Joy should be simple—it’s my name. It is a word tossed around quite a bit at Christmas. The angels appearing to the shepherds sought to calm them by saying, “Do not be afraid; for see—I am bringing you good news of great joy for all the people”. For many of us, joy is what we seek in the outer world. We find it in the birth of the baby or the news someone brings to us. I believe joy, like all the advent gifts, resides within us. Yet, as one of my favorite theologians, Henri Nouwen, says, “Joy does not simply happen to us. We have to choose joy and keep choosing it every day.”
Choice is another one of those spiritual gifts. We can choose where we place our faith. We can choose peace or struggle. We can choose love or anger. We can choose joy or all the things that feel like the absence of joy. In loss we may feel like all that gave us joy is gone. Yet just as love comes from within us, and we pour it out upon ourselves and others, joy wells up from within us when we allow it to and acknowledge it. In times of great loss, acknowledging joy may feel like a betrayal of the one we’ve lost. For me, I have come to understand it doesn’t work like that. None of the love is lost, even if the one I loved is out of reach. I keep loving because it is my nature to love, forced to find new avenues for the flow. Joy does not require perfection, or the absence of sorrow, or the worldly measures of success. I keep choosing joy because it remains an eternal reminder of Spirit in me and in the world. I choose joy when I smile; when I smell the winter evergreen; when the snow falls silently to cover every blemish; when the cardinal perches on the feeder like a scarlet kiss from heaven.
Advent gifts are celebrated on Sundays and because of the rhythm of weekdays and the 25th, sometimes we celebrate joy for a day and sometimes we celebrate for 6 days. This year we have a week to celebrate choosing joy. Choose joy. Do not let it escape your attention amid the parties and shopping; amid the sadness and loss; amid the expectations and disappointments. Open your heart to the joy that is there, waiting for you to claim it.