(worship at Faith today featured Brian and our Choir with guest cellist Lucas doing a Christmas Cantata – so the message today is very short)
This is two weeks in a row now that I get to thank the choir for preaching my sermon for me! Last week they sang “Peace of Heart” and I went on for 15 minutes saying pretty much the same thing. Today I’m not going to go on for 15 minutes. But I do want to say a couple of things about what you’ve just heard.
By that, I don’t mean I’m going to talk about the story again but instead talk about the format. We’ve just heard a Christmas Cantata. Perhaps you’ve heard of Handel’s “Messiah”? Well, it’s not a cantata, it’s an oratorio. It’s more like an opera without any staging or moving. A cantata, by comparison, is a telling of a story usually through spoken narration and music. It can have some light staging, but it doesn’t have to. And it’s often on a religious theme – like Christmas!
I’ve been to some heavy operas, and heard some serious oratorios, but I’ve only ever heard joyful cantatas. What we’ve just heard is an expression of joy. The choir sings because they can’t help themselves – they’re joyful. Their music springs forth and gushes out of a reservoir of joy. And I am very grateful that they share that joy with us.
I think we’re generally a bit confused about what joy means. Joy is not the same as happiness!
If I asked you to draw a picture of a joyful person what would their facial expression be? Probably smiling, right? But does it have to be? Does joyfulness mean you never stop smiling? No. And it doesn’t mean you smile in spite of something that’s not going nicely for you.
Joy usually produces happiness, but you can be sad and be joyful at the same time! Does that seem odd to you?
Joy isn’t forced happiness.
Joy isn’t an emotion at all.
Joy is an orientation.
Joy is an ocean that your happiness and sadness float on.
Joy is a seed that is planted and grows.
Joy is something born in you and nurtured – like music.
Happiness and sadness are emotions, feelings, things that come and go, wax and wane, with the circumstances of your life. Happiness and sadness are like the weather – one thing blows in and another blows out. Sometimes it’s sunny and warm and other times it’s 15 below and buried under snow. When stormy weather comes you dress for it and ride it out. When pleasant weather comes you dress for it and go with the flow.
But joy is not like the weather that comes and goes and swirls and falls.
Joy is the brick house that the weather blows against, but cannot shake.
Joy is the strong pair of legs and the solid sense of direction that carry you on your way through, whatever the weather.
Santa trades in happiness, God trades in joy!
Joy is the stuff that inspires choirs to sing. The story they sang is about how joy was born into the world in a special way 2000 years ago, and especially how joy is born anew in us each time we journey into this story and let it move and transform us.
When God’s presence bursts forth from the walls and barriers that we seem to keep trying to hide it behind and that presence shines its glorious light we find ourselves singing. Whether it’s sunshine or rain, warm breezes or blizzards we know the warm glow of God’s presence deep within us – and that is what joy is.
I pray that this gift of joy that our choir gave us today will continue to sing in your hearts as you journey on these next couple of weeks. And may God bless you as you joyfully share the song of the birth of the Holy One in you this Christmas.