The Season of Advent—JOY
We celebrate the third week of this year’s Advent season. I always look forward to remembering and rehearsing the reason we celebrate each Christmas. There is so much more to the season than trees and lights, Santa and elves, TV specials and music. We are celebrating Jesus who has come, who comes, and who is coming again!
This third week of Advent, we focus on JOY. The joy that comes to us as the GIFT of God, revealed so beautifully in the person of Jesus. Joy is not simply laughter and happiness! Joy is deeply seated in the innermost places of our being. It comes from God’s Holy Spirit dwelling in us and guiding us and controlling us! It comes as we put God first in our lives! A person wrote, years ago, JOY is Jesus, first… Others, second… You, last of all…
The Psalmist speaks: “Shout with Joy to God, all the earth! Sing the glory of his name; make his praise glorious! Say to God, ‘How awesome are your deeds!’” (Psalm 66:1-3a)
May the JOY of God be ours this Advent season…
Joy when the Lost Is Found!
“One minute they were there, right outside the front door, the next moment they were gone!” It was my wife, tearfully speaking on the phone. Our son, just 3 years old, had been playing with the 5 year old next door neighbor’s son. Amarie had gone into the other room to answer the phone. When she returned to the kitchen window, the gate was open, the boys were gone.
I came home immediately, driving around the neighborhood, looking for two little boys walking the streets. When I got home, we split up the neighborhood and began to walk and drive the area. Still, the boys were nowhere to be found. Panic was beginning to set in. One direction from our house was the Susan River. The other direction were the busy streets of downtown Susanville, California. In desperation, we called the local Police Department, telling them our boys were missing.
It seemed as if the minutes were dragging by so slowly into hours. The “What if….” questions were plaguing us. We prayed, we looked and looked, and prayed some more.
Then, coming up the street toward us, the Susanville police car approached. At first, all we saw was the officer in the front seat. Then, two little boys lifted up their blonde heads and waved their arms at us from the back seat. They were beaming, so excited to get to ride in a police car! The officer asked us, “Are these the boys you were looking for?”
“Yes”, we responded in unison. He opened the door and out they jumped. Telling us the story of their “bear hunt”. The officer told us of their journey, where they were found, and how someone must have been watching out for them! We took our son in our arms, full of joy, crying and embracing and scolding and thanking God for his return.
God, in fact all of heaven, rejoices when one who is lost is found. God does not desire that ANY would be forever lost (read 2 Peter 3:9). He loves us that much.
The Joy of the Cross
I looked this up, an Oxymoron is a figure of speech that juxtaposes elements that appear to be contradictory… as in “cruel kindness” or “to make haste slowly” (Wikipedia).
The writer of Hebrews uses what can only be described as a classic oxymoron: The Joy of the Cross, when describing Jesus approach to what is perhaps the most painful and even shameful death. He pursued the Cross.
We are told Jesus said, “The reason my Father loves me is that I lay down my life–only to take it up again. No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord” (John 10:17-18a). He knew the outcome of his ultimate sacrifice would be life! Paul describes this, “Therefore God exalted him to the highest place and gave him the name that is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue acknowledge that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father” (Phil. 2:9-11).
For those who lived in Jesus’ day, the Cross was a symbol of Roman oppression and it was meant to cast fear in the hearts of all who saw it. For us, whose sins have been forgiven, the Cross has become a symbol of life and joy and peace and love.
We received the news, someone broke into our house and set a fire. Almost everything was destroyed. We were fresh out of Seminary, preparing to begin ministry in Susanville, CA. Nearly everything we owned was in that house. At first, we were devastated, wondering what will we do. We didn’t have insurance on our possessions, we were left broken and afraid. Then, we knew what needed to be done. We went to our home church in Renton, WA. We knelt at the altar, before the Cross and we prayed. We sought God’s help and his peace.
As we prayed, our hearts were lifted. God, who loved us so much, who sent his Son for us! He was still on our side. He had not abandoned us. We could count on him! JOY!
This Advent, celebrate the Cross—God’s love made visible!
Filled with Joy
I need to finish the story I began yesterday. After leaving the Church and our season of prayer, our hearts were at peace, but we were still wondering how we were going to recover from this devastating event. We realized it was okay to wonder and even hurt. We also knew our God was on our side, he was our refuge, our stronghold. So, together we determined to keep our eyes on the Lord and not the circumstances.
A few days later, we returned to our burned up house and sifted through the contents. We discovered those things we valued most had not been seriously damaged. Our pictures, Amarie’s grandmother’s silverware, the china we had just purchased, my books, and Rob’s toy-box were safe and secure. Our furniture was damaged beyond recovery, most of it was “college and grad-school quality”, anyway. Thank you, God!
We discovered the church had insurance on the parsonage and it would be rebuilt, from the ground up, thank you, God! We had to find a temporary place to live and we did; an apartment on Gay Street, next to a dance studio. It was the perfect place for the new pastor at the Nazarene Church, thank you, God! We found out, because of the fire, everyone in town new about the new pastor and his family, whose house had burned to the ground. It provided an open door for witness, thank you, God.
