The title of my reflection is an adaptation of the theme of General Council this summer, which was “Surely God is In This Place, Help Me Notice!” But since we are focusing on joy this week, I changed it… I also changed the ‘Help Me Notice’ to ‘Help Us Notice.’ Because we are a community of faith… and what we focus on and talk about impacts each other.
The shepherds in Luke’s gospel were the first to receive the news about Jesus being born… the shepherds… lowly migrant workers… quite possibly smelly and dirty… but protective and strong…
Let’s listen as the story unfolds in Luke 2: 8-20 as told by Linus in A Charlie Brown Christmas:
8 In that region there were shepherds living in the fields, keeping watch over their flock by night.
9 Then an angel of the Lord stood before them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified.
10 But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid; for see—I am bringing you good news of great joy for all the people: 11 to you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is the Messiah,[a] the Lord.
12 This will be a sign for you: you will find a child wrapped in bands of cloth and lying in a manger.”
13 And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host,[b] praising God and saying, 14 “Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace among those whom God favors!”
15 When the angels had left them and gone into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, “Let us go now to Bethlehem and see this thing that has taken place, which the Lord has made known to us.”
16 So they went with haste and found Mary and Joseph, and the child lying in the manger.
17 When they saw this, they made known what had been told them about this child; 18 and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds told them.
19 But Mary treasured all these words and pondered them in her heart.
20 The shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen, as it had been told them.
“Do not be afraid; for see—I am bringing you good news of great joy for all the people: 11 to you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is the Messiah, the Lord.
Good News! Great joy!
Brené Brown, a research professor at the University of Houston, has spent the last 20 years studying courage, vulnerability, shame and empathy. This is what she says about the connection between gratitude and joy:
In many ways, my research has not only taught me new ways to think about how I want to live and love, it’s taught me about the relationship between my experiences and choices. One of the most profound changes in my life happened when I got my head around the relationship between gratitude and joy. I always thought that joyful people were grateful people. I mean, why wouldn’t they be? They have all of that goodness to be grateful for. But after spending countless hours collecting stories about joy and gratitude, three powerful patterns emerged:
• Without exception, every person I interviewed who described living a joyful life or who described themselves as joyful, actively practiced gratitude and attributed their joyfulness to their gratitude practice.
• Both joy and gratitude were described as spiritual practices that were bound to a belief in human interconnectedness and a power greater than us.
• People were quick to point out the differences between happiness and joy as the difference between a human emotion that’s connected to circumstances and a spiritual way of engaging with the world that’s connected to practicing gratitude.
Nichole Brooking is going to share a story about joy and gratitude.
So, I was going to ask you about things that bring you joy… but instead, I am going to ask you about things that make you grateful.
What are the things for which you are grateful?
Wait for answers.
I’ll give you my list of things for which I am grateful in this place (Riverview)
• Musical talent
• The deep questions and enthusiasm of children
• Discovering people’s gifts
• Having deep conversations in Study group, where people are wrestling with scriptures and ideas that are new.
• The executive that is deepening their sense of spirituality through the Grounding Gatherings they hold each month.
• Technology… that allows projection, social media presence and connection.
• Allison lighting the candles each week.
• The way we do our business all together.
The Tuesday afternoon study group talked about Advent and Christmas and there was lots of ambivalence… from some of the folks around the table and for me. For some the ambivalence is around family not around. For some it is illness… For me it’s the overwhelming expectations that are associated with Christmas in the church… and the extra services and extra events… ALL of which are lovely and meaningful… and then add on my desires to spend time with family… and shopping and decorating at home…
But the good news isn’t just a story for long ago, it’s a story for today! Whatever layers of tradition we have laid upon the story of Christmas, the essential message is the same! There is good news! There is great joy! For this baby… this man will change the world! And it wasn’t just good news for those in power… it was good news for ALL of us.
In fact, his message was bad news for those in power. The good news was present then, is present now and will be present in the future. That is what we proclaim in communion when we say, “Christ has died, Christ is risen, Christ will come again!”
It’s good news! It’s great joy! And every day we get a chance to choose gratitude and joy.
Henri Nouwen was a Roman Catholic priest whose spirituality was greatly influenced by his friendship with Jean Vanier, the founder of L’Arche.
He spent 10 years in a L’Arche community in Ontario… and in that he found a sense of purpose that had been missing from his life. He also struggled with depression and the conflict between his vows of celibacy and his longing for intimacy. But despite his struggles… he chose joy… he chose gratitude… he chose Jesus. Not just the baby… it’s easy to love that Jesus… but the man… the man that demands more of us that perhaps we think we have to offer. And we all get to do that!
Choose gratitude! Choose joy! Choose Jesus! Surely joy is in this place, help us notice!
Luke 2: 8-20
December 9, 2018 – ECM