There are some things that are……..unspeakable.
You have unspeakable things in your life’s story. Things that are so painful, they cannot be uttered. Things that are so slashing that there really are no words for them. You have things you are deeply ashamed about, things that-if dwelled upon–can send you reeling in seconds, things that just hurt. That ache.
I do, too.
We sometimes refer to these things as being “unspeakable” because to give voice to them lies in the nearly unbearable category. To put them to words is an extremely rare event, and one that seems dangerous to us.
If we do so, it is a sacred moment. A hallowed moment. Even in the searing-ness of it all.
There are other things, as well, that are………….unspeakable.
We don’t always describe them as unspeakable. We may even be much more apt to try to put this “something” into words. We are certainly inclined to try to do so. But often we cannot. Often, there are not words to adequately describe these moments that are unspeakable.
They are moments of joy.
Joy is not happiness. We can capture happiness in a picture, or in a few words, “I’m so happy to see you!” “I was so excited to read that book!” “It was a thrilling ride!” But joy? Joy is something quite different.
In this Advent season, we set our souls to Joy, on this third Sunday. We—or I—look at it sideways, actually, like so many other things. Afraid, as always, to look at it full on. To look joy in the eyes. Because, joy comes not as an object but in the form of a person–a tiny human, veiled deity, sleeping in a manger. A person I can barely gaze upon.
Joy is not dependent upon circumstances. It just isn’t. Just tonight, at our church’s Christmas musical, a dear gentleman who is dying of the ugly that is cancer, greeted people from his wheelchair–weakly yet in joy. And, maybe that is how we, too, should be found. Weak, in joy. Weak, because of the hard things of this life: cancer, abuse, poverty, crime, grief. Weak because of our sin. Weak because of our shame. Weak because of our abject neediness–our very dependence upon the very God.
It’s the joy that comes in the form of a weak, dependent baby. Our Savior, once a child. Always our God. Once needy Himself; a helpless babe, yet clothed in majesty and all things strong.
Our own abject neediness goes against the grain of who I am. It grates against my fiber like nails on a chalkboard. And yet, I can’t deny that some of the most intense moments of joy in my life have been when I’ve been the weakest. Holding a newborn baby, after giving birth. On an isolated and lonely beach, staring at the ocean and thinking “Maybe God is real. Maybe He knows my name.” On my face in a darkened sanctuary at 3:30 am, with my ex-husband in prison and my children deeply hurting and nowhere to turn.
Those moments of joy simply cannot be described, and some certainly cannot be explained. They just can’t.
And that’s why they are unspeakable.
Sometimes joy is so unspeakable, that it hurts. Our English language is inadequate in this situation, but the Chinese have a word that expresses it perfectly: “tung-kuai”, which means “painful joy”.
Yes, that’s it, Painful joy. Joy found in weakness. Joy in the midst of pain. Joy that is pain. Joy that cries out for the coming Messiah–the one who has come and the one who is here with us and the one that will return someday. Soon, please.
And, so. And so we see in Isaiah again, in 61:10, what is and what is to come:
I will greatly rejoice in the Lord;
my soul shall exult in my God,
for he has clothed me with the garments of salvation;
he has covered me with the robe of righteousness,
as a bridegroom decks himself like a priest with a beautiful headdress,
and as a bride adorns herself with her jewels.
There are no words to capture the joy of salvation. There are no words to wrap around being covered with the robe of righteousness.
These things–they are unspeakable.