Scientists have demonstrated that learning to play games, be they board, video, or other, is one of the more important requirements for fitting into a nerd culture. It was in one such group of nerds, becoming acquainted with the classic deck-building game, Dominon that one of the players, who was performing poorly, announced that there a web site that declared that if two or more people tied in winning the game, the last place finisher would be declared a winner. The name of that person may be forever lost to time, but legend tells us that he went back to his office, built a web site containing the aforementioned rule, and sent the reference to the other players as proof that he had actually won. For some reason, this claim was met with a degree of skepticism among his peers, and ever since that day, whenever that group plays the game and has some dispute over the rules, they stop, claim that there's a web site somewhere that explains them, and everyone laughs.
For nerdy types, this is the kind of joke that just keeps on giving, so it may be understandable that so many people are somewhat dismayed to determine that this is now how a large portion of the world forms their opinions and/or gathers their facts. Someone makes something up, posts it on a web site, and sends out the reference, then people who desperately want to believe whatever it is that has been made up use that reference as "proof" of the things they believe. For all the times we've joked that something was "on the Internet so it must be true," we've suddenly discovered that there are actually people who do believe that, and that they show up to argue with people, bully those who do not share their particular perspective, and vote. Recent research shows that some people have made very large sums of money by injecting their "Internet facts" into people's lives. This is a very controversial issue right now, but it raises an interesting question for our Advent preparation: Do we sometimes do the same thing with Joy?
Think about this for a second. How often do you see a sign, hear a carol, listen to a sermon, hang an ornament, or do something else in this season and encounter the term "Joy." How great our Joy?" "Joy. Joy Joy!" We're positively inundated with the message that this is a time for experiencing joy, and we know this because pretty much everyone we meet tells us that this is what we're supposed to feel, and the institutions that we trust to help us make sense of the world pander joy faster than Infowars spreads a rumor that a political candidate has ordered the deaths of her opponents. You probably can't drive past a church at this time of year without being told that you are supposed to be filled with Joy. And what if you don't particularly feel joyful? For many, this season is a reminder of people and things that they have lost. Of painful memories. Of an ongoing catalog of disappointments. Forcing our "joy" on them doesn't help much, and unless they're characters in a Hallmark movie, they are really unlikely to feel it, despite our best efforts to tell them how they are supposed to feel. Maybe the solution that we all need is to step back from talking about Advent as a time for preparing to feel joy and think about it as a time to make joy.
Like the other Advent themes, Joy is not meant to be something that we should expect Jesus to come down our chimneys and pull out of a sack. It's certainly a feeling that we want to feel, when we think of what Jesus' coming means for the world, and there's nothing wrong with expressing that. Still, if we're preparing to observe Jesus' arrival, it's also something that we're supposed to be creating. Modern marketers seem to understand something that we've forgotten: that Joy is something that needs to be made, and creating that joy for others is one of the more important goals an organization can have. As one marketing and leadership guru puts it:
"...These are the companies that give their people the freedom (and yes, the expectation) that they will create, connect and surprise. These are the organizations that embrace someone who makes a difference,..."
The business community is beginning to get the point for individuals, too:
"... the insatiable yet unreachable need for everything to be fine, conspire to make us distracted, unhappy and most of all, somewhere else.
I'm not talking about the dissatisfaction of the artist who wants to challenge herself and to reach new heights. That's an internal discussion, not one that's measured against the instant updates of the world's population.
The only place joy can be found is right here and right now. Everyone who is selling you dissatisfaction is working for their own selfish ends."
If even the for-profit world of business is beginning to understand that joy is a valuable thing that must be made and actively pursued in order to offer the world a transforming experience, why don't the rest of us?
Joy, as a verb, means taking chances, whether reaching out to an unknown person or addressing an issue that might seem to remove joy from our lives. It means recognizing a good thing when we see it, and celebrating that good thing so it might happen again and others might be motivated to make sure that it happens again. It means deliberately engaging people's pain and fear with acceptance and empathy, rather than condemnation and doubt - even if those people give you the creeps. It means exhibiting the kind of faith that allows you to try something that might be great, without worrying about what might happen if and when you fail. It means enjoying the game, rather than playing to simply "win." It means being open to the possibility of being wrong, since it offers you a chance to see yourself in a new way. It means learning to smile with that little crinkle in the corner of your eyes, rather than making some perfunctory effort to make someone think you're listening to them. It means being brave enough to laugh and cry out loud. It means a number of other things, as well, but let's just start with this list. is it not compatible with what we know of Jesus, for whose coming we are preparing?
If we're really going to experience Joy as a verb, let's go ahead and feel it when it's there, but let's also toss aside all those rules for what we're supposed to feel and who is allowed to do what. Instead, let's offer people possibilities and give second, third, or five hundredth chances to people. Let's allow for wonder to happen and participate when it does. Let's do the kinds of personal things that Jesus did to make us feel the joy we say comes with this season.If nothing else, we should remember that Joy is not something that we are supposed to just feel, but something that we are supposed to make and give to others. After all, it was made for us first.