Where was the joy? The little family was far from home. The journey had been long and stressful – the unknown accompanied the travelers. The young woman was heavy with child and each step added to her discomfort. The worry lines on the betrothed’s forehead deepened. Upon arrival, hopes of a quiet, rest-filled night were squelched by the news there was no room, except a barn littered with smelly animals. It was then the child came, placed in a scratchy manger where his cries were accompanied by wailing lambs. No sleep for the weary couple still trying to make sense of the great change to their lives. Soon, there was commotion as a herd of shepherds pushed to see the child. They were strangers! Could they be trusted? Would they cause harm? The life began humbly in the dark of night in an unfamiliar place where fear called. Where was the joy? Much later, a dream drove the man to take his young wife and infant into the darkness once more. It seems a King felt his power threatened by this peaceful prince and to safeguard his claim, he decreed death to children under the age of two. The family fled into the night – refugees in a foreign land! Once more, alone and filled with fear. Where was the joy?
On this third Sunday in Advent, we celebrate the gift of joy, but where was the joy for the family so fearful We have the advantage of knowing the whole story. There was joy to be found in those shepherds – strangers – leaping with joy for they had met angels singing of God’s entrance into the world through one small child… Much later, kings came from far away, mysterious places. They came offering gifts, kneeling in joy before this child, worshipping as they saw the God of all living among them. Their hearts were singing even as they were warned to return home by another route for their safe keeping.
It still astounds me that joy found its way into that scene of new life. Darkness was present, fear was in abundance, mystery paraded in the air, the call to move to unknown arenas was so present. But still, the joy is found in shepherds dancing to the song of God’s advent; kings bowing in wonder, even as harm threatened on the horizon. The joy was, as it is now and forever that God entered our human race and remains till all time is played out. We are not alone – Emmanuel has come – God with us! So, we, too, can sing and dance in the darkness of this age because we too meet this one small child and in him we know God! There is the joy…