In reading former Anglican Archbishop Rowan Williams a certain narrative illustration stayed with me. He writes of how at the end of World War II, a sailor in the Royal Navy was about to be discharged. He decided to enjoy an evening out while in London. He selected a production in London’s West End. It was the opening night of a new show, a musical of some sort.
He didn’t care what he was going to see. All he wanted was to celebrate the fact that he had lived through the war and would be going home very soon.
The first thing he noticed when he entered the theater foyer was the brilliance of the lights. For six years he - and those of his generation - had known only the muted lighting and blackout conditions. Now, at least in this warm and welcoming crowded space - the world was bright again. He also noticed how alive and excited everyone was, and to his surprise he realized how their festive mood was affecting him.
But nothing prepared him for what happened when the curtain went up. The stage was blazing with the light of a sunlit world stretching into infinite distance. The dancers and actors and singers lept onto the stage. The music was electrifying. The words, especially the very first words of the show, transformed every listener: “O what a beautiful morning! O what a beautiful day!”
Now we know what that long ago sailor was experiencing. Oklahoma burst into the dark world of Europe like a sudden blaze of sunshine, space, energy, hope and possibility. It came from a land not exhausted by war, a land strong with seemingly limitless resources. It sang a song for the future.
In this new year, we lift Philippians 4:4-7: “Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, Rejoice. Let your gentleness be known to everyone. The Lord is near. Do not worry about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.”
We are called to rejoice and thereby dismiss anxiety and defeat.
Paul’s words emerge from the dark side of human experience. He writes from a prison cell. Yet his words call for authentic joy. The rejoicing Paul calls for is not a giddy, senseless feeling un-attuned to the harsh realities of life. It’s a joy that is anchored to an assurance by God. Such joy does not simply drop down from the clouds. We are instrumental, even pivotal, in their fashioning.
Beneath all anxiety, love awaits patiently. Live is desire directed toward its proper object. If we are willing to love in the way Jesus has shown, it will defeat all anxiety and every fear. Love transforms anxiety into true joy - just as bright lights and happy music transform the darkness of war into the joy of peace. In this new year, “Rejoice in the Lord always, again I will say, Rejoice”
- Rev. Colby