The nation was stunned. A grief beyond words was heavy in the air. Twenty children and six staff members at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newton, Connecticut, had lost their lives to yet another senseless school shooting. I walked into the sanctuary to prepare for worship. It was the third Sunday of Advent, and we were to light the third candle on the wreath: the candle known as “Joy.”
“Really, God?” was all my broken heart could say. How could we proceed with lighting the Joy candle amid a tragedy that was still too painful and fresh to process? As I sat staring at the Joy candle, I kept thinking about the joy God was speaking of in the Bible. Joy wasn’t about everything being right in the world. Joy wasn’t about being happy or in a good place where there was no death or dying or tears. Joy was the certainty of knowing all would be well because no matter what the situation, God was still God — ever present and forever helping us. Joy was trusting that God’s loving arms were still wrapped securely around you. Joy was the Apostle Paul penning these words from prison: “Rejoice in the Lord always; again, I will say, Rejoice.”
When the organist entered the sanctuary a few minutes later, I told her that our worship plans had changed. She gave me a quizzical look that grew more so when she spotted the white vigil candles that were already prepared to be handed out for the singing of “Silent Night” at our Christmas Eve service. I told her to extend her playing of the last hymn because I was going to invite the congregation to come forward, take a candle and light it from the flame of the Joy candle. All she could do was nod “OK” as tears filled her eyes.
As the worship service drew to a close, I said a prayer for all the precious lives lost. I then invited everyone to come forward and light their little candle with the light of joy that was burning from a candle I had found so ironic earlier that evening. But it wasn’t ironic anymore. It was appropriate. For joy was still burning brightly — no matter how hard the world tried to extinguish it. Rejoice! The candle of joy is burning in spite of the sadness around us
God, your light comforts us and guides us. During this Advent season, may we find ways to shine joy in the darkest of places. In Jesus’ name we pray. Amen.
As the first week of Advent concludes, look back and reflect on all the moments of joy that chased away sadness.