United Presbyterian Church of West Orange


“Oh What a Day!”

 December 17th, 2023

Rev. Rebecca Migliore


        So we have gotten to the third Sunday of Advent—Gaudete Sunday, the pink Sunday, the Sunday of the candle of joy.  We remember that hope takes courage.  That peace is really Shalom, the peace and justice God wills for our world.  And today we have lit  candle for joy.  “Joyful, joyful, we adore thee, God of glory, God of love.”  We had to have the candle of hope when faced with the apocalypse.  We had to have the candle of peace when looking at the morass of our world.  But today is all about JOY.

        I’m sorry, but when I hear the word joy, what comes to me is Marie Kondo—an internet sensation a few years ago as a guru of how to clean out your closets and your life.  You took an object and looked at it and asked yourself, “Does this spark joy?”  If so, you could keep it.  If not, out it went.  And as I thought about joy and today and Marie Kondo I wondered, what exactly is the joy she is talking about?  Is it the same joy we are being exhorted to celebrate today?

        Marie Kondo joy, joy in our common usage, is all about us.  Does it make us happy?  Does it contain wonderful memories?  Is it important to us?  Is it something that makes us feel warm and fuzzy, that excites us, or buoys us up?  You know what I’m saying.  Joy is a happy feeling, a feeling that wasn’t much present in the ancient traditions of Advent—with its focus on the future coming, and the judgement day, with John the Baptist calling for repentance in our own lives, and a rebuilding of society to prepare ye the way of the Lord!

        But one Sunday, this third Sunday, we see the sun breaking through the clouds.  We remember that this is not just a time of preparation for that scary future time, but also a time of promise, that God is with us, even now, Emmanuel.  And so even the staunchest of religious zealots allowed for one Sunday to express the song of the angels, the wonder of the shepherds, the humility of the kings, and our own thanks and praise for the gift of Jesus, God come down to earth.

        This is the Sunday where our Scripture reading finally meshes with the “holly, jolly” time that we are constantly hearing about on the endless loop of Christmas music.  Hurrah!  So we can feel good about the light displays that are popping up on our neighbors houses.  We can eat all those goodies with no thought to counting calories.  We can sing those familiar carols that we know by heart (at least the first verse!).  We can deck the halls and trim the tree and cook the “roast beast.”  We can stop feeling like we are the grinch talking about all these deep, dark Advent warnings, and heavy weighted ideas about hope (the one last thing left in Pandora’s box), or peace that becomes much more than just calm and rest, but widens out to a whole lot of work!  This is the Sunday of JOY!

        You know there is going to be a but…

        But as I read Isaiah and Mary’s Magnificat a disquieting thought came upon me.  For although these passages certainly lift up ideas that might spark joy, it wasn’t focused on the “me.”  Joy seemed to be linked to a much more universal desire.  In Isaiah, a desire for good news given to the oppressed, and the brokenhearted and the captives and the prisoners.  A changing of the world order so that we would have a garland instead of ashes, the oil of gladness instead of mourning, a mantle of praise instead of a faint spirit.  As Isaiah puts it “I will greatly rejoice in the Lord, my whole being shall exult in my God.”

        And then we turn to Mary, lifting up a glorious song, sung the world over.  A song that originates in songs sung by other women in Scripture, like Miriam celebrating the escape at the Red Sea, and Hannah giving glory to God after her unexpected pregnancy.  Yes, Mary does see herself as blessed—from generation to generation.  But she quickly moves on, to see herself as the symbol, the prototype of what God is doing in the world.  It is an upside-down, inside-out look at things.  God scattering the proud in the imagination of their hearts, bringing down the mighty from their thrones and lifting up the lowly, filling the hungry with good things and sending the rich away empty.

        These words flow off our tongues, they reside in the annuls of our brain because we have heard them so many times, at least for those of us who grew up in the church.  I was struck by how little “me” is in these readings for the Sunday of joy.


     I feel like we are back in the world of hope for the future, in the world of God’s vision for the world of Shalom.  We have taken a detour from Frosty and Rudolf and a white Christmas.  But we are not too far off from “My grown-up Christmas list” which wishes for:

        No more lives torn apart

        That wars would never start

And time would heal all hearts

And everyone would have a friend

And right would always win

And love would never end, no

This is my grown up Christmas list

So what is this joy that we are talking about today?  What is this all about?  I think it points us to Jesus—to the baby that has come and continues to come into our world.  I think it wants to make us hear the angel’s proclamation again, “good news to all people.”  I think it wants us to be so excited that we too run to the manger, leaving everything else behind.  I think it wants us to bring what we can as gifts, poor as we are, we can at least bring our heart.  There is certainly joy in the Christmas story. 

