This Advent, take the risk of joy.
A Reflection for the Tuesday of the Fourth Week of Advent
“Shout for joy, O daughter Zion!
Sing joyfully, O Israel!
Be glad and exult with all your heart… (Zep 3:14)
“When Elizabeth heard Mary’s greeting,
the infant leaped in her womb,
and Elizabeth, filled with the Holy Spirit,
cried out in a loud voice and said,
‘Most blessed are you among women,
and blessed is the fruit of your womb’” (Lk 1:41-42).
I was once on a men’s retreat of the variety that becomes uncomfortably touchy-feely at some moments for an uptight grump like me. “Too evangelical,” I groused.
We were asked to grab a magic marker and scrawl our sins across stones that were doomed to be tossed, post-confession, into the icy Hudson River. I had not been up to too many mortals that quarter, so I struggled to come up with a wrongdoing that seemed appropriate to the stone’s impending sacrifice. Eventually, something came to me that I had never thought of as sinful before, but when I began to press it against the rock felt unexpectedly sharp and truthful.
“Insufficient joy,” I wrote.
In the readings today are vibrant reminders to folks like me to shake off our morose protective wrapping and risk joy.
In the readings today are vibrant reminders to folks like me to shake off our morose protective wrapping and risk joy. Yes, we know what is coming in this story and in the life ahead of us. There will be trials and suffering. The cross is an inescapable part of the human condition but to wallow in the woe is, I’d have to say, to sinfully resist the joy that is in life, too.
Maybe like me, you have much to be thankful for and truly joyful about—an only-a-little-leaky roof over your head; a loving and under-thanked organizational dynamo who keeps all the Clarkes synchronized; people who support you with affection and attention and everyday beauty you could take a moment to appreciate. And maybe like me, despite all that goodness and those gifts, you can still feel beaten down, listless, sullen. We get in a muddle over our muddles, fixate on the negatives, replay the regrets, surrender to inner Eeyores.
Today’s Scripture reminds us to snap out of it; take a breath, exult and be joyful.
Today’s Scripture reminds us to snap out of it; take a breath, exult and be joyful. Here is the miracle every day: Your life is full of opportunities for exaltation. Don’t deny them, and don’t let them slip past.
The late New York Times photographer Bill Cunningham said, “If you look for beauty, you will find it.” If you are really lucky, like Elizabeth, that beauty and the joy it provokes will sometimes come right to you without all the looking. Let’s be attentive for those moments. Let’s be ready to leap for joy.
Get to know Kevin Clarke, chief correspondent
1. Favorite Christmas Song
“The Wexford Carol.” Check out the carol—with bonus crazy hair and glasses—here.
2. Favorite Christmas Tradition
Christmas Eve hot tamale-thon. My wife, Megan, introduced this years ago when the kids were little and now this Mexican favorite makes a regular reappearance each Christmas Eve while we share dinner and Christmas carols with our children before wading into a hurricane of Christmas wrapping and Scotch tape.
3. Favorite Christmas Recipe
1 ounce Irish whiskey, cuppa Barry’s tea, ½ ounce lemon with slice garnish, three cloves, cinnamon stick, 1 teaspoon honey, add liberally one lounger by the fire place.
4. Favorite Articles You Wrote This Year
I can’t say I have a favorite article this year because the subject matter was universally grim, but some important or overlooked stories include:
- A priest ordained in 2017 is now serving a life sentence for sex abuse. How did he slip through the cracks?
- He was a translator in Afghanistan. Now safe in the U.S., he prays his work won’t endanger loved ones left behind.
- Meet the Catholic sister who is willing to risk her life (again) to stop the violence in Myanmar
5. Favorite Christmas Photo
Two of the Clarke clan. In this photo, the not-so-good shepherd looks like he is in serious trouble.