This past week I was reading a book by Jerome Berryman, a man who lost his wife to cancer two years ago. In the book’s introduction the author writes of their great love for one another and the great happiness they experienced in their relationship together. Berryman makes a statement in this book that has stayed with me all week. He asks: Do you know what you get when you mix lots of happiness with lots of sadness? You get joy!
I’ve been thinking a lot about that. Here’s a man who has lost the love of his life, and yet he’s able to speak of joy. What a marvel!
How many of us would make any distinction between happiness and joy? Many of us might say that joy is feeling really, really happy—but that’s not what Berryman’s saying. There is a connection between happiness and joy but they are not the same thing.
I invite you in the coming week to ponder this question for your own life? What is joy? How much do you experience joy? If there’s not much there, why not?
We need joy. God created us for joy! In the deepest parts of our being we crave it. And yet, we settle for happiness. You know it’s true! From the earliest days of our nation this is what Americans have believed. What does our Declaration of Independence say? We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. Here is a document that speaks of rights, and freedom, and happiness, but it says nothing about joy.
So what do you want? What will you settle for? Happiness…or joy?
How much energy we spend in the pursuit of happiness; how much energy we spend avoiding sadness! And yet, if Jerome Berryman is right, human joy is not about avoiding sadness. We don’t go looking for it, either- -but sadness is an essential part of the mix. Do you know what you get when you mix lots of happiness with lots of sadness? You get joy!
Today we celebrate the Baptism of our Lord, which invites us to celebrate the gift of our own Baptism. Baptism is often misunderstood. It is not a free pass to paradise. It is not club membership. And it is not magic. What baptism is, is this: It is God’s welcome into the Beloved Community.
Today’s reading from Mark’s gospel tells the story of Jesus’ baptism. The end of the story leaves us with a powerful punch line; it’s this unmistakable message: A voice came from heaven, “You are my Son, the Beloved, with you I am well pleased. Jesus is the Beloved child of God!
What do you think? Are you also beloved? Are you also God’s son or daughter in whom God is well pleased? Maybe you don’t believe it. And a good way to measure how much love you have for yourself is how much joy you have in your life. Joy, as we have seen, doesn’t depend completely on life circumstances. A person can have everything—wealth, health, family, friends, freedom—and still not be joyful. On the other hand, a person can lack all these things and be very joyful.
Do you know what you get when you mix lots of happiness with lots of sadness? You get joy! Berryman could say that because he knew beyond the shadow of a doubt that he was beloved. The love he received from his wife was a sign of the unconditional love that God has for him. His joy didn’t even depend on her being alive because joy is sustained in all things by nothing other than the assurance that we are beloved.
You’ve already noticed on the cover of your bulletin a picture that hundreds of thousands of people have seen this past week. It’s our very own Velma Mullen, who a week ago decided it would be a good idea to join dozens of others for the Polar Bear Plunge at Matthews Beach. For me, this is a photo that captures the core message of today’s reading.
Here is Velma, coming up out of the water, just as Jesus came up out of the water following his own baptism. That Lake Washington water was cold! Everybody in this picture just looks cold. And yet there’s Velma, hands uplifted, with an expression of pure joy on her face! It’s like the church. So many Christians have been washed in the waters of baptism but choose to focus on their own discomfort. Once in a while along comes someone who really gets it, who really knows and believes that they are a beloved child of God. And their lives radiate joy!
In the waters of baptism, our identity as God’s beloved is confirmed. Not because we’ve been baptized, not because we’ve done anything to please God! No, if we devote our lives only to the pursuit of happiness, even if we were to devote our lives only to our own needs and concerns–still God’s love would remain, unchanged. We are beloved. We are part of a beloved community. Nothing we do or don’t do can change that. We believe this to be true for all people, all God’s creation, whether or not they even acknowledge God’s existence!
In the waters of baptism we find the sign of the cross. At the intersection of divine and human. At the intersection of happiness and sadness. At the intersection of celebration and grief. At the intersection of the cross, as in the waters of baptism, there we find Christ, there we find God’s love for us, and for all people. And where we find love…we find joy.
May God’s people settle for nothing less! In Jesus’ name, AMEN