Our message today was about Joy because it was the day to light the candle of Joy. I had this script that is printed below, but for the first three pages at least, I just told the stories. I am not really sure how it came out and if all of it came out or if all of what I said was in the script. I know that what I said is what I was thinking at the time of putting the script together. I apologize that all I have here is the script, hopefully it makes some sort of sense to you.
The scriptures used were: Isaiah 35:1-10, James 5:7-10 and Matthew 11:2-11. The scripture that I skipped was what the lectionary used as the focus, it is what I had the Advent candle lighters read: Luke 1:46-55. Maybe next time I will focus on that. Today I was drawn in a sort of pathos to a different type of message. The title was, “Joy: Another Day in Paradise.”
In case you have been wondering what is going on this year with the snow and winter weather conditions, and if you are a skeptic about global warming or climate change the term is currently, last night James found out the answer to what is going on. He was on the phone with his good friend after the big Bison win (I suppose it is not good to mention that here considering they defeated SDSU yesterday). Anyway they got to talking about the weather and the snow, Arlan is a janitor in Lincoln, ND and he said they are getting to the point of having no place to go with what they are removing from sidewalks and streets. What he told James is something his mother said. Her experience or a belief that she learned over the years is that when Christmas falls on a Sunday, you can expect a hard winter.
I have been trying to think of past winters trying to compare this one, and the only thing I can really remember is that in 1963 (the year my 4 year-old brother died) we had so much snow in December that there was a huge, or so it seemed to me, a huge drift in front of our house and as my father dug a path around it to get the car to the house and in and out of the garage, we had a huge mound to play on and make a fort on. And I remember that it was the hard kind of snow that you could walk on without falling through. Of course I was only about 6 and probably weighed about 50 pounds soaking wet and so falling through was not as easy as at it would be now. This past week the snow that hit did not feel quite as friendly. There was not the joyful feeling of playing outside on snow banks or in snow forts or any of the fun things that children feel when bundling up to go outside to play.
On Monday morning James and I got ready and bundled up and headed out in our van to go north to school. James pulled up at the Linton school and left me to drive on to Hazelton. I didn’t think much of it until I began looking out the north window of the room I was substituting in and saw about 10:30 the snow began to fall. I really didn’t think it would be much until near noon when my phone went off and it was a text message from Marva, “Do you have any snow in Herreid?” Well, I didn’t know that answer, but told her it was coming down pretty hard in Hazelton. She and Jerry were coming home from Bismarck and at Sterling they thought there was more than enough snow at the time. The shortest version of this story is that I did not get home on Monday night. I started out, but got really scared when I had no idea where I was, and I really didn’t want to be stranded on the road or in the ditch or be in an accident, and I turned around and stayed with a couple that I knew there. On Tuesday afternoon about 2, I noticed the wind letting up, and made a run for Linton, and James and I made it home a little after 4. If anyone was wondering why Bible Study was cancelled and I didn’t come to the office on Wednesday that is why. I also didn’t leave the house again except to go to the freezer in the garage until this morning.
On Tuesday night we knew that schools were starting late in the area, so besides the tv remotes, I put the radio on my bed stand so I could hear the local cancellations right away. Wednesday morning, I woke early and turned on the radio then fell back asleep. When I woke the second time, it was to Phil Collins singing “Another day in paradise.” It is a song I know well because I used it in class in the 1990’s. He wrote the song after being stopped by a beggar on the streets of London as he was heading to the airport. I used it with the story, “What Redburn saw in Launcelot’s Hey” by Herman Melville, which is also about a poor woman. The woman in Melville’s story lives on the streets with two children and an infant. Redburn tries to help her, but only prolongs her death from starvation.
At first I thought that waking to this song the day of a snow storm, the day after my night away from home and maybe the possibility of another day at home, well hearing this song was a sign…another day at home, another day in paradise. Ha, that said by no one who has seen my house lately. And then I kept listening to the words of the song again and I realized this wasn’t a sign, this was ironic. And the more I listened, the more I heard the song again and, I realized the title of the song is ironic: “Another Day in Paradise.” The words of the chorus start out as: “Oh think twice, it’s another day for you and me in paradise.” And if you do any research into the writer/singer, Phil Collins, you learn that the situation that moved him to write the song and win all the awards and make lots of money, didn’t move him to spend any of it to make a difference. [And critics took him apart for it.]
Why? I tried to make sense, to understand why I was fixated on that song and that meaning after my minor little ordeal. I was never cold; I was not alone or really stranded. I was with friends. My needs were met. I wasn’t like the many who wander the streets alone for whatever reason, homeless, hopeless, helpless. I was only displaced for one single night by a snow storm. I started to wonder what was in my mind that kept me thinking about how this song, and its message fits into this time of Advent when we are coming today to light the candle of JOY.
