“The wilderness and the dry land shall be glad, the desert shall rejoice and blossom; like the crocus it shall blossom abundantly, and rejoice with joy and singing.” (Isaiah 35:1-2)
At every other time of year, it stands there silent and gathering dust, waiting patiently for me to once again use it as intended, to make music at last. Despite eight years of lessons long, long ago and a genuine love of music, I rarely touch the keys of my piano. But when Advent begins and Christmas beckons, I am inevitably drawn to it, my fingers itching to play the familiar carols and hymns.
Musically speaking, it is never an entirely pleasing experience. I fumble badly through my first attempts, struggle with the flats and the sharps, and get frustrated with a talent too long ignored. But I keep playing, practicing certain arrangements over and over again until the tune flows more easily and my fingers grow more nimble. Eventually I feel what I’ve been after all along: the joy of the season slowly blossoming within me. Despite all the noisy imperfections of my efforts, my heart rejoices with song.
The prophet Isaiah reminds us that joy can emerge from even the most desolate places, that gladness can spring forth in moments we least expect it. Some days it feels as if wilderness spaces surround us on all sides. There is so much that exhausts us, discourages us, leaves us broken and hurting and resentful. Our labors to craft our lives with meaning and purpose, and to re-fashion our world with love and justice and peace, may be flawed and encounter a frustrating number of obstacles. And yet our faith would have us keep trying, urging us to keep stumbling along until we catch glimpses of new possibility, until we feel something like joy piercing through all else.
In these closing days of Advent, as Christmas draws near, my prayer for all of us – our congregations, clergy, and members – is that we might persevere in faithfulness and boldly search out joy. For this is the promise of Christmas: that something unimaginable can burst forth from a place as stark and simple as a stable, that the rocky hillsides where lowly sheep rest can be the site of impossible good news for all, that God can break through our dreariness with extraordinary love. Rejoice!
Reverend Shari Prestemon, Conference Minister