Do you remember this song? Did you learn it as a child? I've got the joy, joy, joy, joy, down in my heart, down in my heart, down in my heart. I learned that song in first grade, and I have a very clear memory of where and when. In our neighborhood at the time, a big blue bus called the Joy Bus would drive around on Sunday mornings and pick up kids to come to church. We'd sing songs and go to Sunday School - without our parents. At the time, I loved it, but looking back now as a mom and raising kids NOT in the early 70s, it seems a little creepy. But I did love the Joy Bus. I loved watching it drive down one side of the street and around the circle and back down to pick us up. Songs galore! Fun times! Other kids! Happy people!
Until it wasn't any more.
Part of the Joy Bus was of course the local church. They had a program for the kids that if you attended church some huge amount of times in a row (I can't remember the number but it felt like a lot to a first grader), you would get your very own BIBLE. I had one more time to go when I got really sick. I threw up on the school bus. You should know that from that time until I was a senior in high school I did not throw up again - I am just not much of a puker. So it was clear I was really sick and I was going to miss the Joy Bus and my last-night-in-a-row-attendance-to-earn-a-BIBLE.
My mom called the church and explained my situation and told them how disappointed I was to miss my last day. The person she talked to (and goodness knows now who it was) quickly informed my mom that I would have to start back over from square one on attendance. Turns out getting a free Bible didn't turn out of much grace for a sick first grader. Needless to say, I felt even worse and I pretty much remember dissolving into tears.
My mom wasn't having it. When I was feeling better, she took me to Belk. I picked out a "children's Bible" (very different than what we'd consider a children's Bible today, but hey, it had a few pictures in it and that was the best there was to offer). The Bible had a picture of Jesus on a donkey on the front, clearly representing Palm Sunday. It ZIPPED all the way around. It was, to me, incredibly impressive.
And I still have it.
And I never remember riding the Joy Bus again.
But I always remember with great JOY what my mom did for me. I remember the few pictures in that Bible. It is a little treasure from a tough day as a sick kid that obviously made a big impression on me.
It is easy to let others rob you of your joy. Things go wrong in our lives every day - big things and small things. Some bear weight, while others just catch us at the wrong time. Sometimes we don't have the stamina to deal with something that might normally be no big deal - but we are tired, or hungry, or sick that day. Sometimes the crazy aggressive driver can take away our joy by acting like a jerk on the highway.
Sometimes we need the reminder to choose joy, to find the joy, joy, joy, joy down (deep) in our hearts. In this third week of Advent, we are invited to experience joy, and truth be told there is a lot to be found in these days. But if it is harder for you to find in your current circumstances, remember that the words of this little song go on to say -
I've got the joy, joy, joy, joy, down in my heart, down in my heart, down in my heart. I've got the joy, joy, joy, joy, down in my heart, down in my heart to stay.
I've got the love of Jesus, love of Jesus down in my heart, down in my heart, down in my heart. I've got the love of Jesus, love of Jesus down in my heart, down in my heart to stay.
I've got the the peace that passes understanding down in my heart, down in my heart, down in my heart. I've got the the peace that passes understanding in my heart, down in my heart to stay.
May you choose joy, from the depths of your heart, and may you have someone to champion your cause when it is needed. May you remember that you are beloved by God, perfect as you are, just as you are. May you experience the peace that passes understanding as you interact with difficult people and challenging situations this holiday season and well beyond.
YOU are a joy. Amen.