Advent meditations week 3: joy

Christmas joy as a child seems to come more easily than for us too-often-jaded (and stressed out) adults. I reflected on this in a post 4 years ago. The cynical side of me dismisses that with the explanation that a child’s joy is often an adult’s stress (like all of their gifts they open gleefully on Christmas morning). Or with a reflection on a child’s naive belief compared to an adult’s “innocence lost.” (who doesn’t remember how disillusioning it was to learn the truth about Santa?) But then there’s the part of me that is fighting cynicism and remembers Jesus’ words in Mark 10:15 –

I tell you the truth, anyone who will not receive the kingdom of God like a little child will never enter it.

And so perhaps this Christmas, we need to learn from the children around us and enter into true Christmas joy. Pure delight and awe and enthusiasm for this season. For Christians, we have every reason to rejoice at what is celebrated – God becoming man – and this week’s Advent readings reminded me of this hopeful mystery.

It began in a strange place: Habakkuk 3, but with a chapter that closes in verses that have given me joy in the midst of some of the darkest and saddest seasons –

17Though the fig tree should not blossom,
nor fruit be on the vines,
the produce of the olive fail
and the fields yield no food,
the flock be cut off from the fold
and there be no herd in the stalls,
18 yet I will rejoice in the LORD;
I will take joy in the God of my salvation.

What this seems to mean is that God is his strength. Not his “herds” or “vines” or “fields” or “fig trees.” (I’m thinking “money” or “career” or “marriage” or “friendships” or anything else I think will give me strength only promised by God.) When all of that is stripped away, he still has joy because he has God. And because God has come to earth in the person of Jesus Christ and now dwells in the hearts of all who believe, there is the promise that God will never leave me. And so neither will joy.

Joy is guaranteed by the coming of the “Helper” – the Holy Spirit who will reveal all things and who guarantees that we will see Jesus again and be filled with joy. (John 16:5-28) I get a taste of this future joy now as I pray in my Father’s name and watch him answer prayer. As well as when I listen to and read God’s Word – when God works its effect on me, I will “go out in joy”  and “be led forth in peace” because that is the purpose for which he gives His Word. (Isaiah 55:9-13)

Psalm 66, 96, Isaiah 12, and 1 Peter 1:3-9 expand on the concept of Christmas joy by giving reason after reason to “shout for joy to God, all the earth …” (Psalm 66:1). It’s a joy at the gifts we’ve received, not unlike children on Christmas morning. The difference is that these are gifts that have been guaranteed to last forever and which will impart a joy to carry us even through the trials of life. And perhaps that trial includes Christmas this year – the promise is that there is yet a joy to be found and celebrated.

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