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Jeremiah 31:7-14 Ps 147:12-20 Ephesians 1:3-14 John 1:10-18

I watched a video of the simple funeral - at his request, for Archbishop Desmond Tutu and the interwoven eulogy/sermon of Rev. Michael Nuttall, self described as good friend and “Tutu’s number 2” during his tenure as Archbishop. Rev. Nuttall used Micha 6:8 as the basis for his sermon about Archbishop Tutu, “to do justice, to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God.” He quoted good friend Nelson Mandela’s words about Archbishop Tutu, “Sometimes strident, often tender, never afraid, seldom without humour, Desmond Tutu’s voice was the voice of the voiceless.” Without doubt Archbishop Tutu’s life was committed to doing justice for the people of South Africa and seeing the end of Apartheid and freedom for Black South Africans. But Rev. Nuttall also referenced Tutu’s relationship to the Dalai Lama and their Book of Joy that upholds a just order for all peoples of the world as the source of that hope and joy.

          “To love kindness.” Rev. Nuttall spoke of Archbishop Tutu’s “giving heart, and warm smile,” and noted personal examples of Tutu’s caring of him and others. And he named the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of South Africa (a model for our own Truth and Reconciliation Commission in Canada) and specifically Desmond Tutu’s words, “there will be no future without forgiveness” as critical to South Africa’s transformation.

          “To walk humbly with your God.” Rev. Nuttall named Archbishop Tutu as a “holy, human, humane leader and person” and a “prophet, pastor and pray-er,” with “everything he did under-girded with prayer.” Archbishop Tutu prayed “anywhere and everywhere.” he said, including sharing in the prayer of the Eucharist/Communion as a daily practise.

          The words of Micah 6:8, doing justice, loving kindness, walking humbly with God, were certainly well chosen and appropriate for Archbishop Tutu. And the reference to The Book of Joy together with the Dalai Lama and their relationship seemed especially significant. I watched a video clip of the two of them that my son sent to me, including a reference on Twitter that the person wanted Desmond Tutu’s laugh as their ring tone – and another person’s reply, they would never answer their phone because they wouldn’t want Tutu’s laughter to end. In the video interview, Archbishop Tutu and the Dalai Lama’s teasing, good humour and obvious enjoyment and affection for one another is evident. But so also the depth of their relationship, with Desmond Tutu saying of the Dalai Lama, he is “a beacon of hope for our time.” And the Dalai Lama saying of Tutu, “When I die, it is your face I want to see.”

          I wonder if The Book of Joy should be required reading for me and all of us in this pandemic time? Maybe it will be the first book I read on Sabbatical, of the many I have been piling up in anticipation of the time.

          It is Desmond Tutu’s joy that is so evident in seeing and hearing him. I shared once before the memorable opportunity I had to meet him briefly in Edmonton in 1998. A student from Kenya who was studying music at Augustana where I served as Chaplain, had met Archbishop Tutu when conducting a choir at a gathering of African churches where the archbishop was present. Archbishop Tutu was to be the inaugural lecturer for a new series of Guest Lectures on Human Rights at the University of Alberta in Edmonton. We arranged for tickets for me and a colleague and the student to attend. The lecture was a wonderful sermon on love and respect of our neighbours as I recall. After the lecture, the colleague and I, knowing and wanting to support the student in their hope and excitement of seeing Archbishop Tutu, accompanied him down to the backstage doors in the auditorium. The security presence was apparent, and they were quick to meet us as we approached. The young student explained that he knew Archbishop Tutu and would very much like to say hello to him. We did our best to confirm the student’s story and suggested that if they could possibly share the student’s name with the archbishop, he may wish to see him. With some reluctance, the security guard finally agreed, asked us to step back and wait and disappeared for a few moments. He returned somewhat surprised and invited the student to come with him. My colleague and I remained behind, thrilled that the student was getting the opportunity he had hoped for. After some time, the door opened and the student and to our shock Archbishop Tutu appeared, the student saying to him, “these are the friends I want you to meet.” Archbishop Tutu vigorously shook our hands and smiled warmly, and said with enthusiasm and delight, “This is a wonderful young musician you know?” And we replied, “Yes, he is!” and Archbishop Tutu laughed with delight and expressed how pleased he was to see him in Canada and to meet his friends. We expressed our delight at meeting him. The security guard surprised and concerned about Archbishop Tutu being out in the hallway visiting with strangers, not VIP’s, suggested he should go back with him. Archbishop Tutu said a warm farewell to the student, his young friend, and then to us, and disappeared behind the door. And we grinned and celebrated together the opportunity and joy of seeing and meeting Archbishop Tutu and his graciousness and delight in seeing and meeting us.

