Joy is very much like love: precious to us because it comes at a cost. The deserts that we go through in our lives are the downpayments we make for the joy we will come to know.
For Peace with Justice Sunday, we read excerpts from Martin Luther King, Jr.'s "Letter from Birmingham Jail." This past April was the 50th anniversary of his arrest and solitary confinement in Birmingham Jail in the effort to desegregate the lunch counters there.
So Isaiah's words come all the way to the West Coast to remind us that even though we are living on the edge, in more ways than one, we can't be written off, for the good news is for us, too. In fact, living in the coastlands of this great country gives us a unique perspective on the gospel. Living on the margins of the continent, we can appreciate a gospel that was intended for people living on the margins.
Why does it take some of us so many years and so many tears to become who we were all along? I wonder how many of us are unhappy or unsatisfied or unfulfilled because we've been dreaming the wrong dream.... Maybe what we need is a new dream, one that is better suited to who we really are. Despite what you hear or may have been told, we were not put on this planet to live the American Dream. Besides, we are finding, as our economy becomes more globalized and our lives become entwined with people in Thailand and Bangladesh and Honduras, that our living the American Dream means that countless others will never get a chance to. As pleasant as that life may be, God is calling us to a different life, a more purposeful life.
If I know you, you will bring far better gifts than the wise guys did. Instead of gold, you'll bring your faith in God...Instead of frankincense, you'll bring your commitment to make a difference...Instead of myrrh, an ointment that was used in rituals of death, you will bring love, the balm of life..So, forget the gold, frankincense and myrrh. Bring us your three best gifts: your faith, your hope, and your love. Then God's light will surely arise upon us, and God's glory will appear over us.
It would be years before I learned that smiling Christians aren't denying reality; they are defying it. They aren't soaring above failure; they are just refusing to be defined by it. And it isn't that they never know despair. It's that they have been given a secret weapon to fight it. It's a weapon that no terrorists can get their hands on, no army or CIA agent can deploy, and no police department can buy. Forget the WMD's, the IED's, the enhanced interrogation techniques. There is no better weapon against the terrors of our times and no better defense against all the demons of despair than the joy that arms a comrade in Christ.
We finished the series on Paul last week, so on Sunday night, I went back to the lectionary and found two choices for the sermon today: this passage in Isaiah about the new creation or one in the Gospel of Luke about the end of the world. At the time, I wasn't sure which one would be most appropriate for a sermon after the election, and I'm still not sure, because a lot of us don't know what just happened or how we got here.