The word for the third Sunday of Advent is “joy”. And on the third Sunday of Advent, I was struggling with my message for the 10:30 interdenominational service at the hospital.
As I walk through the hospital, I am constantly reminded that my colleagues, our coworkers, the patients, the families struggle with grief. The intense personal kind. The accumulating care-giving kind. The ‘at a distance, wondering how to help’ kind. The ‘all around the world, everyone everywhere, unfair’ kind.
And on the Tuesday before this particular third Sunday of Advent, I looked into the face of a patient who decided to not have any more major treatments. She died within 36 hours.
Less than 24 hours before he was killed, Jesus looked into the faces of his disciples and said, “Now is the time of your grief, but I will see you again and you will rejoice and no one will take away your joy.”
He had said that he would be leaving in a little while. The words completely distracted them. He responded by telling them that they were about to hurt. They were about to weep and mourn. They were going to experience grief. But then, joy.
Jesus could have said to them, “Friends! I’m about to die! Let’s forget all our troubles, come on, get happy!” That’s what we sometimes do to our grieving friends. But Jesus didn’t. He knew, both as maker of people and as a person, that we will grieve deeply in the death of those we love. It is not a failure of faith, it is how we are built.
We live with two truths. There is the promise, the reminder, the commitment is that this isn’t all there is. And there is this.
On the third Sunday of Advent, I was able to talk about joy, grateful for the willingness of Jesus to acknowledge grief, too.