May Your Joy Be Complete


Midweek Faith Lift

December 25, 2019

May Your Joy Be Complete

Rev. Deb Hill-Davis


This is the Sunday of Joy, the last Sunday before the birth of the Christ, the return of the Light. We have been traveling this Advent journey starting with Hope: Heart Open, Pure Energy that is grounded in an abiding Faith that keeps us going even when we have no idea how things are going to turn out.  We journey with the conviction that our good is unfolding even when we can’t se it.

We travel this path of peace, learning to be peace in the midst of all that is in front of us.  We learned that there is no path to peace, peace is the path and during this Advent season we are learning to “be peace.” 


With heart open, pure energy that is learning to walk with faith in peace, we begin to understand that what sustains us is the power of love.  It is an unseen power that knits the Universe together and holds us together, just like gravity.  We have our own human experience of love, and when we “fall in love” we feel “twitterpated” and full of joy!  That being in love feeling is something we truly want more of, not less of and we seek it in many ways and many places.  We seek it in music, in nature, in creative expression because it brings us joy. 


Last Sunday we went Christmas caroling and celebrated Joy’s birthday.  When we sang to her, she just beamed and waved her arms, truly a Joy-filled Joy!  Then when we walked through the halls singing, I peeked in the rooms and saw several folks singing along, smiling.  I like to believe we brought them a bit of joy.  It always amazes me that no matter how old or how impaired, people remember Christmas carols and sing along.  It never fails because music brings great joy.


Later that night I watched the Kennedy Center Honors, which had the Maestro Michael Tilson Thomas, Sesame Street, Linda Rondstat, Sally Field and Earth, Wind and Fire!  What a cast of joy!  Everybody sang the “Sunny Day” song from Sesame Street together and then we had the goofy joy of Sally Field as the “Flying Nun” and the music of Linda Rondstat and Earth, Wind and Fire!  It was so uplifting!  And full of joy, no words of hate, snark or politics in sight, just music, the arts and joy and rockin’ out to Earth, Wind and Fire! I wish I had recorded it to watch again.


So the question is how do we keep that deep sense of joy when the music stops and we are back in the “reality” of the kind of world we find ourselves inhabiting right now?  We have a deep desire to find that place of joy within us and then stay there!  We really want to live there, and Jesus promises us that it is possible.  In the Gospel of John, Jesus tells us that he appeared on earth and lived his earthly life teaching us all that he was able to teach so that “our joy could be complete!”  Really?!?  Yes!

Here is how it goes:

John 15:1-5, 7-12 

Jesus the True Vine


15 “I am the true vine, and my Father is the vinegrower. 2 He removes every branch in me that bears no fruit. Every branch that bears fruit he prunes to make it bear more fruit. 3 You have already been cleansed by the word that I have spoken to you. 4 Abide in me as I abide in you. Just as the branch cannot bear fruit by itself unless it abides in the vine, neither can you unless you abide in me. 5 I am the vine, you are the branches. Those who abide in me and I in them bear much fruit, because apart from me you can do nothing….. 7 If you abide in me, and my words abide in you, ask for whatever you wish, and it will be done for you. 8 My Father is glorified by this, that you bear much fruit and become my disciples. 9 As the Father has loved me, so I have loved you; abide in my love. 10 If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commandments and abide in his love. 11 I have said these things to you so that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be complete.  12 “This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. (NRSV)


WOW, that is a big promise!  And there is a lot that happens before that promise is realized, isn’t there?  It requires a bit of pruning, of letting go of what does not bear fruit, and even Jesus says that he has been pruned!  If we have truly listened to the word of Spirit, then we too have been pruned so that what new growth happens is strong and true.  And we are assured that when we abide in the Christ of our being, we will bear much fruit, because when we are not in that place, we can really do nothing.  That is hard to hear because in our human efforts we have accomplished a lot, we have gone to the moon for heaven’s sake!  But we have not discovered how to be peace; how to find our deep connections to one another rather than our divisions!  So maybe Jesus is right about this!


