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Sermon: Being Present with Joy

Updated: Dec 11, 2023

Pastor Hector Garfias-Toledo + December 10, 2023

On this third Sunday of Advent, Pastor Hector explores the interconnectedness of hope, peace, and joy, emphasizing that true joy arises from communal understanding and shared presence amidst life's struggles. He highlights the significance of acknowledging the difference between happiness and genuine joy: we must embody God's grace by being channels of joy and compassion in the community.



Lightly edited for grammar and clarity.

It's always very hard for me to follow these messages. I don't know what to do. I was thinking of jalapeno frosting, maybe for my cupcakes just to make them feel a little more Mexican, so maybe you can prepare some for me next time. No, that's—I'm digressing here.

Grace, Grace to You and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ, who is Our Savior and Lord that we said. AMEN.

Well, here we are, third week of Advent. Let me start with a question for you, and it is along the lines of what the young worshipper's message was about. So, just in a popcorn style, let's name something or somebody who brings to you happiness. Just say something loud!

[Congregation responds]

Now, let's take just a moment and now I invite you to again do the same thing but to name and to say anything that makes you experience Joy.

[Congregation responds]

See, perhaps you heard that a few things or maybe as you were thinking of these two questions there were things that were the same or that sometimes are different or that is difficult to differentiate. That sometimes we feel happy but we don't know exactly if they bring such Joy, or sometimes we confuse Joy with happiness. But when we put them together, we really need to make a pause and think: what is the difference and what really brings joy to my life?

For the past two weeks, we have been talking about the gifts of some of the gifts of the Spirit and especially in this Advent season. Two weeks ago, we talked about hope, hope being active hope being a driving force in our lives that moves us to make our hope in God and God's promise tangible for others. Last Sunday, Pastor Jenna reminded us about peace and the gift of peace that has been given to us for us to share with others here and anywhere in the world.

But as I was thinking of these three words: hope, peace, and joy, I started thinking: how are they connected? Does Hope lead to experiencing Joy? What do you think? Or is Peace the source of Hope? Or because we have Joy we can experience Peace and therefore Hope? I think it's difficult and I think they don't happen in a linear way. But let me spend a few minutes talking about happiness.

I think that happiness, it is one of the easiest things to sell. And it's sold to us as this elixir for momentary relief, sometimes for denial of the realities in our lives. And happiness provides this momentary pleasure in our lives. I don't compare it with frosting on a cupcake, but sometimes I compare it with a Band-Aid, especially when you put the Band-Aid when we have hair and it's happy, as you put it first. But when you pull it out, the happiness goes away and comes with pain. So that's how I define happiness in my life, at least.

A few weeks ago, a couple of weeks ago, I was doing my regular daily walk in the neighborhood and I was walking in this shopping center. And I have passed there many times, but that day, the sunshine was hitting one of the buildings in a very particular angle that I was able to see something that I believe had been there for a long time. But because maybe I go at different times and the sun doesn't hit that specific window, I didn't see it. But that day, that afternoon the sunshine came and I was able to see what you can see in this slide: you see what it says, 'depression sucks.'

I believe that many of us may identify what that person wrote with what that person wrote on that window. He scratched or she scratched the window to express what was in his heart or her in his or her heart. But as I read these words, I made a pause, yes, to take a picture, but at the same time to think and to reflect. And I think that today, maybe it's possible for us that if I put blank sucks, we can fill in that blank easily. What would you put in that blank?

[Congregation responds]

We probably can spend the rest of the morning filling in words there. And it caught my attention because I was wondering who was that person, what was in this person's heart when this person scratched those words in that window? For how long has this person been feeling that way? And maybe who had tried to fix this person rather than to understand and be present in the life of this person?

The scratches on the glass made me think of the deep experience of desperation, hopelessness, loneliness, and perhaps the shaming that had torn this person's life and soul, as he or she was seeking one person who can be a present of Hope, of Peace, or a Joy that will bring this person the dignity, the worthiness, and the belonging that this person needed that day when he or she was next to that window.

Gabor Maté—this doctor that I have been talking about in past—I was listening to a report, was an interview, and he was talking about the stress in the life of people, especially Americans. And he was talking about how the suicidal rates are going up, the crisis with mental health situation is increasing. And he was saying, 'It's interesting to see that we Americans'—he's Canadian but he's in Vancouver so he's American in some way, we are in the continent of America so I'm American too—so, anyway, he says, 'We Americans, we respond normal or react in this way: our immediate reaction is to fix, rather than to understand.'

