Sunday, December 16, 2012

Joy Comes In The Morning

Joy Comes In the Morning
A Response to the Connecticut Tragedy

Rejoice in the Lord always and again I say rejoice!
These words were the focus of my attention early Friday morning as I prepared my sermon notes for today. The theme of that sermon was joy, specifically our call to recognize and establish joy as the atmosphere of our lives. As I sat at my keyboard, I received a text message from my wife that read, "Have you heard about Connecticut?" I quickly turned on my television and heard the news that has been etched in everyone's minds for the past two days. 28 lives, including 20 children, tragically ended. As I listened to the fury of news reports, I wept ... and I felt the cry of the ancient psalmist rise up within me, How long, O Lord, how long?

How long before we truly make war no more?
How long before this violence will cease?
How long before there is wholeness and peace?
How long before we will see the fullness of your new creation?
How long, O Lord, how long?

After listening to as much as my heart could bear, I sat down at my keyboard to continue my sermon preparation, but the theme of joy no longer seemed appropriate. If the face of such tragedy, in the face of such evil, how could I stand and issue a call to rejoice? How could I call us to go forth as a people of joy when we are grieving the loss of so many innocent lives?

Yet, as I pondered my own questions, I realized that joy and sorrow are not two distant ends of a spectrum, but they are more like two sides of the same coin. Joy and sorrow are intricately and intimately knit together, which means that even in the face of tragedy and sorrow, even in the face of sheer evil, we, as the people of God, have a word of hope, a word of forgiveness, indeed, even a word of joy that we are called to embody and proclaim.

When the Apostle Paul issued his famous exhortation to "rejoice in The Lord always," he was writing from a prison cell anticipating the possibility of his own execution. Paul understood, firsthand, the profound paradox of the Christian life. The paradox that in the midst of our deepest darkness, we proclaim light. In the midst of anger, we offer forgiveness. In the midst of despair and fear, we share hope and celebrate love.

The paradox of the Christian life is that even in the face of death, even at the grave, we make our song "Alleluia! Alleluia! Alleluia!"

And yet, this doesn't mean that we do not grieve.
This doesn't mean that we do not weep.
Grief is our most natural and obvious response.
Jesus wept at the death of his friend Lazarus.

We grieve and we weep, because we are reminded once again that God's dream of healing and peace is not yet fully realized.

We grieve and we weep, because we see in the face of a parent who has lost a child such incomprehensible and seemingly inconsolable pain.

We grieve and we weep, because we anguish deep within our souls and our hearts cry out once again, "how long, O Lord, how long?"

As we grieve the lives of innocent children, we cannot help but be reminded of another group of innocent children who were brutally killed by King Herod in response to the birth of rival king named Jesus. In his description of these events, Matthew recalls the words of the Old Testament prophet, Jeremiah:

A voice was heard in Ramah,
wailing and loud lamentation.
Rachel weeping for her children,
and she refused to be consoled, because they are no more.

The words of Jeremiah remind us that the tears that we cry today have been cried before and they will, no doubt, be cried again.

But we gather as the people of God to be reminded that sorrow and pain and death do not have the last word. As the psalmist declares, "Weeping may last for the night, but joy comes in the morning." In the midst of the dark night of soul, it may seem that nothing can penetrate the darkness, it may seem that nothing can break through the prison of pain and sorrow, it may seem that healing will never come. But healing does come. Even in the midst of the darkest night, there remains the promise of God that "joy will come in the morning."

And this is the word of hope that we are called to embody and proclaim.

Joy will come in the morning, because the God who created us and loves us with an everlasting love has promised to never leave us or forsake us.

Joy will come in the morning, because 2,000 years ago a Savior was born and he was called Emmanuel, "God with us." His life began in a creche, but ended on a cross, where he triumphed over the power of death and delivered us from evil.

Joy will come in the morning, because God in his mercy has poured into our hearts the gift of the Holy Spirit, who is the Comforter, the One who abides with us and in us.

Joy will come in the morning, because there will be a day when God will wipe away every tear from our eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore.

Joy will come in the morning.

We gather this morning as the people of God to weep together.
We gather to pray together as we cry out for mercy.
We gather to remember those who have died
     and to pray for those who grieve.

But ultimately, we gather here this morning to be strengthened to go forth to do what Christians do, to embody and proclaim a word of hope, a word of forgiveness, indeed, even a word of joy in the midst of a world still plagued by brokenness, violence, and pain.

In just a moment we will observe a period of silence and then we will stand together as the God's people and we will affirm our faith and trust in One God, the God who loves us, the God who is with us, the God who always brings joy in the morning.

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