Advent – week 3: Exceeding Joy

  

Joy to the world! The Lord is come.
Let earth receive her King;
Let every heart prepare Him room;
And heav’n and nature sing…

Joy. A word easily thrown around this time of year. Perfect for decorating.  Short. Sweet. It can fit in lots of places. As I sit in my living room writing this, I can see three places in my house where the word “joy” is being used as decoration. A word that brings about warm feelings of happy memories, large Christmas bonuses from work, and cheerful songs at church at Christmas services, right?

Joy = lots of happiness.

Maybe. But maybe there’s more.

If joy = happiness, why do so many (myself included) struggle with fully feeling and experiencing joy, especially around this supposed “joyous” holiday?

Where’s the struggle for you?

  • Missing loved ones who have passed or who you will not be with for Christmas.
  • Crippling financial struggles or loss of/inability to find quality employment.
  • Fears about what is happening in the world around us.
  • Relationships with family or friends that seem to be beyond repair.
  • Devastating health diagnosis.
  • Desires and prayers that appear unfulfilled.
  • Loneliness.

The list goes on….and on and on.

None of those things are happy. They are the complete opposite. So how do we, in the midst of all of this (and we admit, almost everyone is experiencing something on this list, or multiple things..) have any space in our hearts to experience joy?

JOY…not happiness, is everywhere in regards to the birth of Jesus.

It’s all over – in song and the Word.

Joy to the World…

Tidings of Comfort and Joy…

Angels we have heard on high, Sweetly singing over the plains, And the mountains in reply, Echoing their joyous strains…

It came upon the midnight clear, That glorious song of old, From angels bending near the earth, With news of joy foretold, “Peace on the earth, good will to men From heaven’s all gracious King.”…

O Come, all ye Faithful, joyful and triumphant…

 

 

“When they saw the star, they rejoiced exceedingly with great joy.” Matthew 2:10

“And the angel said to them, “Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people.11 For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord.”  Luke 2:10-11

 

See – maybe joy actually does not equal happiness. It especially doesn’t in the Bible.

The shepherds certainly had nothing to be happy about with their life circumstances. Bottom of the totem pole jobs. Hanging out with stinky animals. Loneliness.  Yet, the angels brought them news of great JOY. For THEM.

The wise men’s lives were literally on. the. line. with Herod. Talk about a terrorist. Yet, when they saw the star – they rejoiced. With EXCEEDING joy. EXCEEDING. That is a LOT of joy in the midst of some really difficult circumstances.

So joy – what is it?

This definition from patheos.com sums it up pretty well: “Joy isn’t like happiness which is based upon happenings or whether things are going well or not. No, joy remains even amidst the suffering. Joy is not happiness. Joy is an emotion that’s acquired by the anticipation, acquisition or even the expectation of something great or wonderful.”

This, my friends, is Advent. The anticipation and expectation of real JOY found through a baby.

A baby who would change the world.

A baby who redeems all that junk, trouble, and stress in our lives.

A baby who would save us all.

May you choose and experience true and exceeding JOY this Christmas season, and all year long.

“Joy does not simply happen to us. We have to choose joy and keep choosing it every day.”
Henri J.M. Nouwen

 

Advent – Week 2: Where’s Your Faith Now?

 

O come all ye faithful joyful and triumphant
Oh come ye O come ye to Bethlehem;
come and behold him born the King of angels;
O come let us adore him Christ the Lord.
Faith. I’ve actually been putting off writing about Advent this week because it’s not easy. Even in that hymn- how can the “faithful” always be joyful? It’s a good idea, but in reality? It’s not easy to say you have “faith” in God in our world today. It’s raw. It’s really “real.”  Actually…it’s really stinkin’ hard.

Mary – a young VIRGIN girl, just coming of age. Told by an angel (Can you imagine – a young teenage girl experiencing an ANGEL?!) that she would not only give birth to a baby but that he would be the Son of God. Oh Mary, you are highly favored. What?!

Where’s your faith now, Mary?