          It was this memory that came back vividly when I heard of Desmond Tutu’s passing. And I share it to honour the memory of a great human rights leader for the people of South Africa and the world, and a great “prophet, pastor, pray-er” of our time, and his graciousness and delight and joy that we had the opportunity to experience momentarily in the flesh, that he shared so generously and graciously with so many others. And it is that joy that seems significant on this second Sunday of Christmas and season of “joy to the world.”

          The prophet Jeremiah speaks into a time of exile for the people of Israel experiencing defeat, despair and abandonment. Into the silence of hopelessness, God speaks and invites the people into a new reality, to sing, to shout, to praise God for God is bringing freedom to the people. And in the first person, God invites the hearers including us to see a great pilgrimage of people, especially the most vulnerable, those who are blind, those who are lame, pregnant women, retuning in the safety of God to home. And the nations are warned that God is gathering people like a shepherd, to ransom and redeem them from their oppressors. And in the abundance of creation, in life like a watered garden, the people are invited to sing, to be radiant, young and old to dance, for God will turn their mourning into joy! In the same way the Psalm invites people to worship and praise God for safety and prosperity of God’s doing, using the metaphor of cold, snow and hail into which God speaks and  melts them away, in the joy of God’s judgement for the people. The first three chapters of the letter to the Ephesians is all praise for the blessings of God, for adoption as children of God through Christ Jesus, for the glorious grace and forgiveness that God freely lavishes on people, that setting our hope on Christ and in the Holy Spirit, we live for the praise of God’s glory. And returning to the Gospel of John today and the prologue song of praise in God’s glorious Word made flesh, born children of God, receiving grace upon grace in God made known in Christ Jesus.

          It’s all praise, it’s all joy! Not denying the struggle of exile, of oppression, of racial and other inequities, of suffering and despair; of a pandemic and the physical, mental and spiritual strain we experience and feel, especially those who carry the greater burden; but God speaks a new promise and hope into that reality in the Word made flesh, and the abundance of God’s grace upon grace for all people and especially for those most vulnerable and hurting, all God’s children, and Jesus/God’s living among us, in glory, in grace and truth, made fully known..

           It’s all joy! Amazingly, like the joyful life and laugh of Archbishop Desmond Tutu, suffering brutal oppression as a Black person under South Africa’s Apartheid, but as voice of the voiceless, as prophet, pastor and pray-er, leading people and a world into freedom, into justice, peace, hope and joy! The Dalai Lama, exiled spiritual leader of the people of Tibet, living under the oppressive rule of China, and yet speaking again and again of hope, freedom, peace, and joy, evidenced by the titles of his books, The Art of Happiness, Freedom in Exile, An Open Heart, How to Expand Love, The Wisdom of Compassion. Two soulmates from different spiritual traditions, with a common love for the world, and life and laughter and joy together. For us, evidence of God’s Word in Christ Jesus made flesh, living among us, full of glorious grace and truth, for our living on, today and tomorrow in hope and praise and joy!  It’s all grace upon grace. It’s all praise. It’s all for joy. Joy to the world. God and God’s love and hope for this beloved and broken world fully known – for joy! together. Let it be so, in all our relations. Amen.