As I write messages in my Christmas cards this year, I have grappled with words. This was an atrocious year. How do I express holiday cheer amongst the grim realities of 2020? Why should I sit safely in my home writing Christmas cards when millions of people around the world are suffering? The lights, decorations, and purchasing of presents felt, at first, like a glittering distraction from the death and despair of so many. Gaudete Sunday felt empty and I cannot bring myself to write “Joy to the World” because I just don’t feel it.
But the readings this Sunday caused me to pause and reflect on the hope, the waiting, of Advent, and even of Christmas, rather than the joy.
This year at Ignatian Solidarity Network we have reflected on the theme of “prophetic resilience,” a theme that was determined before the COVID pandemic, this year’s natural disasters, and the elevated racial unrest.
There isn’t any joy in this Sunday’s readings, but there’s a whole lot of prophetic resilience. From Nathan, assistant to David, to the apostle Paul and Mary the Mother of God, everyone was facing great challenge. In these times of trouble, they weren’t talking about joy. They weren’t necessarily experiencing joy, but they were experiencing the goodness, steadfastness, and promises of God. So they persisted prophetically and resiliently.
“For ever I will sing the goodness of the Lord” read this Sunday’s psalm. Now I’m clearly not the king of Israel, an original apostle, or the mother of Christ, but I felt this. I might not be able to rejoice, but I am reminded that my hope and faith in the Lord remains resilient. And as an activist and choir member, song is where I turn to express my emotions when words just won’t cut it.
In despair, in darkness, “for ever I will sing the goodness of the Lord.” When another friend loses their job or has a family member come down with COVID—when I feel at a loss for words—”for ever I will sing the goodness of the Lord.” Not forever. But for ever. That is prophetic resilience moving to hope and moving to joy. For ever—through a pandemic, through loneliness, through waiting. Into relief, community, celebration, and eventually joy “for ever I will sing the goodness of the Lord.” I’m still working through Christmas cards (they will not arrive on time) but now the words “Merry Christmas” have regained the song of the goodness of the Lord and I’m happy to be singing.
Lena Chapin is the development director for Edwins Leadership and Restaurant Institute in Cleveland, Ohio. After graduating from John Carroll University, she spent a year in Immokalee, Florida with the Humility of Mary Volunteer Service. Lena worked for the Ignatian Solidarity Network from 2016-2022.