Joy (by committee)

Our Director of Operations Laura Foley preached this sermon for the third week of Advent in our Wednesday Prayer Service.

Have you heard the phrase or originally a psalm: “joy comes in the morning” or “joy comes with the morning?”

Well, boy. Do some of us know that? I don’t mean the kind of “morning person” vs. “NOT morning person” but rather that sense, you can almost smell it, the color outside is very specific. It’s morning and whether behind clouds or shining straight into your eyes – the sun has risen. Despite all doubts, despite all well lived fears in the night, despite all the tears, or pain, or cold – the sun does rise – and somehow, like out of nowhere, joy comes in the morning.

2009 was a really tough year for me. I was “in between” in a lot of ways. I was dealing with my first heartbreak. And I mean I was broken. Totally lost, somehow in my own life. And to make things worse I had just moved to a new city by myself. Living by myself, trying to figure out this new school program by myself. And I got really depressed. I felt like I didn’t know who I was or maybe I should say who I’d become. I didn’t know what I was doing.

To top things off, the school program I was in, it was almost like it was intentionally designed to prove that every thing I thought I knew was wrong. It just compounded the free-fall that had been that year.

I had found and rented this little efficiency apartment. I was working and paying for it (it was $325 a month – which at the time was steep – but would be killer now). It was sort of set up like you’d walk in facing left with this decent size living space that included an unbelievably loud print love-seat and a tv with a screen smaller than the average laptop. Behind that was one of those kitchens that is half open space between the sink and cabinets and opened up to the living room. Then back around more to the left was a big bathroom and closet and place for a bed. And I spent a lot of time just laying in that empty space – almost like waiting.

At the time I couldn’t tell you what exactly I was waiting for. I probably had lots of ideas but none seemed to get at it. Yes, I was waiting to be happy again, waiting for my life to feel good again, waiting for everything – really anything – to make sense. At times waiting, HOPING for the ex to come back – that surprise knock that NEVER happens. Darn those romantic movies that weasel their way into our psyche.

I’m not sure at what point I started to notice it but I had this enormous window in the main living room and I was on the second floor and somehow it was just right angle or season or something that the sun peaked nearly perfectly in the center every morning and would flood, I mean flood light into that dark empty, fears, tears and doubt filled apartment. It happened morning after morning after morning. And it started to become the only thing I felt like I could count on. The smell of coffee from my little 4 cup Mr. Coffee maker and the sun rising became my joy. And from then on something about mornings get me. I even have a tattoo of a Native American sun surrounding the Native American symbol for sadness. Encompassing it, including it.

Psalm 146

Praise the Lord! Praise the Lord, O my soul!

I will praise the Lord as long as I live; I will sing praises to my God all my life long.

Do not put your trust in princes, in mortals, in whom there is no help.

When their breath departs, they return to the earth; on that very day their plans perish.

Happy are those whose help is the God of Jacob, whose hope is in the Lord their God,

who made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that is in them; who keeps faith forever;

who executes justice for the oppressed; who gives food to the hungry. The Lord sets the prisoners free;

the Lord opens the eyes of the blind. The Lord lifts up those who are bowed down; the Lord loves the righteous.

The Lord watches over the strangers; he upholds the orphan and the widow, but the way of the wicked he brings to ruin.

The Lord will reign forever, your God, O Zion, for all generations. Praise the Lord!

Guatemala is a country in Central America.  For 36 years, from 1960 to 1996, a vicious civil war took place in Guatemala between the government of Guatemala and some citizens of the country who felt the government was oppressive and abusive.  Many of the citizens who opposed the government were members of the ancient native tribes of Guatemala, the Maya.  The government forces of Guatemala, driven by the Guatemalan military, decided that anyone who was Mayan was a potential member of the “rebels,” as the citizens fighting the government were called.  So, the government military forces decided to get rid of any potential “rebels.”  

This meant that they tried to kill as many people in Guatemala who were Mayan as they possibly could.  Most of the killing took place from 1981-1983, when the Guatemalan army carried out a campaign of “scorched earth” that leveled hundreds of villages in the Mayan highlands.  It is estimated that 200,000 people were killed during the course of the civil war.  The violence provoked the displacement of more than a million people.  Many of them fled into the fields and forests around their destroyed homes, sometimes hiding for months on end. They would be forced to leave everything they had in an attempt to get away before they might be killed.  If people tried to return to their villages, they would find them burned and anyone left in the village would be dead.  This violence caused thousands of Guatemalans to have to leave their homes and journey to refugee camps in southern Mexico.

The story goes that as they traveled, they would organize themselves into groups to take care of the necessary tasks along the way.  There was a food committee and a shelter committee and a water committee.  In addition, there was a “comité de alegría,” or joy committee.  Their job was to make sure that they celebrated life and created moments of joy in the midst of their painful dislocation.

“Do not put your trust in princes, in mortals, in whom there is no help,” the psalm tells us. “The Lord watches over the strangers; upholds the orphan and the widow, executes justice for the oppressed; gives food to the hungry.”

Whether joy finds us or we designate a committee – it’s necessary. The darkness of that apartment and that year, the horrific suffering of the Mayan people – our humanness requires joy.

And so in this Advent season, in this church holiday, we wait. We wait the long night. Because what’s coming, is something so profound, it’s so profound that the story describes it like a validation of our humanity. That the pain and the suffering and the death but also the joy and the hope and resurrection IS WHO WE ARE! That our humanness is so good, that not only are we made in the image of God but that God would choose to live among us.