Advent III: Joy

“Yes, indeed—God is my salvation. I trust, I won’t be afraid. God—yes God!—is my strength and song, best of all, my salvation!” Joyfully you’ll pull up buckets of water from the wells of salvation. And as you do it, you’ll say, “Give thanks to God. Call out his name. Ask him anything! Shout to the nations, tell them what he’s done, spread the news of his great reputation! “Sing praise-songs to God. He’s done it all! Let the whole earth know what he’s done!

Isaiah 12:2-5 (MSG)

Take courage for there is joy in this life!

For many Christians observing the third week of Advent, they will read the words of the prophet Isaiah. These words call them to give thanks and praise to the Lord God, with a joy that springs forth from God’s “wells of salvation.” This good news of salvation became flesh with the birth of Jesus, entering into the lived reality of humanity on earth. Today, this call to joy is in the very practical act of collecting water. “Joyfully you’ll pull up buckets of water from the wells of salvation.” These words remind us that it is the fundamentals of being human that truly matter and are quite beautifully, enough.

I was recently speaking with a Syrian friend who has chosen to remain in Syria throughout the entire civil war, despite many opportunities to leave. She shared about the immense hope she has had for her country at certain points; and the excruciating despair that has dominated her life at other times. While she is certainly not living any type of normal life, she spoke of how people in Syria “cling tightly to life” more so now than before the war. They enjoy food more, sleep more, and make more babies. They don’t know what might happen each day, and so the things that so often become mundane in life are instead bright spots of joy. The ability to embrace her husband, pet her cat, and watch a movie bring her so much happiness it appears as if she’s speaking about exciting, out of the ordinary events. She knows the unending anxiety is harming her health, and yet she feels no other option than to keep her life in Syria and continue living these moments of joy, in the midst of the ongoing conflict. If she remains there and chooses life, then the war has not taken everything. Her daily acts of meeting friends, working on her passions, eating delicious foods when she can, and resting well reflect a sustained hope strengthened by moments of joy, punctuating the all-encompassing darkness. She says it is enough to keep her in Syria for the rest of her life.

This example of one of the millions of people living in the seemingly intractable conflict in the Middle East reveals that God offers us what we need to sustain hope and find joy in the everyday gifts of life. We do not discount injustice in all its forms, but rather celebrate that despite oppression and suffering, we still have access to a true source of joy. Drawing water to sustain life from the life source is accessible to all.

Holy God of the universe, we thank you for the gift of joy. Even when our lives are overwhelmed by despair there is a way to find you. We pray that you would provide strength to all people in the Middle East trapped in conflict, especially those in Syria and Yemen. May they taste from the wells of salvation and experience the freedom and joy in your love. Amen.

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