I was driving to my friend's house this Sunday to be an honorary Mexican (their title, not mine) and help make around 40 dozen tamales. On the corner of an average intersection an older gentleman sat displaying handcrafted rocking horses for sale, the kind many of us rocked on as children.
Recalling Friday's tragedy in Newtown, Connecticut, I burst into tears thinking of the presents that were hidden in closets, under beds, or wrapped neatly under a tree waiting to be unwrapped by an excited child who has now been taken from this life. The loss weighed heavy on my heart but I tucked it away and found a radio station that would play a song to help me forget, even if for a moment.
It was Gaudete Sunday and as the third candle of the Advent Wreath was lit at Mass we were called to rejoice, but my heart didn't really feel like rejoicing. A prayer intention for the victims and their families and what seemed to be a small mention of Friday's heartbreak during the homily didn't seem enough to express what so many of our hearts were feeling.
How can we rejoice, God?
In the midst of all of this pain and hurt how can we rejoice today, this week, or on Christmas morning?
When I am surrounded by my niece and nephews opening presents on Christmas day grateful beyond words for their life, how can I cope knowing that families are mourning and broken?
I left Mass more numb than joyful. When I got in the car I heard the Amy Grant song, 'Better than an Alleluia' on the radio. The chorus reminds us that when . . .
We pour out our miseries
God just hears a melody
Beautiful, the mess we are
The honest cries of breaking hearts
Are better than a Hallelujah
I have never thought of my cries as a joyful noise to the Lord. I never felt like my momentary outbursts to God asking 'Why?' were better than an Alleluia. I never knew a tear streaming down my face was a melody to my Father in heaven. I never knew that this is what it meant to 'Shout for joy, O daughter Zion! Sing joyfully, O Israel!' (Zephaniah 3:14-15).
When we speak honestly to God in our most vulnerable moments, He rejoices! God want's us to bring Him our deepest sorrows, frustrations, and doubts; they are as beautiful as a choir of angels singing. However, He doesn't want us to stay in that place of despair. In our pleas of 'why' and 'how' we must listen for God's healing response.
There are a lot of emotions that well up out of nowhere when tragedy of this magnitude strikes. The calling to 'rejoice' appears impossible, 'but for God all thing are possible' (Matthew 19:26). At these moments, it's important to remember that joy is not a feeling or emotion. It is not based on our circumstances or state of life. It is not only for those in good health or abundant riches.
Joy is a gift of the Holy Spirit that comes from God and God alone. No situation that life throws our way can take joy away from us. It might steal out happiness for a while, but joy remains because joy is a gift from God to radiate light in the midst of our darkness.
'Rejoice in the Lord always. I shall say it again: rejoice!' (Philipians 4:7) Rejoice in the Lord in the midst of the darkest hours, in the memories of our family and friends we have lost this year, in the broken relationships and marriages, and in the emptiness and loneliness we can feel this time of year.
Rejoice because we believe that 'the Lord, your God, is in your midst, a mighty savior; he will rejoice over you with gladness, and renew you in his love, he will sing joyfully because of you, as one sings at festivals' (Zephaniah 3:17-18).
Although our hearts are restless until they rest in you, Lord, we know that our cries are better than an Alleluia and radiate joy throughout the world.