by Fred & Gloria Strickert
On the third Sunday of Advent, the children of our congregation here in Jerusalem lit the candle of joy in our Advent wreath.
In this season of quiet reflection and patient hope, one Sunday is set aside for joy. It's like the yin and yang of Christianity. It the midst of darkness, there is a flicker of light. In a world of suffering, pain, and injustice, there are words of comfort, acts of healing, and pleas for justice. In grief and sorrow, there is joy, nevertheless.
While Gloria and I have been reflecting on our experience over the last several years, among the many things that we will miss, are the expressions of joy that spring up every day in Palestinian society, especially among the Palestinian Christian Community. The laughter we hear on the playgrounds of our Lutheran schools. The joy in the familiar greetings on the street, Kif Halak? L'Hamdilla. The telling of a good joke, as also the amusement in telling a bad one. The joyous welcoming into a home for a cup of coffee or for a meal.
And most of all, the joy that takes place at Palestinian weddings: the laughter, the celebration, the hugging and kissing, the eating, the raising of a glass of Arak to toast better days ahead, inshallah, the music, and the dancing-- the enthusiastic, not-holding-back dancing for everyone present, from grandparents to children just beginning to walk, the graceful hand gestures, to the swaying of the body, the pull of the crowds closer and closer, and then the grasping of hands in a wide circle of community, embracing all with exhilerating shouts of joy.
Dancing that goes deep into the night.
It might seem strange to see such rejoicing, considering the circumstances of Palestinian life under Israeli occupation. Yet that is what Advent joy is all about.
Karl Barth--instrumenal in the formation of the Confessing Church in opposition to Hitler and principal author of the Barmen Confession--wrote that true joy does not come because of our circumstances of health or wealth, of prosperity or success. Christians do not have joy because of their circumstances, he said, but in spite of them.
So it's no accident that of all the Greek words for joy, the New Testament most often employs the word CHARA which is derived from the word for grace, CHARIS. Thus the common joyful Arabic expression L'Hamdilla -- Thanks be to God. We have joy in the Lord.
This is Paul's message to the congregation in Philippi, "Rejoice in the Lord always, and again I say rejoice"-- the Advent 3 epistle. It's difficult to imagine what such words meant to this community with their memory of Paul and Silas singing hymns in prison until the late hours of the night. And now with Paul writing from a context of another imprisonment in Rome, his repetion of the word joy some dozen times is profound.
Joy, in spite of the circumstances.
Advent 3 Joy.
by Fred & Gloria Strickert