Advent Devotions: Comfort in joy-less seasons

Advent 2015. Design by Doug Puller/Bread for the World.

Editor’s note: This Advent season, Bread Blog is running a series of devotionals written by staff, alumni, and friends of the San Francisco Theological Seminary, which is affiliated with the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.).  

By Becca Rhodes 

Isaiah 40:1-11

For those of us who are mourning, Advent can be a lonely season. For those of us in spiritual winters of the soul, in addition to the seasonal winter, holidays can feel cold, chilling to the bone.

These words, written in exile, “Comfort, comfort my people, says your God,” are read in faith communities around this time every year. Yet where is this comfort? In winters of the soul, where is the joy found in springs, summers, and falls?

In October, I was waiting in a bathroom line at a bus stop in San Rafael. A young woman wearing a Bob Marley shirt began talking to me. I remember the conversation vividly; it went like this —

T: I love your shirt!

Me: (wearing a panda astronaut shirt): Thank you! I like yours!

T: You know; they put a monkey in space! And, they put a dog in space!

Me: They should put a panda in space!

T (giggling): You knowwww, they should put a hippo in space! That would take a huge space ship!

Me: Yep.

T: Even better, they should put Bigfoot in space!

Me: Yes!! I LOVE Bigfoot!

T: Me too! I read a great book about Bigfoot and the Loch Ness Monster called, One Thousand Faces.

Me: Sounds like a good book! For Halloween, I’m thinking about being Bigfoot, but that would be…

T: Hard — because you’d have to be so hairy!! I have an idea! You should be “Joy” from the movie Inside Out! You would make a good “Joy.”

Me: Wow! What’s your name?

T: Tovah!

Me: Wow! Is that Hebrew?

T: Yes!

Me: Does your name mean “good”?

T: Yes! It was nice to meet you. Have a good day!

I saw Jesus in Tovah’s face that day. Tovah called out in me the very thing that I was not capable of — joy. I was heart-broken (it is okay to be heart-broken), but Tovah invited me to live into a better story.

Comfort, comfort, your story is not that you are unloved, but that I have renamed you Joy, and even though you do not feel capable of joy, I will be with you.

Great is the mystery of Advent’s Joy! 

Becca Rhodes is pursuing her Master of Divinity at San Francisco Theological Seminary.       

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