Joseph – Your fiancee. You’ve kept yourselves pure. You have plans to marry soon. You’re both God-honoring individuals. You love her so. Mary? She’s pregnant – FYI. Figure that one out. She says she’s still a virgin. Explain that to your family. To your community. Have fun with that.

Where’s your faith now, Joseph?

Mary & Joseph – You’ve traveled so far. You’re tired. Exhausted. Mary is about to pop with that baby. Seriously. Anytime. Oh here you are far from home. Joseph, your feet are tired from the many miles you’ve walked? Mary – your back hurts? Contractions? Maybe you should try and find a place to sleep and rest. Nothing? There’s absolutely nothing available. God – where are you?! You promised to be faithful. You promised!! The contractions are getting stronger. Ouch. No rooms. Every inn is full, full, full. Well, a backyard stable is better than nothing… at least Mary can lay down? It might be warmer? I guess?

Where’s your faith now, Mary and Joseph?

Another shooting. At a workplace, no less. A place normal people go. every. single. day. Innocent people dead. Families shattered. Parents. Friends. Faithful Christians. Right before the holidays, too. So many questions. Headlines saying “God Isn’t Fixing This.” So much fear. Everywhere.


Where’s your faith now, Christians?

 

“For nothing will be impossible with God.” 38 And Mary said, “Behold, I am the servant of the Lord; let it be to me according to your word.” Luke 1:37-38

 

“Joseph, son of David, do not fear to take Mary as your wife, for that which is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. 21 She will bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.” 22 All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had spoken by the prophet:

23 “Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and they shall call his name Immanuel” (which means, God with us). 24 When Joseph woke from sleep, he did as the angel of the Lord commanded him: he took his wife.” Matthew 1:19-24

 

“God is our refuge and strength,
    a very present help in trouble.
Therefore we will not fear though the earth gives way,
    though the mountains be moved into the heart of the sea,
though its waters roar and foam,
    though the mountains tremble at its swelling. 

There is a river whose streams make glad the city of God,
    the holy habitation of the Most High.
God is in the midst of her; she shall not be moved;
    God will help her when morning dawns.
The nations rage, the kingdoms totter;
    he utters his voice, the earth melts.
The Lord of hosts is with us;
    the God of Jacob is our fortress.” Psalm 46:1-7

“Where’s your faith?” Satan’s greatest tool then, Satan’s greatest tool now. Doubt. Fear. Worry.

So where’s my faith?

In the God that promised a Savior to his people for generations.

In the God that gave his Son to a humble young virgin as her child.

In the God that promised provision to the worried, scared, carpenter.

In the God that stands strong against the waves, storms, and darkness in this world.

In the cross.

The One who promises to take away the doubt.

The fear.

The worry.

The waves. The storms. The darkness.

THAT’S where my faith is, Satan. In the One who has defeated you. In the One who wins. In the One who reigns forever.

 “Whoever makes a practice of sinning is of the devil, for the devil has been sinning from the beginning. The reason the Son of God appeared was to destroy the works of the devil.” 1 John 3:8

 “The God of peace will soon crush Satan under your feet. The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you.” Romans 16:20

4 “They [the beast] will make war on the Lamb, and the Lamb will conquer them, for he is Lord of lords and King of kings, and those with him are called and chosen and faithful.” Revelation 17:14 

Yeah, there’s my faith. In HIM. Maybe there can actually be joy in being faithful…

 

Advent: Week 1 – A “Merry” Hope

 

  

“Come, Thou long expected Jesus
Born to set Thy people free;
From our fears and sins release us,
Let us find our rest in Thee.
Israel’s Strength and Consolation,
HOPE of all the earth Thou art;
Dear Desire of every nation,
Joy of every longing heart.”

-Come, Thou Long Expected Jesus

As much as I love this season, the last couple of years it has become a little bittersweet. I imagine it is for many who have lost a loved one who at some time was a major part of their holiday celebrations. This is especially true in our family, as last year we lost my sweet Grandma Merry to a quick but difficult battle with cancer. Cancer sucks, by the way.

