AM Psalm 41, 52; PM Psalm 44
Isa. 8:16-9:1; 2 Pet. 1:1-11; Luke 22:39-53
Thus far the themes of our Advent Devotional have helped us to reflect on the experience of waiting and the importance of mindfully examining our lives to identify sin and impurity, and to confess those to God. This is good. It is appropriate that we heed the call of John the Baptizer, his untamed voice crying out in the wilderness to prepare the way of the Lord through repentance and the purification in baptism (Matthew 1:3). However, here there is a shift. The pink candle of the Advent Wreath, the candle for Guadete Sunday, reminds us of a most vital element in the Advent experience–Joy. Advent is not to be a dour time but a bright, expectant, and joyful season.
So often our world views the Christian life as a grim exercise of living according to a list of dos and don’ts, trying to please an implacable or imaginary deity who, it is mistakenly believed, delights in limiting our options and trampling our dreams. Therefore, it is most significant that at the very beginning of the Christian liturgical year, that we are to be joyful. It is no coincidence that year after year we hear again the familiar words of the angels to the shepherds:
“Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people.” (Luke 2:10)
I think we are forgetful people who often need to be reminded of this good news of great joy! Or, to be honest, I am a man who often forgets. I need to be reminded. Like the prodigal, starving in poverty, who came to himself again as he remembered his father’s riches, each Advent I am encouraged to come to myself again and to remember the great wealth of love and mercy my heavenly Father has for me and all of us in Christ Jesus our Lord. Again, I am assured that the world is wrong in its harsh assessment of the Christian life. As we live into Advent together, year after year, I am continually awakened to the reality that the Christian life should be nothing short of a joyful life!
What is a joyful life? Regrettably, the world that often misunderstands the Christian life is less than helpful in teaching us about joy. As Christians, we often don’t comprehend where joy is derived. Or we forget. At least I do.
We go after pleasures, sampling and feasting, needing more and more and more to be pleased, or contented, or surprised. Until there is nothing left that satisfies. We wear ourselves out chasing prosperity until we have diminished our capacity to enjoy it. The harder we work, the more money we make, the less time and energy there is to benefit from it. Or we mistakenly believe that the more we focus on ourselves, the happier we will be. But the more superlatives we receive, the longer the spot light lingers on us, the more attention we accept, the more we are isolated and alone. And we become the love of our own lives, incapable of finding real love we long for.
Year after year, Advent and Christmas call us to remember anew that joy is not found in selfish pleasure, selfish gain, or self promotion. Look deeper. See past the circumstances of the story. Go beyond the inconvenient child, born in an obscure and uncomfortable place. Can’t you see that the angels were right! The God this world is so mistaken about loves it so much that he became a part of it (yet unblemished by it) and all to make it new and whole again. This is good news!
So, joy is not contingent on externals. Joy is not about what happens to us. Joy is in finding our lives in him who did not seek his own pleasure, his own gain, his own promotion but rather determined that he would seek the will of the one who sent him (John 5:30). As we follow him, we can trust that whatever comes our way, regardless of whether it is stabilizing or disruptive, whatever it is, it can be used in incredible ways for God’s purposes. This Advent, let us pray for one another that we may be enabled to discriminate between what lasts and what fades, what is of real value and what is perishable, what brings glory to God and what brings glory to ourselves. In living for the true and good in Christ, we can live lives of unspeakable joy.
-Rev. David Hyman