Friday, December 18, 2020
“No One Will Take Away Your Joy”
Very truly I tell you, you will weep and mourn while the world rejoices. You will grieve, but your grief will turn to joy. A woman giving birth to a child has pain because her time has come; but when her baby is born she forgets the anguish because of her joy that a child is born into the world. So with you: now is your time of grief, but I will see you again and you will rejoice, and no one will take away your joy.
My father is dying. Recently, his oncologists discovered that the aggressive form of cancer he had been battling has returned. They estimate that he has just a handful of months left to live. There are many losses I am already grieving and preparing to grieve at his death. However, the greatest ache in my heart comes from imagining all the future events of which he will not be present. There will be a gap in an empty space in family weddings, births, and holidays without him there to share in celebrations. I'm having a hard time picturing events of significance happening in my life and in my ministry without my dad being there to share in the moment. Many, if not most, of you are also experiencing that sense of sadness and grief because of missing a loved one. The heart warming season of advent and Christmas can be painful and agonizing for those of us who grieve the absence of family and friends.
It is this sense of grief and absence that Jesus addresses in the text for today. Jesus warns the disciples the time is coming soon when they will not see him anymore. This one who is so central to their life and identity, so present to them in their journey of discipleship, will be gone. His words here are certainly directed toward the 12 disciples who will not see Jesus after the crucifixion but he will see him again after the resurrection. They're weeping at the suffering and death of Jesus will become the source of the rejoicing in celebration when they see the risen Lord again.
It seems, however, that the text is also meant to be read by early Christians (and by us today) as a way of narrating their (and hour) experience. The church celebrates the risen Christ, but God's people also experience the bodily absence of the Lord. The church mourns the absence of the physical Savior after his ascension to the father, but during Advent we anticipate that we will see him again and that no one will take away our joy.
The path to the new creation always involves suffering. The metaphor used by Jesus here and also by the apostle Paul in Romans 8 is childbirth. The struggles that disciples face in the seeming absence of the Lord are the birth pangs of the new creation. In the meantime, in the space where the bodily presence of Christ is absent, the presence of the Holy Spirit enters in and continues the reshaping work of Jesus. Three times, in three successive chapters of John's Gospel, Jesus invites the disciples to pray in the expense of hope that "whatever you ask in my name" will be done. He states this promise first in 14:13, then again in 15:16, and once again in the text for today, and 16:23. Of course, the phrase "in my name” gives direction and motivation to the "whatever" disciples are invited to pray for. To catch the right emphasis, we could translate "in my name" into something like "in my mission." Jesus wants his followers to pray for – to hunger and thirst for – those things that fit his name and his mission.
In Advent, the church grieves and awaits the return of the bodily absent Lord. Yet, in the meantime, we pray and work in the presence of the Spirit of Christ. With our lives directed toward his purposes. So, when he does come again, all of our prayerful hopes – including being you reunited with him (and with those in Christ whom we love) – will come to pass, and we will rejoice, and no one will take away our joy.
—T. Scott Daniels
Blessing for the day
Restore to me the joy of your salvation and grant me a willing spirit to sustain me.
– Psalm 51:12
Questions for reflection
What are the absences that you are grieving this season? Give those to God.
What are the things we can pray for that fit "in the name" and in the will and/or mission of Jesus?
How can you live today acknowledging the birth pangs and aches of the old creation while also looking and praying toward the new creation with joy?