gathered to support the family of Justin Shillings, one of the teenagers who was killed. Justin is an organ daughter. This young man on his own decided to have on his driver’s license.
This young man decided to give someone else the gift of life in the event of his own death. And this crowd gathered. The entire town almost gathered so that when Justin’s body was mood for surgery to harvest his organs, what is called the Walk of honor. Justin’s family could look down and know they’re not alone that they’re loved. And they have the support of the whole community.
So in the midst of deep darkness, there is a light that cannot be overcome in the face of unspeakable evil. There is a love that is stronger in the midst of death. There’s life in the presence of deep pain and sorrow.
There is a joy that rises in our souls, knowing suffering, darkness, death will never have the last word.
Joy is not the absence of suffering.
Joy is the presence of God in the midst of our suffering.
And this is joy Sunday when we remind each other of this truth, God is present. God is present with us. Love is present with us. This is the Sunday. We make room for this truth to be born for us again, to be born for us.
Anew the light shines in the darkness and the darkness cannot overcome it. There’s joy in the world because of this.
Gary Haugen is the CEO of International Justice Mission, an organization dedicated to eradicated human trafficking and the sex trafficking of children around the world. They do hard and impossible work that places them in the pit of evil and in places of devastating despair. Gary has been doing this work for 30 years. Was asked how he keeps from getting burned out, how he manages to keep going without succumbing to compassion. Fatigue, Gary said, joy, joy is the oxygen for doing this heartbreaking work, Hogan said, spending time playing games and laughing with my grandchildren inhaling the beauty of a sunset over the mountains, noticing the flower rising in defiance in the cracks of the rocks to show off its beauty.
The unexpected phone call from a friend just checking in, listening to Beethoven’s 9th Symphony, the kindness of strangers, he said, all of those things, a deep joy rises within me when I make room for this joy. And this joy, he said, gives me the oxygen to keep doing the work that I believe I was placed on this Earth to do what brings you joy.
We need to make room for joy to breathe. Otherwise the pain and suffering will suffocate us. Life is heartbreaking. Joy. Joy is the oxygen that helps us face the heartbreak without being broken.
Joy reminds us. There is a light in the darkness and the darkness cannot overcome it. Joy is the energy that keeps our light burning so that we can find the energy to keep bringing light into the darkest corners of our world.
I must confess, watching a Charlie Brown Christmas every year brings me great joy. I love that Charlie Brown constantly asks about the true meaning of Christmas. He’s ignored by Snoopy, who’s busy decorating his doghouse. He’s ignored by kids in the pageant who just want to dance around. He’s ignored, of course, by Lucy.
Finally, Charlie Brown screams in frustration. Can’t anyone tell me the true meaning of Christmas? And that’s when Linus Linus, who’s always clinging to his dirty, well worn security blanket, Linus takes center stage. Linus clings to his security blanket, and he begins to recite the story.
And there were shepherds living out in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks. At night, an angel of the Lord appeared to them in the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified.
And then an amazing thing happens when Linus gets to the point where the Angels say to the shepherds, do not be afraid. I bring you good news of great joy.
Linus drops his blanket.
After 50 years, 50 years of watching Linus tell the story in a Charlie Brown Christmas. I’d never noticed it before. Someone pointed it out to me, or I probably would have missed it again.
As Linus tells the Christmas story. As Linus says, don’t be afraid. I bring you good news of great joy.
He drops his security blanket.
Maybe this year, maybe this year we could make that part of our story, too.
To let go of our wellworn security blankets. Let the good news of great joy of God’s presence sink in to let go of clinging to our despair and deep sadness to let go of our gripping fear and trust the Angel’s promise.
Don’t be afraid. I bring you good news of great joy. Now don’t get me wrong. The darkness is real. The despair is real.
The fear is real too.
But what is also real is that God is with us. Love. Love is with us. There is a light that shines that shines in our darkness. A light the darkness can never, ever overcome.
Maybe we find moments, moments of joy to give that light oxygen. Debris.
May it give us the energy to keep bringing light to others so that we might it be the reason someone else experiences joy?
May it be so.