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I love the way the joy candle celebrates being over halfway through the expectant season of Advent. It’s an encouragement that we’re almost there, that our waiting is almost at an end. Last night, my family drove home after spending Thanksgiving with my parents, and as we came up around the bend in the hills, we could see all the lights of our city below us. My husband urged our kids to look from where they sat in the backseat. He told them, “This is my favorite part of the drive.” The lights twinkled like a blanket of stars that had fallen on the ground below, and the expansive sky mirrored the twinkling with stars that seemed limitless.

This part of the drive is my husband’s favorite because it is spectacularly beautiful, but I suspect it’s also his favorite because it means we are almost home. The drive is nearly over. We’re almost to the place where we can kick off our shoes, take a deep breath, and get comfortable in the space that is ours.

There’s a joy that comes when the destination is in sight. There’s a joy that accompanies the realization that comfort and rest are on the horizon.

I was already struggling with joy because I feel guilty delighting in things when others are suffering. It feels inappropriate. How can I rejoice when someone else is experiencing the pain of a loved one in the hospital and being unable to be with them? How can I feel delight when business owners are forced to close their doors? How can I justify smiling at the sound of the birds in the trees or the scent of fresh baked bread when neighbors are sick, families are separated, and such brokenness exists in the world?

Yet, our hearts are wired to delight in the beautiful things around us. We need joy, but sometimes it escapes us or we feel guilty about it.

I was already feeling guilty about joy, but with news of a new COVID variant of concern and fresh travel restrictions, I am tempted to lose sight of the end of the tunnel. I struggle not to worst-case-scenario myself into worry or fear. I can’t do another two years of this, I think to myself. I don’t even know if I can do another month.

It feels like too much. The weight of it all inspired me to pray this prayer:

The joy of “We’re almost there” has been replaced with an anguished “Are we there yet?”

I was surprised to discover that the root of the word “rejoice” in the New Testament is a root that means “to lean towards.” The word “rejoice” is also etymologically related to the word for “grace.” Through the last two years of pandemic and change and fatigue, I have found myself leaning away – leaning away from community, leaning away from the familiar, and even leaning away from grace.

What if true joy isn’t a firm conviction that everything will turn out just fine in the end, but is instead a leaning toward the grace of God that surrounds us and embraces us? What if true joy is receiving the delights of God in the face of life’s adversity. What if “the fullness of joy,” as Julian of Norwich puts it, “is to see God in everything.”

Advent for Uncertain Hearts Candle Lighting Litany – Week 3 – Joy at Arm’s Length

Typically, I begin with all of the candles in place in my Advent wreath. This year, I am beginning with just the wreath and no candles. Each week, we will place a candle in the wreath as we ask God to help us receive the gifts of each Advent week.

Reader 1: When Jesus was in the upper room with the disciples, he taught them the importance of abiding in him – the vine – in order to bear fruit. The day would soon come when he would not be in their physical presence, and Jesus wanted to impress on them the importance of remaining connected to him. Jesus explained the reason for his teaching this way: “I have said these things to you so that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be complete” (John 15:11).

Reader 2: When hope seems far away, Jesus reminds us to lean towards him. Jesus invites us to receive the grace that brings lasting joy.

Reader 1: In Romans 12, the apostle Paul shared these thoughts with the church in Rome: “Rejoice in hope, be patient in suffering, persevere in prayer” (Romans 12:12). Somehow, he believed it was possible to experience joy, hope, and suffering all at the same time.

Reader 2: Soothe our conflicted hearts, O God. 

Reader 1: Today, we are placing the candle of joy in our Advent wreath. <place candle in wreath and light it> We do this not because we have joy figured out or because we have mastered leaning toward the grace of God. We place the candle of joy in this wreath to remind us God’s grace is always extended to us, even when we aren’t sure we have the strength to reach out and receive it. When we are leaning away from joy, God continues to incline toward us.

Reader 2: We long for the joy of hope fulfilled.

All: This season of Advent, Lord, we offer our uncertain hearts to you. Mend our broken places, and soothe our reluctant hearts. Even when joy seems beyond our reach, we lean toward you. Offer your grace to us again and again. Oh, how we need it. Amen.

Other posts in the Advent for Uncertain Hearts series

The Premise

Week 1 – When It Is Hard to Hope

Week 2 – When There Is No Peace

Week 4 – Love in the Struggle

Christmas Eve