Joy in the Midst of Sorrow

Dec 13 2015


The story is told of a man who said to a beggar standing on the street corner, "Have a good day." The beggar replied, "I thank God I have never had a bad one." Then the man said, "Have a happy life." The beggar answered, "I have never been unhappy." The man was puzzled. "What do you mean?" he asked. "Well," said the beggar, "when things are going well, I thank God and when things are not going well, I thank God. When I'm well-fed I thank God and when I'm hungry I thank God. Whatever pleases God pleases me. God's Will is my will. Therefore, why should I say I'm unhappy when I'm not." The man looked at the beggar with astonishment. He wanted to know more about this extraordinary beggar. ''Who are you?" he asked. "I am a king," the beggar said. ''Where is your kingdom?" the man asked. "In my heart," said the beggar. (Preachers Illustration Service #1703)

How many of us can face life with all of its foibles with the type of faith that this beggar had? Not many, I would guess. But if we look at his story a little more carefully, we would find that what really made the difference for him was his point of view – his perception of the happenings around him, and his strong belief that God was with him.

We all know people who can work very well under stress; we know people who thrive on trouble and go towards it instead of away from it. And we know people who have the same jobs and the same kind of trouble, but cannot function when the stress of the job hits. What is the difference? Again, it forces us to focus on point of view. Yet both individuals look and seem identical to us.

“There is a story that came out of the work camps in Rumania during the hard years of Communist occupation. A young woman named Cornelia found herself one night too tired to undress, and she fell asleep exhausted on her bed. She dreamed of a beautiful field full of flowers. There was the soft humming of bees. There were clouds of butterflies of all colors. Above all, she smelled the sweet fragrance of the Lily of the Valley, her favorite flower.

She saw a woman coming toward her with eyes that looked gently into her heart. The woman was carrying a bouquet and she gave it to Cornelia. Then she heard a strong, clear voice saying words from the Song of Solomon: “As the lily among the thorns, so is my love for you.”

Then she awakened, and she realized she was still in the work camp, with the guards just outside the doors. But when they banged on the bedrail at 5 A.M. she got up and went to work in the quarries as if she had been dancing in the meadows – with the fragrance of the flowers still in her nostrils, the sight of the field and the woman still in her mind. She knew God was with her.”  (Preachers Illustration Service #1629) 

In both of the stories, what made the difference was the beggar and the girl both knew that God was with them. We hear about strong faith like theirs, but we can’t always reconcile their faith with ourselves or our situations. We want to believe. We want to have faith, but it can easily elude us. We can pray for more faith, but even in the midst of our most heart-wrenching prayers, we can feel that we are alone without God’s presence and without God’s help.

We are so used to doing everything on our own that when we encounter trouble, we don’t always see God’s answers around us, hear God speaking to us, or realize that God has never left us. Because we are so used to not always being cognizant of God’s presence, it is easy for us to miss it even when it is there. We want it so badly but we cannot see it, even if it is in front of our faces.

There are also those times when tragedies hit and we think we will never get over them, but as time passes, we actually realize that there are many things we have learned about ourselves and hidden strengths that we never knew we had have come forth – called out by the tragedy, but heard by us as gifts. Sometimes it’s the storms in life that call us to our greatest joys.

An old German legend tells of a baron who built his castle on the “Rhine.” From crag-to crag and from turret-to-turret he strung wires, hoping that as the winds blew upon this giant harp it might make sweet music. Long and patiently he waited, and round his castle winds from the four corners of heaven blew, and still no music came. But one night there arose a hurricane. The black sky was stabbed with lightning, and the thunder rolled, and the earth trembled, and the winds were mad and shrieking. The baron went to his great castle door to view the terrifying scene – and hark! The sound of music, like angels singing through the storm. And suddenly he realized what had happened. His harp, strung from crag-to-crag had come to life at last. The storm had given it a soul. (Colaianni, James F., Sunday Sermons Treasury of Illustrations, #973)

And so it was, and so it is. From the time of Jesus to this day, there have been and still are terrible moments – personal or global – and yet, through all of the darkness comes the sound of music. Through the darkness of the ages comes the voice of Jesus saying, I am with you, even unto the end of the age.” We celebrate that presence more fully, more closely, at this time of year than at any other. We celebrate the Emmanuel, God with us – yesterday, today, and forever to bring us joy. Amen.