Joy as Resistance

In that region there were shepherds living in the fields, keeping watch over their flock by night. Then an angel of the Lord stood before them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. But the angel said to them, ‘Do not be afraid; for see—I am bringing you good news of great joy for all the people: to you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is the Messiah, the Lord.
— Luke 2:8-11

1. Joy As Resistance

Are you bringing any fears into 2017?  There are so many options to choose from this year.  Can we take a moment to get in touch with a fear you bring into 2017.  Do you dare to call it out?  When our fears stay inside, they grow; but when we get them out on the table we can see them for what they are. Would anyone be willing to share a fear with us?

Fear can be overwhelming. We need a way to resist. We seek safety, we seek security, but alas, the fear persists. We need a more powerful path of resistance to fear. The angels in our story this morning show us the way.  Do not be afraid for I bring you good news of a great joy. Joy! Can joy be the path of resistance?

The angels bring good news of a great joy which shall be for all people. What is this joy that is for all people? Society knows mainly competitive joy – where your joy must take the joy from another. What is this joy that is for all people? Can we name this joy? Can we resist fear and Empire and be people of joy in 2017?

 Today’s theme is Joy as Resistance. We will move in this direction: fear, resistance, joy!

 2. Fear

So what do we do with our fear? We try to get out of it, avoid it, hide from it, reassure ourselves that everything will be fine; but we are not reassured. Psychologists tell us that the root of fear is the loss of control. The variety of fears are variations of this one fear – that we do not control our future. We do not know what’s going to happen. We may speculate about all the bad things that can happen, and there are always ways that things can go wrong. We could get in an accident.  We could fail. We could get hurt. We might not be able to pay our bills.  

All our attempts to find security and safety eventually fall flat because we discover that we do not control the future. Bad things can happen to us. One common response to fear is to blame enemies, and we are certainly seeing plenty of that these days. But the blaming only fuels fear. Is there a way to successfully resist the downward spiral?   

While there is no guarantee that nothing bad will ever happen to us, we do have a promise that God will be with us. I could and I’m sure many of us could share the myriad ways that God has been a calming, healing, liberating presence with us through car accidents, health scares, when facing police, job loss, bills we can’t pay and more. In the everlasting presence of God, love will triumph over hate, life will rise victorious over death  

This morning we read the story of angels or messengers of God coming to assure a group of shepherds who are living in the fields. Living in the fields, living under bridges - these remind us that everyday life for many is precarious. The shepherds had no shelter from the cold, no reliable source of food. nowhere to take a bath. They were looked down on by mainstream society.  Shepherds didn’t make much money so there was the fear of not being able to pay their bills.  Their job required them to be away from family and friends for days at a time. So they feared for their families when they weren’t around to protect them. They lived under a brutal empire.  Soldiers could be just marching down the road and decide it was lunch time and they needed a couple sheep for lunch. How are you as the shepherd going to stop them without risking your life? Day to day life with many reasons for fear.

3. Resistance

How do we move past fear so that it doesn’t paralyze us? These fears are not made up - there are real threats to people of color, immigrants, Muslims, women and LGBTQ people. We are called upon to resist white supremacy, degradation of women, disrespect for human rights and the environment, war mongering, anti-immigration policies; to resist greed, fear and hatred. To quote Rev. William Barber, “we need a revolution of moral values.”   

The shepherds know how we feel. They know the boot of Empire. They know the lonely cold of the night shift. They know the fear of making ends meet. The angels have come to offer them a way to conquer their fear: Joy. Good news of a great joy which shall be for all people. Joy is a way of resistance. Often we think that the way to deal with fear is to hunker down. Try to find something to hold onto. But the angels are moving us to a very different place – not tolerating and trying to survive fear – but resisting fear with joy. Good news of a great joy which shall be for all people. 

Fear is about imagining what can go wrong. Faith is about living into what is meaningful and joyful. It’s joy that the angels offer the shepherds as a way to resist fear. 

David Leon Morgan, shared this week how that was working for him when he felt himself getting swallowed up in fear after the Presidential election. He wrote:    

One day a few months ago, my body almost involuntary began to reach for something that I could control. … I clicked out of my news feeds, turned on some music, and began organizing a closet in my apartment. That moment became a worship experienceー each newly folded article of clothing whispered "I am;" the sound of the broom hummed "It is well." For the first time in weeks, I felt as if I were on solid ground. I knew then that self care, the practice of honoring as sacred the needs of my whole being, was not a luxury as I had originally thought. Instead, it was an essential act of resistance to an iniquitous world that feeds me poison then chastises me for still being hungry…

 And then this last part that really takes us right into the heart of the gospel:

I'm not avoiding the necessary work that must be done to right wrongs. It's really the opposite: I now recognize that the world I want to inhabit requires more of my attention than the world that perversely thrives at my expense.

This is counter-intuitive. We tend to give more attention to what we fear. I remember when I used to teach how drawn in I was to give attention to the most disruptive students in the classroom.  Can we begin instead to refocus our attention on what we’re building, not what’s tearing us down? Our resistance is not just about fighting against the things we fear, but standing for and building that which gives us joy. Do not be afraid, but live into good news of a great joy for all people. Rebellions are built on hope.

 4. Joy

The angels speak about, good news of a great joy which shall be for all people. This signals the start of a new social and spiritual order. In the Empire, joy is only for the privileged few. This is a qualitatively different kind of joy.

Joy as Resistance - In Conclusion

Good news of a great joy, which shall be for all people. A child is born who shall be Savior, Messiah. The anointed one of God. A leader and a path toward Joy. Jesus did not call his followers to arms against the evil empire. It was beyond reform. He called his followers into building a new way he called the kingdom or the nation or the empire of God. Where the first become last and the last become first, where joy is for all people.

This is not about avoiding the necessary work to right the wrongs. On the contrary, it is the realization that it’s more powerful to build the world we’re created to build. We confront injustice with the compassion and abundance of God. 

Usually we make New Year’s resolutions, and that’s a great practice– it's very important. But a resolution is hard to keep if it’s just based on discipline and on something we think we should do: "I’m going to go to the gym 3 times a week in 2017." "I’m going to stop eating sweets in 2017." "I’m going to get up at 7:00 a.m. everyday in 2017." "I’m going to stop posting pictures of my dog online,"– whatever it may be.

To make a resolution powerful, we can connect it to our joy. As the angels tell us, the power to resist fear comes from the good news of a great joy for all people. So as we enter into 2017, I want to invite us to get clear about the joy to which we are called. What is the joy to which you are called? What’s the dream? The joy can be more inspiring and compelling.

The great pastor and author Howard Thurman writes, “Don’t ask what the world needs. Ask what makes you come alive, and go do it. Because what the world needs is people who have come alive.” God has created us for joy. You may have to sacrifice to get there. What is the comfort or pleasure that you would give up in order to arrive at the meaningful joy for which you were created? And what is the joy that you dream of?