When You Need to Find Your Way Back to Joy

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Advent Reflections: the Third Sunday

Joy can be hard to come by in this season. I know that we’re supposed to be happy and excited as we get ready for Christmas, but sometimes the weight of all the expectations it brings is hard to carry.

The sentimental images of the perfect family Christmas can end up being a stark contrast to the painful reality of what yours will look like.

The rituals and traditions that are meant to bring comfort can be a sharp reminder of all the things you wanted to be different this year, but stayed the same. Or all the things you wanted to stay the same but changed anyway.

The routines that normally hold you together begin to disintegrate around this time, and it all starts to feel a bit unsteady, a bit vulnerable, like you’re right on the edge, and just about to fall off.

In the run up to the big holiday, with its big expectations and big feelings, I’m finding it helpful to think about how God’s kingdom comes in ways that start out small.

It is the tiny mustard seed that grows into a large tree that provides refuge.

It is the yeast that permeates a whole batch of dough that can be baked into nourishing bread.

It is an embryo embedded in a womb that will grow into the Bread of Life, the Light of the World.

And yet these symbols of the kingdom cannot be separated from the dirt, or mess, or pain that accompanies them. The beauty and the chaos are all mixed in together.

You can see it in Mary’s story. She reaps both the glory and the shame of her unexpected pregnancy. She is honoured to raise the Son of God as her firstborn, yet will one day hear him ask: “Who is my Mother? Who are my brothers?” (Matt. 12:48). She will carry all the excitement of welcoming him into the world and all the agony of watching him die.

As Anne Lamott puts it: ‘The blessing, the grace, the sorrow, the devastation, the tragedy, the resurrection. They’re all mixed together. And God is in it all.’

And joy is right there in mix too. Not the fake smile, ‘pretend-everything’s-ok-when-it-isn’t’ kind of joy. Real joy is the small seed of the kingdom that is growing right in amongst the brokenness and despair.

Looking for joy in small ways takes the pressure off. We’re not waiting for some huge sign or grand gesture. Finding our way back to joy is about paying attention to the small things. It’s about noticing the tiny points of light that appear in the dark, like stars in the night sky.

Of course, the darkness, with all its disorientation and distress is still there. But the stars - whole galaxies full of stars - so are they. Light and dark, all mixed up together, God with us, in it all.


This is the third post in my Advent series. You can read the rest here: