Advent Reflections @ CEC - December 24, 2020
I choose joy… I will invite my God to be the God of circumstance. I will refuse the temptation to be cynical… the tool of the lazy thinker. I will refuse to see people as anything less than human beings, created by God. I will refuse to see any problem as anything less than an opportunity to see God. Max Lucado
Scripture & Devotion: Scripture focus: 1 Peter 1: 3-4, 6-9 Week #4: JOY
“Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! In his great mercy, he has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, and into an inheritance that can never perish, spoil, or fade – kept in heaven for you… In this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while you have had to suffer grief in all kinds of trials. These have come so that your faith – of greater worth than gold, which perishes even though refined by fire – may be proved genuine and may result in praise, glory, and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed. Though you have not seen him, you love him; and even though you do not see him now, you believe in him and are filled with an inexpressible and glorious joy, for you are receiving the goal of your faith, the salvation of your souls.”
Inexpressible and glorious joy
In American popular culture, the Christmas season is “the most wonderful time of the year.” Radio stations air holiday music on continuous play: songs such as “Have a Holly Jolly Christmas” and “ Happy Holidays to You” and “We Wish You a Merry Christmas.” Some of our most beloved traditional carols proclaim, “ Joy to the World” and “Good Christian Men, Rejoice.” According to the brief concordance at the back of my Bible, the words “joy” or “joyful” occur more than 50 times in the scriptures, and “rejoice” or “rejoicing” more than 100 times. With regard to the Christmas story, the most famous reference is found in Luke 2:10, in the angel’s words to the terrified shepherds: “Do not be afraid, for I bring you good tidings of great joy that will be for all the people.”
Great joy for all the people. And yet, the holiday season carries with it a measure of sadness, too, for it is at Christmastime that lack and want and loneliness are most keenly felt. In terms of light levels, Christmas in the northern hemisphere occurs during the darkest days of the year, especially here in the rainy, misty Pacific Northwest. When I was teaching, staff members were always reminded in the weeks prior to Christmas to be on the lookout for students who might be struggling with depression due to a variety of factors including the loss of loved ones during the year, family strife, or stress contributed to by the feeling that “Everyone is supposed to be happy at Christmastime, so why am I so sad?”
Even this passage of scripture hints that sorrow and joy are strangely intertwined. Although its theme is joy, it mentions the death of Jesus and the futility of earthly inheritance. It contains the words “suffer” and “grief” and “trials” and talks of the painful process of refinement by “fire.” So where does “joy” come in? Oddly enough, joy often comes out of the knowledge and experience of sorrow. Jesus died, yes, but without the tragedy of his death, there would be no triumphant resurrection from which comes the very hope of our salvation. If we were unaware of the futility of earthly inheritance and believed that this life was all there was, why would we have cause to be interested in a heavenly one?
To me, the most extraordinary thing about this passage is its assurance that we can experience not just a small measure of joy, but joy that is so great as to be “inexpressible” and “glorious”! (Can you hear the angels singing?) Christmas is not just about happiness at this fleeting season that celebrates the birth of the Christ Child; it is about a much wider view of God’s plan: Jesus came into the world to save humankind from the results and consequences of sin and to restore the severed the relationship between God and man. It echoes the writer of Psalms 30:5 who asserts that “weeping may remain for a night, but joy comes in the morning.” The joy of this passage in 1 Peter points to a time in the future when Jesus will finally “be revealed” for all eternity, when he will “wipe away every tear” and there will be “no more death or sorrow, or crying, or pain” (Revelation 21:4). If these are not “good tidings of great joy to all people,” I don’t know what is. May they bless your holidays with peace and love and your New Year with hope. Merry Christmas to all!
Your word calls us to rejoice with those who rejoice and weep with those who weep while we are here in this world together. AND we look forward to that time when there will be no more weeping, sorrow, crying or pain. Until then, give us strength that can only come from You.