Many folks use happiness and joy synonymously, especially this time of year, but there is a world of difference between the two. Happiness is more often than not circumstantial, that is, it is dependent upon your current situation. There are times when we are happy and times when we are obviously unhappy. Happiness is dependent on things that can be out of our control and so, as I drive this morning, I may be happy when all the lights are green or a bit unhappy when all the folks on their way to the airport slow the flow of traffic down. Happiness is fleeting.
Joy, on the other hand, is an internal condition that is wholly within you. It is not connected to the ups and downs of daily life nor is it dependent on circumstances out of your control. As we say earlier this week, Jesus points to something that lives within us as the source and meaning of our joy…
“As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Now remain in my love. If you obey my commands, you will remain in my love, just as I have obeyed my Father’s commands and remain in his love. I have told you this so that my joy may be in you and that your joy may be complete. (John 15:9-11)
The true joy of the Advent season is knowing the King. Our joy as followers of Christ is rooted in relationship with Jesus and the security that this communion brings. Unlike happiness, this joy is not affected by our external circumstance. We, like Paul, learn to be content in all circumstances knowing that our greatest reward still lies ahead.
Merry Christmas. From the man with the coolest red suit in rock and roll…
Our anticipation of the Christmas event is so close in this Advent week as the blessed celebration draws near. The din of the secular side of our holiday threatens to consume us, offering to substitute a joy rooted in the exchange of material objects for the joy that comes of knowing the Lord Jesus. His exchange of life for imputed righteousness gives us a joy rooted in being heirs, brothers and sisters of Christ. In a well know promise he says:
I am the vine; you are the branches. If a man remains in me and I in him, he will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing. (John 15:5)
Continuing to expand on this singularly wonderful gift – being grafted to the living vine – Jesus says that he tells us this so that we do not need to look any further for our source of joy:
I have told you this so that my joy may be in you and that your joy may be complete. (John 15:11)
Our anticipation rises yet again as we meditate on Joy during this Advent week. From the plaintive choruses of O Come, O Come Emmanuel, our hearts bear witness to what we know, that the Lord Jesus came to us a man. John speaks to this:
The true light that gives light to every man was coming into the world. He was in the world, and though the world was made through him, the world did not recognize him. He came to that which was his own, but his own did not receive him. Yet to all who received him, those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God — children born not of natural descent, nor of human decision or a husband’s will, but born of God.
The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the One and Only, who came from the Father full of grace and truth. (John 1:9-14)
We break into song exclaiming our joy, knowing in advance what’s inside the packages. God Rest Ye Merry, Gentlemen ( listen ) lets us recite the story of Christmas Joy over multiple verses like this one:
“Fear not then,” said the Angel,
“Let nothing you affright,
This day is born a Saviour
Of a pure Virgin bright,
To free all those who trust in Him
From Satan’s power and might.”
O tidings of comfort and joy,
Comfort and joy
O tidings of comfort and joy
May God bless you with discomfort
At easy answers, half-truths, and superficial relationships
So that you may live deep within your heart.
May God bless you with anger
At injustice, oppression, and exploitation of people,
So that you may work for justice, freedom and peace.
May God bless you with tears
To shed for those who suffer pain, rejection, hunger and war,
So that you may reach out your hand to comfort them and
To turn their pain into joy.
And may God bless you with enough foolishness
To believe that you can make a difference in the world,
So that you can do what others claim cannot be done
To bring justice and kindness to all our children and the poor.
(Thank you Mr. Yancey)
The haunting beauty of O’ Come, O’ Come, Emmanuel
We often settle for a simple definition of that common Hebrew word taking its definition of peace. Peace for many would be the absence of conflict. For our persecuted brothers and sisters, peace would be not just the absence of conflict but also the cessation of hostility toward them, the restoration of their livelihood, their residence, their ability to worship without threat, or even, their lives. Peace takes many forms and numerous connotations and שָׁלוֹם encompasses them all. Shalom is not simply the absence of strife, it is an expression of being complete in your well being. There is peace in our physical and psychological security and then there is the shalom of God in which we are at peace spiritually.
Love and faithfulness meet together; righteousness and peace kiss each other. (Ps 85:10)
This week of our joyful season of advent is a reminder of the peace that we through our binding faith in Jesus. He is our promised restoration of the shalom, the Prince of Peace. Though we may continue to sense the un-peace of the world, our faith lies not in this place but in the new Heavens and Earth over which our Lord will reign and once again, all will be righted.
Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid. (John 14:27)
God promises peace like a river, a shalom like the crashing waves:
For this is what the Lord says: I will extend peace to her like a river, and the wealth of nations like a flooding stream; you will nurse and be carried on her arm and dandled on her knees. As a mother comforts her child, so will I comfort you; (Isaiah 66:12-13)
The anticipation of this Peace is the center of our prayers this week. We shall pray for it to wash over us, to crash mightily on top of us and to carry us toward the promise of the kingdom of God.
Just seeing the words in the title triggers an immediate, visceral response in follower of Christ who has been around the church for more than a single Advent. It immediately brings to mind the carol in all of its brooding minor keys. Singing that difficult song produces a unique feeling; the melody and notes take you instantly to a high church-ancient reverence as you intone the plea of so many before you – Come Immanuel – Come God With Us!
In many churches this week, the Scripture readings included this well known verse from Isaiah:
Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign: The virgin will be with child and will give birth to a son, and will call him Immanuel. (Isa 7:14)
The promise of the Prince of Peace and the Everlasting Father as the righting of the world. How we long for that.
The hope that arrives in the newborn baby.
Advent is a season of anticipation with weekly or daily reminders of what is to come. Our eyes and hearts rarely turn backward during this period; we are focused in hope on the birth of the Savior. His coming into the world restores our sometimes shaky faith and dispels the feeling that God might have left us to our self-created rewards here in the world. To know that the Wonderful Counselor will walk with us once again, as the Father walked with Adam, is to be given the greatest gift of all. Our hopes for the shoring up of the crumbling walls of the city, the banishment of our enemies, the restoration of vision that Bartimaeus, all will be made right with the One who created and sustains it:
Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made. In him was life, and that life was the light of men. The light shines in the darkness, but the darkness has not understood it. (John 1:3-5)
Advent reminds us that our hope lies in one thing, the Lord Jesus Christ.