Scripture - Luke 2:1-14
Luke 2:1-14 (Common English Version)
2 In those days Caesar Augustus declared that everyone throughout the empire should be enrolled in the tax lists. 2 This first enrollment occurred when Quirinius governed Syria. 3 Everyone went to their own cities to be enrolled. 4 Since Joseph belonged to David’s house and family line, he went up from the city of Nazareth in Galilee to David’s city, called Bethlehem, in Judea. 5 He went to be enrolled together with Mary, who was promised to him in marriage and who was pregnant. 6 While they were there, the time came for Mary to have her baby. 7 She gave birth to her firstborn child, a son, wrapped him snugly, and laid him in a manger, because there was no place for them in the guestroom.
8 Nearby shepherds were living in the fields, guarding their sheep at night. 9 The Lord’s angel stood before them, the Lord’s glory shone around them, and they were terrified.
10 The angel said, “Don’t be afraid! Look! I bring good news to you—wonderful, joyous news for all people. 11 Your savior is born today in David’s city. He is Christ the Lord. 12 This is a sign for you: you will find a newborn baby wrapped snugly and lying in a manger.” 13 Suddenly a great assembly of the heavenly forces was with the angel praising God. They said, 14 “Glory to God in heaven, and on earth peace among those whom he favors.”
When was the last time you genuinely experienced joy? Like, the kind of joy that bubbles up without you having to think “oh, is this joy I’m feeling?” - the kind of joy that is an easy and natural response to something outside of yourself, like hearing good news or listening to that favorite song on the radio or catching that spectacular moment of beauty?
If you are anything like me, it might be tough to think of a moment. I am lucky in that I have two sources of joy constantly around me. Watching Genevieve and Michael - especially when they interact - is one of my greatest sources of joy. Outside of my kids and the spontaneous dance parties in the kitchen, being ambushed with hugs, or getting swept up in their laughter - experiencing joy is something more often than not something I have to practice.
It’s a bit, I think, like the shepherds in the field, who instead of feeling joy at the presence of the angel, felt terror. Even the news that the heavenly host came to bring - wonderful, joyous news for all people - it seemed to take a moment for the shepherds to share in that joy. It’s amazing news for a people who had been waiting for so long for the Messiah to come among them, waiting for the one who would deliver them, waiting for the one that came to make all things right.
It’s like they had to be reminded of what joy meant - what it felt like and how that joy can not only transform us but others as well.
I love how the Illustrated Ministry devotion for this week invites us to think about joy as a practice we can cultivate and not as something where you either have it or you don’t. Sometimes we need other people to come alongside us to teach us how to nurture joy within ourselves. (I think that’s why kids are such great teachers - they don’t overthink these kinds of things). For me, those teachable moments are when Genevieve wants me to come over and twirl to a song on the radio...or when Michael gives me an extra treat he’s managed to wheedle out of Gail at the dump...or when Michael holds up something he’s created with such pride and joy...or when Genevieve does something silly just to get me to laugh.
In these times where so much of the world seems uncertain, where fear and anxiety are in the air that we breathe, when many of us are operating at reduced capacities, when the emotional energy it takes to get through a day can sometimes feel like more than we have - it is more important to ever to find ways to practice joy as part of our routine.
Joy is not some luxury that we have to be in the right frame of mind to experience, nor is it a fleeting grace that lifts our spirits for a moment before we dive back into the doldrums of daily life.
Joy is something we can practice - and much as we practice any skill, be that the piano, knitting, woodcrafting, writing, patience, running, etc, to increase our capacity, we can do the same with joy. We also practice those things we may be good at already, but know that we’ll lose it if we don’t use it. I’m a good flute player, but incredibly rusty after many years of neglecting my practice.
So we’re going to do some brainstorming together - going off of what we shared at the beginning of those moments of joy - and we’re going to think up some practices together - and one of them may spark something within you and how you experience joy - and we’ll commit to practicing joy together this week.
So what might help you develop or deepen a practice of joy? What might that practice look like?
Seeing the positive in a negative situation
Sit with a clear mind for a few seconds, look at something and remember why you have it
Practice gratitude (perhaps at the end of the day), list the things you are thankful for
Seek joy and acknowledge it when you a find it (and remind yourself you are looking for it!)
Walk and get outside and noticing what is around you
Slow down the pace of life
Practice random acts of kindness
Pick one or two from this list to practice this week. We’ll check back in with each other during joys and concerns to see how we’ve done and how those practices sat with us for the week.
Because here’s the thing - if joy is not a spontaneous luxury but a practice, it becomes a tool we can use to face challenges, to overcome fears, to help us move beyond ourselves and into an expression of God’s kingdom that is infectious. Ever notice how joy is infectious? It’s something that is meant to be shared, and that is part of God’s power residing within us. If joy is a practice that we can hone and use, then we can help others access that same joy - and it’s one way that we can both bring lightness and laughter to our daily life and sustain ourselves and others through the heavy, harder times.
So this week, let us go forth to practice joy - knowing that as we do so, we are deepening our experience of God’s kingdom in and around us, and bringing hope and peace along with us as well. Amen.
Pastor Melissa Yosua-Davis has been serving the community of Chebeague and its church since July 2015. She currently lives on the island with her husband and three year old son and 6 month old daughter, along with their yellow lab. Read here recent sermon excerpts, thoughts on life and faith, and current announcements for the church community. She also blogs at Going on to Perfection.