Then, the phone began to ring. Churches from around the Sacramento District were calling. Some offered furniture and appliances. Most told us of offerings they had taken and wanted to send the money to the right place. God was taking care of us. We were amazed, how God would take us under his care, a young pastor and his family, in a small town, with an even smaller congregation, thank you, God!
“Therefore my heart is glad and my tongue rejoices… because you will not abandon me…”
This Advent season, let God rekindle your JOY!
Return with Joy
During the Advent season, we are reminded to rejoice. As we live in anticipation, we are expectant people. God is doing his new thing. We don’t always know what that new thing is, but we can rest assured, if God is doing it, it will be good, very good. So, in spite of gloomy days and long, dark nights we live in the light of God’s love, and we rejoice!
The nation of Israel was facing a prolonged period of exile, being overrun by their enemies and carried off into captivity. All about them was gloom and doom. Where was their God? Why was he not saving them? What were they going to do? They tried entering into alliances with other nations, only to have those nations turn on them at critical moments. They had even sought the help of other gods, much to the chagrin of the prophets. Nothing worked. All they could see was desert and wasteland, dry and useless. To say they were “joyless” is an understatement.
Into this arid and joyless environment comes the prophet, Isaiah, proclaiming God’s message: “…say to those with fearful hearts, ‘Be strong, do not fear, your God will come… to save you.’ Then will the eyes of the blind be opened and the ears of the deaf unstopped. Then will the lame leap like a deer, and the tongue shout for joy” (Isa. 35:4-6a). The promise of God’s salvation brings joy to fear filled hearts.
How are you, today? As you read these words, do you identify with fearful Israel? Are you experiencing a time of spiritual drought? Perhaps, it seems everything is “against” you!
We need to hear the words of the Prophet one more time! “Tell fearful souls, ‘Courage! take heart! God is here, right here, on his way to put things right and redress all wrongs. He’s on his way! He’ll save you!’” (The Message)
That is the message of the Advent season. it is a JOY-filled message. It is a message that dispels darkness and fear. It is truly GOOD NEWS!
Are you one of those people who suffers from PHDS? What is that? Post Holiday Depression Syndrome. It is the let down many people experience following the hustle and bustle of the Thanksgiving through Christmas season. Everyone is getting together with family and friends; work is hosting a party; and the Church is putting on a BIG program. There’s a Christmas play at the civic center, followed by a lighted parade downtown. Then, it is OVER! The weather is cold, the days are short, the bills are big; and PHDS sets in.
The Apostle has a message for us: “Celebrate God all day, every day. I mean, revel in him! Make it as clear as you can to all you meet that you’re on their side, working with them and not aainst them. Help them see that the Master is about to arrive. He could show up any minute! Don’t fret or worry, instead of worrying, pray” (Phil. 4:4-6, The Message).
The perfect antidote to PHDS is this: First of all, Celebrate God all the time! Think about all he has done for you. Think about the gift of salvation. Think about the forgiveness of sins. Think about the message of Christmas, God incarnate, born to a virgin, raised in a small village, baptized by John in the Jordan, rejected by the religious of his day, put to death on a Roman Cross, buried in a borrowed tomb, raised on the third day, ascended into the heavens, gifting us with the Holy Spirit, making intercession for us, and coming again! Celebrate God.
Second, Work with and for others! Joy comes as we pour ourselves out into the lives of others. Is there an elderly neighbor who needs their sidewalks shoveled, or their leaves raked, or their oil changed? Offer your services as a gift to them, doing it all in Jesus’ name!
Finally, PRAY! That is the BEST thing we can do! Joy comes as we PRAY, entering into God’s presence, listening for his voice, laying our burdens at the foot of the Cross! Joy comes as we praise him, intercede for others, and confess our need for him!
1 Peter 4:12-19
Joy to the End!
Harry was 92 years old when he died. He died rejoicing. But, you need to know the whole story. Growing up, Harry was a normal boy in every way. He loved to play, he worked hard at school and was a pretty good student. Life was progressing in a good way for most of his young life. He was attending Bible College, and was waiting to see where God would place him.
Then, at 21 years of age, he got sick. The result of the illness was “temporary” loss of hearing. But, temporary progressed to permanent and total loss of hearing. For a young man in the 1920’s this was a devastating blow. The plans he had for his life were dashed. How could he teach, if he couldn’t hear? How could he pastor a church, when he couldn’t hear? He went through a period of deep depression and fear.
Then, at a service at his local church, he heard God speaking to him and telling him, he was not finished with him. Over the course of the next few years, Harry learned to read lips. He was expert at it. Then, he found a job in a bakery. Before he knew what he was doing, he became an expert baker. His breads and cakes were much sought after. He married the love of his life, Marguerite, and they had two children.
By the time I got to know him, Harry was retired. He still loved to bake and decorate cakes. Every year he would bake birthday cakes for our little family. He would sit near the front row every Sunday, and “listen” intently to every word I said. I had a mustache, then. If it got too bushy, he would tell me, “I can’t hear you, Pastor Bob!” and, I would trim my mustache.
He contracted congestive heart failure and ended his days in the hospital in Centralia. When I came to visit him, he would quote the Bible to me and lead in a familiar hymn. On the day he died, he told me he was looking forward to meeting Jesus. He died full of JOY!