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A Joy that Gathers

by Abi Foerster on December 11, 2023

John 15:8-13

Willie James Jennings is an American theologian and an ordained Baptist minister, known for his contributions on liberation theologies, cultural identities, and theological anthropology. He is currently an associate professor of systematic theology and Africana studies at Yale University.  He is in high demand as a speaker and is widely recognized as a major figure in theological education across North America.

In this short clip from a sermon preached on July 31, 2018, Rev. Willie James Jennings names the harm of “segregated joy” imposed through white supremacy. Instead, he proclaims: “What I’ve learned from my people a long time ago was that Jesus presents a joy that gathers.”

Watch 4-minute clip of Willie James Jennings on joy that joins (youtube.com)

Jennings also references the passage from John 15:8-13 that talks about Jesus being the vine and that we are the branches.  When we are connected to Christ, we will bear fruit.  We will demonstrate a love that gathers people together and refuses to exclude anyone.  Jesus tells us that the result of this type of love, a gathering love, is joy.  In fact, in verse 11, Jesus says, “I have said these things to you so that my joy may be in you and that your joy may be complete.”

At Christmas, we sing “Joy to the world, the Lord is come!”  Joy abounds wherever his love gathers us.  Not just some of us, but all of us.

This weekend, Hannah spoke of the power of connection and Mary and Elizabeth’s joy once they were together.  Mary’s presence brough Elizabeth out of her 5-month seclusion.  For joy is rooted in connection – not just with our loved ones and ourselves, but with one another and the whole cosmos that surrounds us.  When we can look upon one another with delight and see the spark of the Creator in our brothers and sisters in the human family, we begin to catch a glimpse of the Kingdom here on earth.  Have you ever felt the power of that love across racial and economic differences?  Across age and culture?  Across gender, education, and abilities?  It feels good, doesn’t it? 

My prayer is that our joy is a gathering joy, rooted in deep connection with God and neighbor not only at Christmas but throughout all our days.

 Reflection Prompt

  • Consider how Elizabeth and Mary delight in one another—this shared joy for each other provides them the strength to continue onward. With a new set of eyes and a fresh perspective, who might you look upon with delight?  Who in our community is often overlooked or ignored?


Tags: love, joy, race