The path to joy

In my last homily I focused on the idea of a savior and I asked you to wrestle with the idea of what you might need saving from. Symbolically we need saving from the darkness, whatever that may mean for you. Over the past month we have been using the idea of light as a symbol for God and we have explored the meaning of light in our own faith as we have lit the advent wreath and talked about the symbolism of light in our lives. These activities culminated with the lighting of the Christ Candle, which symbolizes the arrival of the long-awaited savior, who brings joy to the world. For many people it is easy to feel joyous during the Christmas season, there are many reminders for them of the joy that they have in their lives, but there are also many people who struggle to see “the light in the darkness”, who struggle to find a source of joy. They may feel alone or abandoned; they may feel as though they are stuck in an impossible situation. For some these situations look like poverty or homelessness; for some it is a struggle with substance abuse; for some it appears as depression or anxiety; and for others it may simply seem like their life has no purpose. Regardless of the reasons, the good news is that Jesus, the light of the world, the Word that became flesh and lived among us, has provided a path to joy.

In The Message, which is contemporary rendering of the bible, Eugene Peterson says “The Word was made flesh and blood and moved into the neighborhood.” What would it look like if God moved into your neighborhood? I can remember living in at least seven different neighborhoods in my life, all of them different, and I struggle to think why God would have moved into any of them. None of them were ever dangerous, I was never surrounded by abject poverty, and I can’t remember ever feeling like my neighbors were in great need, so why would God even need to come there? Well, arguably God needs to be everywhere, because God’s saving presence has little to do with any of the struggles we can perceive. God is not going to end poverty and crime; God is not going to fix our annoying neighbors, not because God can’t, but because these things are human problems that we have created by the collective choices we have made. Jesus did not come to live among us to end these human problems, he came to show us that if we make better choices then these problems will go away on their own. God’s saving grace, in the form of the teachings of Jesus and the ever-present Holy Spirit, can and does provide us with a path to joy, but that path is neither straight nor easy. I have often spoken of the need to put God first in our lives, which does not mean that we need to spend our lives in isolated prayer, instead it means that we need to embrace the Holy Spirit and mimic the life of Jesus as best we can because I have news for us all, God already lives in all of our neighborhoods, because God lives in us. Jesus was the word made flesh and within that flesh resided the wisdom of the God life. That wisdom has been passed to us through scripture and to ensure that we are able to understand it God has given us the gift of the Holy Spirit to help us interpret and act on that wisdom; but in order to do so we have to be willing participants, which is why we need a savior. We need a savior to help us make better choices so that we can live God centered lives. If every person, and I mean every person, chose to live the God centered life as Jesus did. If every person chose to live as we have been called to, then most, if not all, of the problems that lead to the struggle to find joy would disappear.

Let’s not kid ourselves though, the likelihood of every person choosing to lead a God centered life is slim to none, so then why bother? Well, everyone needs to answer that question for themselves, but for me it is simple. Embracing the God life and striving to place God at the center of all that I do has led to the healing of many wounds and it has given me the strength to hope that others will also find the healing power of God. Through God, I have overcome many things, I have emerged from some very dark places and I have found joy in my life and that joy is what pushes me to help God forge a better world. The path to joy is long, it is difficult, and it requires a great deal of effort. It requires that we embrace our role as active participants in the God life, it requires us to be the eyes and ears and hands of God. I think that Teresa of Avila, who was a 16th century Spanish nun, put it best when she said, “Christ has no body now but yours. No hands, no feet on earth but yours. Yours are the eyes through which he looks compassionately on this world. Yours are the feet with which he walks to do good. Yours are the hands through which he blesses all the world. Yours are the hands, yours are the feet, yours are the eyes, you are his body. Christ has no body now on earth but yours.”  By embracing the God life, by being the body of Christ, we are all capable of helping God bring change to the world. Sometimes that change will be small and we won’t be able to detect and sometimes it will be so profound that we will be awestruck, the degree of change is irrelevant because measuring our effectiveness is a human thing, not a God thing, our job is to just be willing participants in the process. Amen

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