My two most recent posts have explored the Advent themes of hope and peace. Today I look at joy, a traditional theme for the third week of Advent. Like hope and peace, joy is not merely a personal emotion, but a larger reality we are intended to pass along to others. With the frequent connection in the Bible between joy and sound, this Advent theme has the potential to be the noisiest one.
Make a joyful noise to the Lord, all the earth; break forth into joyous song and sing praises! Sing praises to the Lord with the lyre, with the lyre and the sound of melody! With trumpets and the sound of the horn make a joyful noise before the King, the Lord! Psalm 98:4-6
Noisy joy catches your attention whether you want it to or not. Like a birthday celebration at a nearby restaurant table or like the shepherds who were startled by a multitude of angels and the announcement of "good news of great joy for all the people," it can be disruptive of a person's well-laid plans.
Church Bells Ringing Joy
I had an uncle who, in my childhood church, was the self-designated keeper of the church bell, a big heavy thing that was, in later years, mounted on a stand that sat on the ground beside the church building. Every Sunday, Uncle Bob would faithfully retrieve the clapper from where it was kept inside the building, attach it to the inside of the bell and yank on the rope with what seemed to me like amazing strength until the peal of the bell sounded throughout the neighborhood. I remember trying to do it myself and hardly being able to budge the bell, much less make it ring. It took effort to create that sound of noisy joy. The disruptive, noisy joy it created called a welcome to everyone who heard it to come and be part of the joy it announced.
Churches have a long history of spreading noisy joy (some neighbors might call it imposing joy), by ringing bells that can be heard from far away. Does the video below of one of the more intricate types of bellringing communicate a spirit of joy to you as you listen to it? (The video is 10 minutes long, so you may just want to listen to a segment).
Creatures Singing Joy
We humans go to great lengths to frame the sound of joy into artful constructions. We have set up entire systems of tone and harmony to translate sound into particular expressions of joy. In contrast, unrehearsed laughter is one of the most contagious forms of expressed joy there is and other creatures welcome good things such as springtime, the morning, or a mate, with joyful, instinctual noises. Purring cats, chirping dolphins, trumpeting elephants all express joy through spontaneous sounds. They don't just keep the reality of their joy to themselves; they communicate it to others through the sounds they project. Every type of bird has its own distinctive sound that pours out of it naturally, including the melodious song of the Musical Wren included below. Are there things you can learn from other creatures this Advent about noisy, spontaneous joy?
A favorite Christmas carol, Joy to the World, reminds us of the fact that Jesus came for the entire world (human and nonhuman) and all creatures have cause for joy when the Savior reigns and redeems this earth.
Joy to the world, the Lord is come!
Let earth receive her King;
let ev’ry heart prepare him room
and heav’n and nature sing,
and heav’n and nature sing,
and heav’n, and heav’n and nature sing.
Joy to the earth, the Savior reigns!
Let men their songs employ,
while fields and floods, rocks, hills, and plains,
repeat the sounding joy,
repeat the sounding joy,
repeat, repeat the sounding joy.
To give outward voice to an inward experience of joy requires a measure of commitment. Staying quiet asks less of a person than communicating joy does for it moves them beyond being mere receivers of goodness into being good news bearers—announcing and pointing toward joy, even as the fields, floods, rocks, hills, and plains in the Christmas carol. In a sense, it demands that we identify ourselves with the source of the joy and become an ambassador for it.
Communicating joy is not entirely contingent upon our own emotional experience of joy—joy is bigger than that. Clapping hands, ringing bells, singing, stomping feet, blowing a horn—all of these noisy expressions of joy call attention not primarily to our own emotional state, but instead point to the thing that is the source of the joy. The thing we are pointing to takes center stage, even ahead of our own self and our own emotions. This makes joy bigger than ourselves.
As humans, we have the capability of living out this truth in a way that amplifies the joy around us. When we live in alignment with God's kingdom values, it creates space for all who are a part of God's beloved earth to thrive. Can you imagine the cacophony of noisy joy the whole earth could create if all its creatures were thriving?
This season, how might you join into the noisy joy of Advent?
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