Wil Darcangelo, Spiritual Director at First Parish Unitarian Universalist.
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I can’t think of anything I’d like more for Christmas than joy for this world, who has been through so much of late. This saddened and wicked world, full of disease and dis-ease, both. Wounds of the heart so deep even the light cannot penetrate them. Sorrows resting quietly inside and unknown. Likely to be taken to the grave, still unspoken.

And yet …

I have so much hope for this world. A world who want for nothing more than to just be together. To be held with the intent that their sorrows be eased, no matter if it’s possible through the act of embrace or not. Embrace anyway. If the weight cannot be lifted, it is better to be lightened.

I firmly believe that’s who we are. We are that better side of ourselves who tends to trust, and to heal. Our wounds are not us. Our politics are not us. We caused them, but we are not them. We are something else entirely. We are light, having a darkened experience.

If you read between the cracks in the news, you can see it. There is progress and love everywhere. It’s hidden amidst the boulders of conflict. But their size is an illusion. Look away from them. If you filter out the hate on your Facebook and Twitter feeds, and remember that social media is for entertainment purposes only, it suddenly becomes so much clearer what to do. Turn the other cheek. Turn away from it.

Should we know about the darkness? Yes. Ignorance is not bliss. But should we live in it? Never. Should we pray for its peace and ease? Always. Our hearts are eased a bit when we pray for those who hate us or wish us harm. It changes us chemically from within. Every ounce of weight lifted is one less carried. You’ll get much farther.

What would you be willing to do to feel better? We go through quite a lot to try. Think of the pills we take and the booze we drink and the games we play just to experience an approximation of what we imagine feeling good must be like. It seems as if we are chasing our imaginations; a daydream of what ease and comfort and satisfaction must feel like. If only we knew for sure.

There are those who feel ease, however. They feel it genuinely, and most of their days are spent in a state of hopeful anticipation of what’s to come. They look forward to life. They, unlike many of us, have managed to crack the code and feel peace even amid the tumult. Are they fools or are we?

The weeks leading up to Christmas are called Advent for the Christian world. It is intended as a season of giddy expectation. Though most of us, including those who actively celebrate Christmas, often forget entirely the purpose of the weeks leading up to it. We encumber ourselves with layers of stress and obligation. But we are meant to revive ourselves during this time and remember that the winter will eventually end, both symbolically as well as literally. We are meant to consume cheer as though it could be spooned from a heaping plate on a buffet table.

This is a particularly challenging year for good cheer. But that doesn’t mean we need it any less. Yet the ways by which we attempt to approximate the good tidings we are supposed to know are all different now. We have a choice between gathering unsafely, and thereby unlovingly by default, or fighting the desire to gather and missing our friends and loved ones so keenly. It seems we can’t win.

But human ingenuity reigns supreme always. We never fail to come up with innovative and creative solutions to our most profound problems. Even healthier is when we live in a state of expectation for their eventual resolution. This is where healing lives.

When we alter our thoughts to include anticipation and hope, and even gingerly venture in the direction of joy, things have a natural tendency to shift for us. It works in inexplicable ways to our human brain, though many attempt to explain it. Some theorize metaphysically, some scientifically, each doing their best to explain why it is that when we change our thoughts we change our life.

As the new year approaches, putting the more religiously originated holidays aside for a moment, most of us see an opportunity for a clean slate. Will you? This year has been a genuine tragedy for us all. Even those who didn’t lose their jobs or who managed to avoid getting sick or lose a loved one to the virus still had to contend with either the reality of its existence in the world or shoulder the enormous burden of ignoring it. All of humanity has experienced something together, even if in our own ways. That has a tendency to change things for the better. So long as that’s what we choose.

Do you believe in wishes? Maybe you should try. But also, when you do make that wish, remember it’s a contract. Your end of the bargain is to never let go of what you’ve wished for. Your task is to maintain hope that what you’ve ordered is on its way, and only your patience and determination to believe shall outlast its journey. Never give up.

I hereby place a purchase order for joy as my gift to the world. It might not arrive on time for Christmas, but it’s coming. I believe that with every fiber of my being. Joy is coming. It may, in fact likely will, look far different than what we expect. It may appear as though it’s a sweater, which at the time we ordered it were so sure would fit us perfectly just as we are. But no. This is not a garment that can fit or not fit, nor can it be returned. Once here, joy will align with us as we will rise to align with it. Our form will shift to accommodate the shape and size of joy just fine. Fear not.

Do what you can to instill a sense of ease and purpose for this unusual time. Heal the sick, grieve those lost, and then live our lives in dedication to them. Let this tragedy compel our hearts into loving more, forgiving more and seeking ways to not just restore or retain our old relationships, but make new ones entirely as well. Expand your circle, even if only by a few people. Your life will change.

But first, as this year comes to a close, remember that you are the center of the universe. What occurs within you radiates outward in ever-widening circles of whatever it is you’re transmitting. Let it be joy. We need it badly.

Wil Darcangelo, M.Div., is the minister at First Parish UU Church of Fitchburg and of First Church of Christ Unitarian in Lancaster. He is the producer of The UU Virtual Church of Fitchburg and Lancaster on YouTube and host of the Our Common Dharma podcast series. Email wildarcangelo@gmail.com. Follow him on Twitter @wildarcangelo. His blog, Hopeful Thinking, can be found at www.hopefulthinkingworld.blogspot.com.