We need to abide in love, to follow Jesus and do as He did and when we do that the side affect of this is joy!


When I need a booster shot of joy, my source is The Book of Joy: Lasting Happiness in a Changing World, by Doug Abrams based on his time with the Dalai Lama and Archbiship Desmund Tutu of South Africa.  Let’s explore the notion of Joy with some thoughts from these enlightened beings:


First from the Dalai Lama and then Archbishop Tutu:


“the three factors that seem to have the greatest influence on increasing our happiness are our ability to reframe our situation more positively, our ability to experience gratitude, and our choice to be kind and generous.”

Dalai Lama XIV, The Book of Joy: Lasting Happiness in a Changing World


“The Dead Sea in the Middle East receives fresh water, but it has no outlet, so it doesn't pass the water out. It receives beautiful water from the rivers, and the water goes dank. I mean, it just goes bad. And that's why it is the Dead Sea. It receives and does not give. In the end generosity is the best way of becoming more, more, and more joyful.”

Desmond Tutu, The Book of Joy: Lasting Happiness in a Changing World


At the heart of joy is our ability to “reframe our situation more positively” and as Jesus said, allow ourselves to be pruned of what no longer serves us.  Perhaps this is in our life because we need to really see it and then let it be pruned away!  The major reframe we can do is to shift into gratitude!  I don’t like this, dear Lord, but I am humbly willing to learn what I need to learn and release what I need to release.  Please let me be gently pruned! 

And then from both of these wisdom teachers is the message of generosity!  The image of the Dead Sea is so powerful!  The flow of our good is a flow and if we only want energy to flow in and to not also generously give, that is a dead end.  Generosity is the path to deepening our experience of joy.  That is not just generosity of money, but a generosity of spirit.  It is the generosity of mercy that allows others to be just as imperfect as we are in our human/Divine expression.  If Jesus says he was pruned by the Father, then we are in good company when we own our shortcomings and forgive others for theirs.  That is the message of Jesus, love and forgiveness, which is the ultimate generosity of Spirit.


 Here are two more pearls of wisdom from these two:


“If you are setting out to be joyful you are not going to end up being joyful. You’re going to find yourself turned in on yourself. It’s like a flower. You open, you blossom, really because of other people. And I think some suffering, maybe even intense suffering, is a necessary ingredient for life, certainly for developing compassion.”

Desmond Tutu, The Book of Joy: Lasting Happiness in a Changing World


“One of my practices comes from an ancient Indian teacher. He taught that when you experience some tragic situation, think about it. If there’s no way to overcome the tragedy, then there is no use worrying too much. So I practice that. (The Dalai Lama was referring to the eighth-century Buddhist master Shantideva, who wrote, “If something can be done about the situation, what need is there for dejection? And if nothing can be done about it, what use is there for being dejected?”)”

Dalai Lama XIV, The Book of Joy: Lasting Happiness in a Changing World


So when we have a very challenging situation, as we each might in our families and as we do in our country right now with all the divisiveness, then we intensify our practice of connection, of making a conscious choice to choose love and let go of all that is not love, no matter what advice others may give us!  Whatever leads to a sense of separation from love, from each other, will not bring us joy!  Even if those we love are on that path of separation, our choice is love because we know that brings joy.


“What the Dalai Lama and I are offering,” the Archbishop added, “is a way of handling your worries: thinking about others….It does help quite a lot to see yourself as part of a greater whole.” Once again, the path of joy was connection and the path of sorrow was separation. When we see others as separate, they become a threat. When we see others as part of us, as connected, as interdependent, then there is no challenge we cannot face—together.”

Desmond Tutu, The Book of Joy: Lasting Happiness in a Changing World


On a personal note, these words are very practical and real.  One of the things my dad shared with us on the last Father’s Day we were with him was how it brought him joy to know that the two of us were friends.  He never had that with his brother.  Those have been very powerful words that have kept my sister and me out of the weeds of arguing and on a path of love as we travel this life together in joy!  This Christmas, may your joy be complete!


Merry Christmas!

Rev. Deb Hill-Davis