Ever have some odd quirky thing from years ago that sticks in your mind that you can’t get rid of, no matter how hard you try?
One of mine is a segment from a Rem and Stimpy cartoon – inevitably triggered when I hear the word “joy”. Perhaps because I have been in so many circumstances where an MC has attempted to force-feed “joy” on a passive-aggressive audience. Here’s the clip for those who dare!
Joy that is artificially manufactured is like a stone being skipped across the surface of a pond. Joy that is deep and real often emerges out of a season of yearning and anticipation.
We live in a time where refugees and homeless seek a place to call safe, where many unemployed face an empty Christmas table, and the mentally ill seek a moment or two of sanity. Here there is yearning. When hope has not vanished entirely, there is anticipation and the possibility of joy. Such hope often rests on something good remembered and an entertainment of the possibility it may yet recur.
The Psalm for this third week of Advent reflects the dynamic. It is a song of ascent – meaning it was sung by pilgrims to Jerusalem as they approached the Temple.
Times are pressing, the latter verses of the psalm suggest hardship due to drought and poor harvest, maybe even a season of duress under tyranny. The opening lines, however, recall and virtually re-live an occasion of being “surprised by joy”. Their despairing ancestors, captive and exiled in Babylon for several generations, are released and allowed to go home in freedom when the Persian king Cyrus invades and subjugates Babylon. So great is their deep happiness that Isaiah speaks of their pagan deliverer as “God’s anointed.” Unexpected yet remembered in messianic terms. The psalm implores God to “do it again.”
Perhaps the temple pilgrims anticipated a reconnection with the grounding of their faith through the temple rites, something that would help them face an uncertain future with confidence and purpose. By remembering unexpected encounters with the divine celebrated by their ancestors, they could live out the anticipation of their own liberation.
If this kind of joy does that, it is a true gift.