“You shall fear disaster no more. The king of Israel, the Lord, is in your midst; you shall fear disaster no more.” These were the words to which my heart was drawn in my prayer this week, long before any of us knew what disasters lay ahead. Yesterday morning, devastation was in the air. Walking my dogs as the sky still loomed ominous and an unsettling warmth for a mid-December morning, all I could sense was how much devastation was everywhere. The questions left unanswered as many of us woke without power after a restless night of sheltering from the tornado that has wracked our town felt heavy, and those of us who were unharmed realized the depth of devastation and disaster that our neighbors faced as they lost everything. And this morning, I want to fully believe the words of the prophet Zephaniah when he says, “you shall fear disaster no more.”
I want to believe these words because so much of the past 36 hours has been spent in fear of disaster; afraid for myself, for you, for our community. I want to believe these words in a way that almost works to erase the ways in which devastation has been our unfailing companion in the wake of the tornado. I so deeply want to believe that when we light the third candle on our Advent wreath that we can remember the joy of the season, that we will fear disaster no more. I wish I could believe that, but it’s not where I am this morning; the night is too dark, and I am not yet ready.
In other years, it was probably easy to lean into the pull of a preemptive Christmas, letting joyful music and eager expectations fill our senses, but today it is a struggle. I am not yet ready to let easy solutions and silver linings come to explain the devastation that lies mere blocks from this church. I am not ready to sing Christmas songs of glad tidings and joy; I’m not yet ready to step into the brightness of a loud rambunctious version of Joy to the World in celebrating that our Lord is born. And, truthfully, I don’t think that is where we are called to be today anyway.
In the liturgical calendar, the third Sunday in Advent is often referred to as Gaudete Sunday, using the Latin word for rejoice, and it’s often thought of as a reprieve from the penitential season of Advent. A break from the weariness of this long, dark season of waiting for the coming of the Christ child, but joy is just not a word that comes easily to me this morning.
It doesn’t come easy for me this morning, but I know—I know and truly believe—that the joy we mark today isn’t a joy that can be sold out of convenience when things are good and there is no disaster but is rather a kind of joy that subverts a passing sense of happiness to something deeper and greater, something more akin to a hard-won hope in the midst of devastation. It’s the kind of joy that requires us to sit with the pain of our world, and yet not to let it be the only story. It’s the kind of joy that asks of us hard questions about how we got there.
And when I return to the song of joy from Zephaniah, I think it asks of us a powerful question: what happens when God shows up? What happens when God is present with us in the realities of our pain and fear? What happens when God shows up in the middle of a disaster? What happens when God grants relief from strife and the Lord is in our midst? The prophet tells us that God will rejoice over us with gladness, that God will renew us in God’s love, and that God will exult over us with loud singing as on a day of festival. What happens when God shows up? The weary world rejoices. The weary world rejoices because God and God’s people are caught up in the thrill and delight of each other, in pure unbridled joy. What happens when God shows up? The tired, exhausted, overwhelmed world rejoices.
Beloveds, we stand on the cusp of a broken world. And the truth is, it’s not just the tornado damage or the horrific amount of lives lost, there is a wearied brokenness all around us.Shattered by violence and injustice; our world functions in such a way that it is not easy to live into who God created us to be. Cynicism and hopelessness pull us deeper into our haggard weariness because we live in a broken world full of more pain than our brains can fully comprehend. Shattered and wrecked by injustice and cruelty, and yet, even in the midst of this, even when hope feels so impossible and our love for others feels spent, God is with us. God is here, in our midst, and we shall fear disaster no more.
God is here. God is here, and my friends, I cannot fully articulate what it feels like to have a tiny spark of joy in thisseason of disaster. I cannot fully explain what it means to whisper into the dark, “the weary world rejoices.” I cannot relay it because it lies so deep within my bones, it is so central to my created being that when that small, tender and transient light strikes, I know. I know that the devastation around us no longer becomes the main story; I know that as that tiny flame grows and grows it will shine a light not just on the hope of the coming Christ, but on our very weariness as well. I know that the longer we sit with this spark of joy that it cannot and will not be contained. I know that even the truth of the shattered world around us cannot negate the power of a weary world who chooses to rejoice.