This week, the joy week, is always my favorite week of Advent. Joy is the sign I would love to put all over our yard and house and on the trees at Christmas. Joy! What a wonderful feeling, what a wonderful focus!! Joy!! And then I think of what a wonderful feeling it will be to find that ultimate Joy when we reach that point in our existence when we can really say, “Another day for you and me in paradise.” Another of the ladies of the afternoon coffee group from the days when my mother had the Main Street café in Herreid passed away last week. My sisters and I wondered how full their coffee table must be by now. The family joke is “they’re having coffee without me.” Well not without Shelly anymore.
Well it wasn’t Shelly’s passing that was bothering me, it might have, somewhat been, the passing of that little boy in Willow Lake–the lady I was covering for at Hazelton was his aunt-in-law, and she and her husband left on Friday to be with his sister and family, though I was thinking of those things, it was more than that. The story behind the song hanging here in my mind like on a teeter-totter with Joy being on the other end, just somehow wasn’t able to balance for me. And as we look at our scriptures maybe it starts to make sense.
Starting with the epistle lesson from James, the disciple who knew Christ very well tells us to be patient as a farmer who watches their crops and waits for the produce. I can relate as a gardener that it isn’t always with the best of patience that I wait. But James says to have patience and not to grumble at one another. In other words we are to work together, to fellowship with one another and to work for the coming of the Lord. It also says to listen to the prophets, so what does Isaiah say to us today?
The passage we read in Isaiah was all about how even the earth will be glad and rejoice at the coming of the Lord, and then it goes on to say all the things that will change such as the blind being able to see the deaf being able to hear the lame to walk and on and on. There are phrases of joy and joyfulness throughout the chapter and it is a wonderful, hopeful reading. And as we come to the gospel lesson today, we see the connection to the words of Isaiah. The gospel lesson seems a bit off in terms of Advent. This story is of Jesus in basically the midst of his ministry. It is after John the Baptist has been thrown in prison by King Herod. It starts with a question from John to Jesus asking if he is indeed the one that John thought he was at his baptism.
We might think it is odd for John to be asking that question, but it shows us just how intent the people at that time were of the Messiah coming in a warlike way. If we were to back up to the Isaiah passage and read it again looking for what to expect of the Messiah, we might get their idea (especially if we back up one more chapter before what we read today) that there will be a horrible war getting rid of what is evil, and then the Messiah will be there to as it says in the end of vs. 4: “He will come with vengeance, with terrible recompense.” That is what they expected, but that is not what they saw in Jesus.
Yet in his response Jesus points them to the part of the passage on which they should focus, it is that part about the Joy that is to come with the coming of the Messiah. Jesus makes them look at the part about the “blind receive their sight, the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised and the poor have good news brought to them.” These are the things, the tidings perhaps, of Joy that Jesus brings to us today.
And if finally occurred to me this week why I wasn’t able to let go of that song and the message behind that song this week while preparing for the lighting of the candle of Joy. It is because, though we might only want to talk about or study the things Jesus did while on earth, or even think about what we can expect when Jesus comes back for us, there are still those among us who are in need. The poor, the orphans, the widows, the blind, the lame, the deaf, the helpless, the hopeless, the homeless are not only part of history and they are not only part of some other place or some other entities’ problem.
As long as we exist, we are responsible for helping with the solution to the problems around us. “Oh think twice, it’s another day for you and me in paradise.” By world standards even stuck in a snow bank, we are in paradise everyday compared to so many others. There was a very interesting reading in the Upper Room yesterday, and though I am pretty faithful in reading them, I am a bit lax about looking at the scriptures that go with them. Yesterday for some reason I took the time, and I was struck by Hebrews 10:24 “And let us consider how to provoke one another to love and good deeds.”
I am not sure if it was the snow storm or the overnight outside of my home or the song on the radio, but something clicked for me this week and made me realize that the season of Advent is just as much a time of preparation as is the season of Lent. With all of the activities and the commercialization, we too often lose our focus. Jesus really is the reason for the season, but it isn’t the Jesus of the manger that we should only be thinking of. The words that Jesus gave to John as a list of what he was doing for the world is also a list for us, telling us, reminding us of what needs to be done even in our modern age. As we go through our days waiting for the coming of the Savior, our Savior, we can still provoke each other to love and good deeds, and we can spend this time helping those who need the love of Christ in their lives today. Let’s go this week and spread some of Christ’s joy with those around us! Amen