You see, not only was my grandma a big part of our holiday traditions and memories just because she was family and great at being “grandma” at Christmas, Christmastime was an extra-special time with her. My grandma Merry (hence the spelling) shared a birthday with the day we celebrate the birth of Jesus. December 25th. I remember as a young child naively asking my grandma if she really liked having her birthday on Christmas. Surely not, I thought, because she must only get half the presents! Instead she told me “I can’t imagine a better birth date than to share it with Jesus!” I was probably only 6 or 7 years old when this conversation happened – yet it has stuck with me for quite a long time.

I really don’t like the idea of having Christmas without my grandma. Last year we had some distractions – anticipating our baby’s birth a few weeks following the holiday and spending Christmas in Colorado instead of Texas. The “hole” in our Christmas celebration was made easier by what was going on. This year though, we’ll be back in Texas with Luke (an almost one-year-old now) and taking part in a lot of familiar family traditions. It hurts my heart thinking about Christmas in Texas without grandma. I hate that we won’t wrap half her gifts in birthday paper. I hate that we won’t buy her a birthday cake in the midst of all the Christmas desserts. I hate that she won’t ever get to experience the joy of having a great-grandchild. It’s just hard, and I know that while my experience may be a little unique of missing someone terribly who’s birthday was actually on Christmas day, the feelings of missing a loved one terribly around the holidays is something that many are experiencing as I write these words.

Those that knew my grandma, though, know that she would have never wanted me feel sad this time of year. She would have me certainly enjoy every moment of the festivity and family time, but more so would have wanted us to celebrate the HOPE we have because of the promise of the baby who’s birthday she was privileged to share. Anyone who knew my Grandma knew she was full of love for her Savior, the giver of hope. She loved the word “Hope” and everything the word brought about in her life. She even named her little dachshund Hope!

In the last weeks and days of her life, my grandma spent her time sharing about the blessings her Savior had given her and how she wanted those around her to experience these blessings and hope as well. No matter if it was a family member, friend, doctor, or nurse, she made sure to tell them about her God who loved her. When she decided not to proceed with chemo treatments to prolong the inevitable sentence cancer had given her, she told us she had peace.

She had peace in the hope that had been promised to the Israelites…

“Behold, the days are coming, declares the Lord, when I will raise up for David a righteous Branch, and he shall reign as king and deal wisely, and shall execute justice and righteousness in the land. In his days Judah will be saved, and Israel will dwell securely. And this is the name by which he will be called: ‘The Lord is our righteousness.’” Jeremiah 23:5-6

in the hope promised and fulfilled to the disciples and early church,

“3 If anyone says anything to you, you shall say, ‘The Lord needs them,’ and he will send them at once.” This took place to fulfill what was spoken by the prophet, saying,

“Say to the daughter of Zion,
‘Behold, your king is coming to you,
    humble, and mounted on a donkey,
    on a colt,[a] the foal of a beast of burden.’”

The disciples went and did as Jesus had directed them.” Matthew 21:3-6

and promised to her.

“11 Besides this you know the time, that the hour has come for you to wake from sleep. For salvation is nearer to us now than when we first believed. 12 The night is far gone; the day is at hand. So then let us cast off the works of darkness and put on the armor of light.” Romans 8:11-12

  
She had hope in the Savior child. She had hope in the cross.

More than anything else, my grandma knew that her heavenly Father would fulfill His promise of salvation in her life. This wasn’t from anything she had done – she didn’t have the easiest life. It was purely from the gift of faith from her Father. When she had much, when she had little, and when she had nothing left -she had HOPE. She knew what was to come. She wanted everyone she came in contact with to have it too. Grandma Merry “got it.”

That’s what this first week of Advent recognizes. HOPE. Hope of forgiveness. Hope that this isn’t it. Hope that tomorrow is a new day. Hope that there are better things yet to come. Hope of a Savior.

My heart and prayers are with those of you who are missing someone this holiday season for the first time or the fiftieth. May you all experience an overwhelming sense of HOPE this Advent season, and may you have a very “Merry” Hope-filled Christmas.

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Grandma Merry – Christmas 2005. A real-life example of hope.