And we know very well what fixing causes in the life of people and in the life of communities because our tendency to fix anything that we think that is broken has led us to destruction of individual lives and entire communities. Last month, we were talking about the Native American people and in trying to fix Native Americans—these savages—we created boarding schools. In trying to fix countries that have different value systems, we occupy them. And in countries that have different cultures or ways of seeing life, we change their values, especially because they are "third-world countries" that we need to change and fix.

And you know what? Fixing is not working.

Fixing is not the best that we can do. Dr. Maté continues and says that for us to be able to be present with a person first or with a community first, we need to understand that anxiety, distress, pain, depression, grief aren't the problem, but the sign of the problem. And they signify that life is not aligning. And that we should be looking at that.

Understanding is challenging. It's challenging because it requires openness to the unknown. It's challenging because it raises more questions that cannot be answered. And it leads us to these liminal spaces in life that confront us with our own darkness when life, school, family, community, faith communities, and depressions, and many other things really suck.

Happy or being happiness doesn't do it, my siblings in Christ. As we heard today, happiness is just the frosting that makes us feel happy for a moment.

Today's passages are a powerful reminder of such reality. The people of Israel are experiencing or have experienced exile, and in the New Testament, we hear the words of Mary, the Israelites, the Jewish people who are living in under the Roman occupation. Happiness was not going to solve their yearning for wholeness. They were facing the unknown, they had unanswered questions, and there were many voices lost in the community that perhaps were saying, 'Life really sucks again.'

To conclude with Dr. Maté, he says, 'The signs can be in individual problems. The signs of all these problems in the community is not something that can be seen only as an individual situation. It is a communal experience and it requires communal response.' And we see that because in the book of Isaiah, God has sent a savior to bring the good news to those whose voices of despair and agony end up on windows or walls or maybe on the sand of the desert in the hidden darks of the corners of our lives.

Notice that neither of the readings talk about this Hallmark, individualistic happiness, because we like to say happy to anything. I wondering way they were able to say "happy Exile!" "Happy pregnancy, Mary." Both the readings talk about the communal joy and rejoicing which source is the joy given by YHWH, by God made flesh, by Emmanuel, God With Us.

Joy allows us to accept the reality of pain in the light of God's goodness, mercy, and love. And we know this because at some point in the Gospel of John, Chapter 15:11, John says the words or writes the words of the Lord Jesus that says, 'I have told you these things for a purpose, that my joy might be your joy and your joy wholly mature. This is my command: love one another the way I loved you.'

The source, the root, the place where Joy comes from is from the love of God, God for all people. And the true joy that we can share and experience in our lives is the result of the interaction of being present and walking and accompanying one another in those days when we are looking for a window and a sharp instrument or tool to write how we feel in our hearts.

These words of Jesus were shared when he was talking to the disciples that he is the vine and that we are connected to him to receive life, meaning, and purpose in our lives. Joy is the disposition of the whole being. It is not to be withheld or hoarded for personal comfort and self-satisfaction. In the Old Testament, joy has seen as the reward of faithfulness to the law. And in the song of Mary in the magnificant we see we read this morning that Mary says that Joy is prophetic proclamation of God's salvation in Jesus. God's new order in which out of despair of death new life emerges as God's justice rolls like a river and overturns the powers of death and desolation.

Joy has been placed in our hearts as a gift of the spirit to instill God's grace and the life-giving presence that God promised us in Jesus Christ Our Lord and Savior. So knowing that Joy is the disposition of the whole being, knowing that Joy is the prophetic Proclamation that you are called to, and knowing that Joy has been placed in our hearts, the questions for us today as Community of Faith may be: How may God be calling us, Trinity Lutheran Church and schools, you and me, to be a Channel of that joy in this community? How will you and I be channels that Express that become the expression of God's grace not only today but the six days of the week as we are the scattered church every day everywhere all the time?

My siblings in Christ, we are liberated to walk with the understanding of those who in the depth of their despair are scratching Windows of Separation, isolation, and disregard. For those who are eagerly hoping to hear a word that brings them joy to their hearts and the peace that makes them whole. Or perhaps we are the ones who today are waiting to hear the words of joy as we are looking for a window where we want to scratch what is in our hearts.

But the good news, my siblings in Christ, is that depression sucks and many other things suck around us, but the Lord has and will continue to be to do great things in us and through us so that we can sing with Mary: 'Our spirit rejoices in the Lord.'


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