Joy

Rev. Dr. Loraine MacKenzie Shepherd, Westworth United Church, December 13, 2015

Zephaniah 3:14-20

“Sing a song of joy,” writes Zephaniah, “as a shepherd gathers his sheep, I, the Lord, will bring you home.” A modern-day version of this old, old story of homecoming was crooned by Bing Crosby, “I’ll be home for Christmas—you can count on me.” But in many homes, there will be an empty seat at the table, an empty stocking by the fireplace. Not everyone can come home. Another crooner by the name of Elvis Presley reminds us that home is where the heart is. Sometimes that heart is pierced.

Even the best of homes are not without pain.

Although this is a season of merriness, the story that started it all had its share of pain. And yet, in spite of the fear of the shepherds, the desperation of young couple with no place to safely give birth, joy figures largely in this story. Paul wrote under very difficult conditions in a prison to the Philippians, “Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say rejoice.” Joy, in the midst of pain, seems to be at the heart of the Christian story.

Jarem Sawatsky was a university professor at Canadian Mennonite University, an author and researcher in peace and conflict studies. He has recently been diagnosed with Huntington’s Disease and has had to resign his position. The way in which he has handled this fatal diagnosis of a debilitating disease, that includes dementia, is incredible. He began a blog entitled, Dancing with the Elephants. He decided that he would rather dance with the elephant in the room, than hide from it or even fight it. Battling his uncurable disease, he wrote, does not leave him with enough room for friendship, love and respect. He has therefore written about how to embrace losing his mind —how to let go and enjoy the now. His life is amazingly filled with joy, in the midst of a tragic diagnosis. He brings a new understanding of a Christian teaching that to lose one’s life is to find it.[1]

There is a deep joy that cannot be undone by pain. The animals know it. They feel the pain of their strained earth home, but they still know how to dance. I can hear them cheering the world leaders who have just reached the first universal agreement on addressing climate change. Together, they are dancing the earth home. In the words of Bob Haverluck:

Come Forest, River, Wind

Dance the Earth home again.

 

First to shed human blood

was our brother Cain.

So blame not Wolf, not

Bear, nor the falling Rain.

Come Forest, River, Wind

Dance the Earth home again.

For all shall bow and all shall

dance, a golden wedding ring.

Come Forest, River, Wind

Dance the Earth home again.[2]

[1] http://www.dancingwithelephants.net

[2]Bob Haverluck, When God was Flesh and Wild: Stories in Defense of the Earth (Winnipeg: Racka Tacka Sacka Press, 2015): 43-44.