January 2012

Recently, I attended a late-night worship service at Clark’s Chapel Baptist Church on Eufola Road here in Statesville. Pastor Charles Mingo was welcoming and gracious in making sure I was comfortable during the service; it was a truly wonderful experience. This service commemorated the passing of 2011 and the beginning of 2012. As the service progressed, the time came for a testimony from some in the congregation. A lady stood up for the testimony, a lady I had come to know, like much of the church had, as Mother Aleen.

Now Mother Aleen was speaking of the past year, and she said something so incredibly profound that I was taken aback at the significance of this in our daily lives. She proclaimed, “Don’t let people rob you of your joy. God gave you that joy; don’t let others take that away.” We live in a world in which joy is hard to come by. If you look around you, you see politicians squabbling over the hot topic of the day, you see wars across the planet that threaten global stability, you see people who can’t eat meals to keep themselves alive. How can we be joyful amid the sorrow and pain?

That night I realized that joy is something beyond the measure of human capability. We’d rather crucify joy than find hope in it. We are toiling in our own pain and God interjects in our lives with a new and gracious joy. God comes and tears open our sorrow with joy. What hope? What peace? As the old hymn goes, “Joyful, joyful, we adore Thee, God of glory, Lord of love; Hearts unfold like flowers before Thee, opening to the sun above. Melt the clouds of sin and sadness; drive the dark of doubt away; Giver of immortal gladness, fill us with the light of day!” As we are filled with the light of day, we see the grace of our Savior as part of our own lives. God is love, but in that love we also see the joy of grace and peace. So as our world sometimes crumbles around us, simply ask for joy, and, by God, don’t let anybody steal that joy from you.

I once heard the phrase, “God is dying to meet you.” While I ponder that statement from the perspective of a mainline faith, I see this, “God is dying to show you joy.” This time of year, we forget the joy that comes after the cross because we’re too busy still wrapped up in the beginning of the year. We are tempted to forget about the death of Jesus; we are tempted to forget the pain of the world. Theologian Stanley Hauerwas puts it this way: “It’s all about love and joy. The light has come into the world, but the light that illuminates from the cross does not rid the world of snakes trying to get at you.” Dr. Hauerwas goes on to say, “To be raised with Christ means the end of any attempt to passively stare and sometimes forget about the crucifixion. You cannot stare at that in which you participate.”

Thanks be to God that we die and are raised in joy with Christ. By all means, protect that joy.

This post originally appeared in the Statesville Record, and was published in The Pulpit & the Paper: A Pastor’s Coming of Age in Newsprint by Robert W. Lee.

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