There is joy for Mary in being asked to be the servant of God.  There is joy for Elizabeth that she has been blessed not only with a son who will proclaim the good news, but in being in the presence of “her Lord.”  There is joy from the angels, and the shepherds, and the kings.  Such joy that they would travel from lands far off to come and kneel at the feet of this newborn king.  And there is joy that God would choose to be with us, to be one of us, to step into our shoes, to show us the way, to lead us into new understanding, to offer a glimpse of God’s presence in our world, even our messy, grimy, sin-full (full of sin) world.

And on top of that micro joy, that little town of Bethlehem, that out of the way place, there is this vision of macro joy.  Of the preparations for the king completed.  Of the leveling of human worth accomplished.  Of justice come to dwell in the land.  Of a different sort of world than the one we live in today.  The only concept of joy, personal joy, could be summed up in “blessed to be a blessing.”

       That is the message from the beginning—from Abraham and the fathers and mothers of the faith, through the women who show up in Jesus’ genealogy—Tamar, Rahab, Ruth, Bathsheba, to the peasants who cradle the infant baby boy—Mary and Joseph, and their family, their tribe, their people, the world.

What would it mean if we thought about joy in that context?  If it wasn’t about us personally (except what we can contribute in hearing and working on God’s vision)?  If we focused on joy in the eternal sense.  Joy in the God sense.  Joy in the coming of God into our world.  Joy in the coming, even in small ways, of the Reign of God.  Joy in being in God’s presence, in being asked to participate in the work of the Kingdom, in being given lips to shout our praise, and voices to raise up in song, and bodies—hands and feet, and eyes and ears, and hearts and minds—to be the body of Christ, today.

It puts a whole new spin on Joy.  It feels more in tune with John the Baptist’s cry of repent, turn around, turn towards God.  It feels more in tune with the Advent urgency of getting right with God, of being prepared to be face to face with the one we worship and adore.  It feels more in tune with being engaged in our world, not shrinking from the complex problems, but stepping in, being present, standing with people as God has stepped in, and is present, and stands beside us through thick and thin, all out and all in, together, wherever we go (to quote Steven Sondheim).

What does joy mean in the face of war?  Maybe it means finding a way for all people to live together in harmony.  What does joy mean in the face of poverty and disease and hatred and oppression?  Maybe it means addressing the root causes, even while handing out bags of food, of standing up and speaking out, of not being willing to cross the road and walk on by.  What does joy mean in the face of extinction of species and the groaning of our world?  Maybe it means finding little things (and advocating for bigger things) that at least acknowledge the damage we are causing to our planet, and trying to do our part in stopping the escalation.  What does joy mean in the face of falling church attendance, of fears of what the post-pandemic world might be?


 Maybe it means being faithful with what we have, being faithful in listening to what might be needed in our own community, in partnering with those who are trying to address what we have called Matthew 25 needs (the building of congregational vitality, the dismantling of structural racism, and the eradicating of systemic poverty).

Just as the hope we have from God is not something we can keep in a box, just for ourselves, but presses us to push it out to the wider world.  Just as God’s peace is not something just intended to alleviate our stress, or calm our minds, but expands to link us to justice and righteousness in our world, to repairing the breach torn in our fabric, dreaming and building places where we can glimpse what God has intended.  So the joy that we are celebrating today is not our own personal Christmas wish list.  It is not really about us at all.  It is something we participate in with the angels and archangels.  It is something we are swept up in the Spirit with all those who worship the King, with all those who have heard the call of good news to the least and the lost, with all those who have seen how different our world could be.  It is about God’s joy.  A joy we are invited to fill ourselves with, and a joy that is meant to spill over to all that we meet.

        Ever since I read these Scriptures, I have had a refrain going around in my head, from a song by Matt Maher called “Born on that day.”  It goes like this:

Emmanuel, the God who saves,

I hear a voice from heaven declare, prepare the way.  Emmanuel, O praise the name. 

I hear the sound,  heaven cried out, and love made a way.  Christmas was born on that Day

O what a day, O what a day, we’ll never be the same.

O what a day, O what a day, Christmas was born on that Day”

        As we march towards that day, when Christmas was born, let us carry with us the light of hope.  Let us carry with us a torch for peace.  And let us carry with us the explosion of joy that comes in being who God wants us to be, the joy in serving in the ways that God wants us to serve, the joy in the coming of the kingdom (that we are intended to help build).


        Let us know the Joy in living a life with God, the Joy in a life that has God at its center, the Joy in a life that is worthy of the dream God has for each of us.  Truly that is the Joy we celebrate today. 

        May it be so.  Alleluia, Amen.