I can never keep the themes of the Sundays of Advent straight. I know they are Hope, Peace, Joy & Love and I’m pretty sure you do Love last, but that’s really all I know. This past Sunday at church we did Hope, but I’m not entirely sure that’s the first one officially, or if we just did that one first.
All four of these ideas are realities in which we have to live knowing that they have not yet come. Joy is one that is often confused with happiness and with emotion. Much like love, joy is a choice, an action, not an emotion. Joy is an unconquerable benevolence, not dependent on circumstance. Happiness even has part of the word “happen” in it, signifying that it is conditional, based on certain events. While we can experience happiness when the circumstances warrant, joy is something that we can live in all the time. But the key is we have to choose to.
I am a big fan of Inside the Actor’s Studio and I know the littlest bit about the craft of acting. Actors, especially those who study Method Acting, speak often of two things – listening & choices. When two actors are in a scene, the discipline is to listen to the other person and then make choices for their character based on what they’re hearing from their acting partner. If they don’t listen, they don’t know what choices to make. Actors work on putting together what they call a “toolbox” of choices by studying behavior, accents, details about people and then pull them out to use them when they suit a character they’re working on. The things they choose from the toolbox in addition to what they get from the other person or people in the scene comes together to create a performance.
The holidays can be a really difficult time for some people and not everyone is joyful at this time of year. In fact, for a lot of people I know, myself included, a lot of 2012 was pretty miserable. We’re ready to tell the Mayans to kiss our booties and move on to 2013. While 2012 was tough on me, I’ve not had a bad year since at 2006 I think (a blessing of your memory going to hell at 40 is that you can’t remember bad stuff either). Keeping up a practice of listening to God and making the choice to live in a place of joy helps strengthen me for the times when things don’t go well. Sometimes knowing that Joy is possible when the circumstances seem to say otherwise is all that has kept me going. This time of year, it’s important for us to listen to God and hear what God is up to, so we know what we’re waiting for. We need to listen to the people we come in contact with, friends and strangers, who are reaching out to us for Joy when they have none of their own.