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Throughout the season of Advent the church is invited to reflect on hope, peace, joy, and love. The third week of Advent – joy – has always been meaningful for me.
While for some, this word may conjure up memories of vacation Bible school and belting out “I’ve got the joy, joy, joy joy, down in my heart! Where?!” as loud as humanly possible. And for others it a favorite eschatological Christmas hymn. But for me it reminds me of brown paper bag lunches.
When I was in elementary school my mom would make my sack lunches with a little note wrapped up in the sandwich. The note was brief and filled with her love for me. It would often have an acronym written on the bottom of her note. One of the acronyms read “J.O.Y.” I was taught that if I put Jesus first, Others second, and myself (You) third I would find joy. The topic of joy was infused in my family conversations and I am thankful for the great joy experienced in my household too.
I now find myself reflecting on this topic of joy again. While I appreciate the catchy sentiment my mom taught me, my feminist lens quickly comes out with a critique. Too often in religious society women are taught to place their needs last. Women are often taught to meet the needs of family members, coworkers, and partners first, always before their own. While I support an altruistic way of living, I cannot support that true joy is experienced when I tirelessly put everyone else first without considering my needs. This is not joy. This is suffering. This is oppression. And this is not right.
In Jesus’ command to love your neighbor as yourself the command to also love yourself is implicit. Here I am thinking of the safety instructions in an airplane. In a time of emergency, I am instructed to put on my oxygen mask first before I help my neighbor. I can’t help my neighbor when I myself am dying for oxygen.
Perhaps instead of an ordering of first, second, and third we ought to simply love, love, and love; we find joy in Christ, our neighbor, and ourselves. May we continue to love God and our neighbor, but may we remember to also love ourselves. Because only then can we discover joy.