“…and so they left, and on their way they saw the same star they had seen in the East. When they saw it, how happy they were, and what joy was theirs!” Mt 2: 9-10
Filled with joy; the wise ones from the East see the star and were filled with joy. It struck me that they felt the happiness and joy at the sight of the star, well before meeting the holy infant child. Their journey was joy-filled. The outcome of the journey literally changed their course in ways unimaginable.
When I was 19, my best friend and I went with another friend to “college night” at her church. The auditorium-sized church was filled with more than 100 young adults. My best friend and I had never experienced anything like it. The energy in the group was joy-filled and exhilarating.
After a few songs, the pastor came out and preached for a while. He began his sermon saying, “God does not care about our happiness; God only cares about our ‘Godliness.’” He was charismatic and filled with energy as he went on to explain that our happiness is not of God. God is filled with joy when we are showing the world our “Godliness” and focusing only on becoming more Godly. When he finished preaching, the young adults erupted with cheering and spontaneously started singing an “Alleluia” praise song, with hands waving in the air. I stayed seated.
I approached the pastor after the service and told him that I disagreed and graciously (OK, probably not so graciously) offered him my thoughts on his sermon. His response to me was, “When you have denied yourself, accepted Jesus as your personal Savior, you will know that your ‘Godliness’ is what’s important.” Yeah … that response didn’t cut it for me. I was downright irritated with him. That wasn’t my image of God or my understanding of our life journey.
The God I understand cares deeply for my happiness and joy – with challenges and all. The immeasurable love of the God I experience deep within is joy-filled. I know God cares about my happiness and fullness. God cares about the authenticity of my life, how it’s lived according to what I was created to become on this journey. I don’t believe we were created to be on a journey of “Godliness” absent from joyfulness. God created us as whole human beings, with our faults, struggles, gifts and abilities, all to assist us to live and love as Jesus did. We are following joyful light to know God; not perfect people on a quest to become God.
And the wise people from the East … they were filled with enough happiness and joy to follow a star, not knowing what they’d find. I wonder how the Epiphanic narrative would have been written if joy and happiness didn’t come from that light. Would they have risked the journey in the first place? Would they have turned around when the journey got hard? Would they have given up when they realized that finding their own Godliness was an impossible quest?
Reading the Epiphany story again and recalling my sermon experience provided perspectives coming together on the journey I travel in this moment. I ask myself: Had I not believed that God cared for my wholeness as a person, would I have risked following the star? Through my struggles, pain and challenges, would I have continued following had I not experienced joy? Gratefully, my whole self experiences the journey lit by a God who loves and cares deeply. The more I experience the light of God out of darkness, the fuller my joy has and will become. God wants nothing more for us.
(Sr. Katy LaFond is the youngest member of the School Sisters of St. Francis. She professed her vows Aug. 11, 2007. Learn more about her order at www.sssf.org and read her blog at www.onefunnunslife.blogspot.com.)