Discovering Spiritual Truths & Celebrating God's Grace in the Every Day Happenings of Life.
In this picture above you see one of our Christmas decoration additions for this year. Thank you, Hobby Lobby. Though not as impressive as my inflatable leg lamp; it is a simple sign that hangs near our front door. Perhaps you have something similar decking the halls or walls of your home as well. Walking around my neighborhood a couple of nights ago, I noticed at least three other homes that have the word ‘JOY’ somehow displayed in their outdoor, yuletide adornments. A short word with a huge message. Such decorations are a necessary reminder of what this season is supposed to be about. This time of year, it is a word that brings us back to the unlikely first guests of the baby Jesus in that Bethlehem stable—the shepherds. Remember them? Minding their own business and tending to their flocks, suddenly the heavens opened, 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.” Cutting through the darkness of night and booming over the bleating of sheep, the angel declared how from this point forward the shepherds' lives would never be the same. No one’s life would ever be the same. That is definitely good news. Yes indeed, the Advent season, which culminates in Christmas, is not to be filled with fear or stress, chaos or sorrow. The angel speaks to us also today, “Fret not!” This is a season intended to generate joy as we peer into the dusty manger and see that God dwells among us. The unfailing Word is now clothed in flesh. He is with us. God Himself takes up residence in our midst and promises to never leave our side. Just like He invited the dirty shepherds, God continues to welcome the dirty and sinful into His presence.
We know this. We believe this. We find comfort in this. But sometimes our Advent weeks leading up to Christmas rarely feel like they are filled with ‘JOY.’ We may emblazon the word on all kinds of decorations and doorways; but if you peek behind the blinds, you will find most of our homes are lacking it. A couple of weeks ago, a dear friend of mine, posted this picture of her beautiful family Christmas tree. Did you notice the top of the tree? After the garland was strung. After the ornaments were hung. After the candy canes were meticulously placed. After the star punctuated the point. After all that work, and only a few days of being able to sit back and enjoy the glow, a whole portion of lights burns out. Have you been there before? A wonderful tradition that is supposed to bring happiness is now a source of exasperation. Time to start all over. Oh how frustrating! But there’s a valuable lesson here. For all our faithful efforts and careful preparation, there are still so many things that are outside of our control. Without any warning, the lights in the many proverbial arenas of our lives will flicker, fade, and often go out. Or to say it another way, the brokenness of this world and deviousness of the devil will stop at nothing to rob our joy. The devil is the stealer of joy; and he loves to pollute our Advent minds. He loves to turn the calm and contemplative season of Advent, into one that is chaotic and cringeworthy. Like the cheesy plot of most Hallmark Christmas movies… just as we try to sit back and enjoy the glow of a good work done or a beautiful memory in the making, the lights go out. Conflict arises. Where there was light, now we sit in a frustrating, disheartening darkness.
But we endure. We recalibrate our gaze back to the creche. We still sing, “Praise the One who breaks the darkness with a liberating light…” LSB 849. (Listen to it here, it’s one of my favorites.) We sing for joy and gladness because of what HE has done for us. The incredible gift of ‘JOY’ that comes to us in Jesus, cannot be messed with. It cannot be stolen. Our joy is not dependent on our circumstances. Even if we lose the job. Even if we receive the scary diagnosis. Even if we feel alone. Even if we struggle with addictions. Even if we cave into temptation. Even if we soil a relationship. Even if we screw up. Even if the half the lights on our Christmas tree burn out, our songs rooted in Advent and Christmas ‘JOY’ can still erupt from our hearts and mouths because it is not found in our situations but in our Savior. Advent and Christmas ‘JOY’ is not tied up in fluctuating conditions; it is not a shifting emotion. This ‘JOY’ is the confidence of knowing that Jesus is Immanuel. God with us! At all times. In all circumstances. With no boundaries. No exceptions.
My friends, rejoice in these coming weeks. Rejoice because Jesus, who came, is coming again. For you. Rejoice because God welcomes us into His enteral kingdom. Rejoice because Jesus is our Light, and not only does this mean we will never again stumble in the darkness, but it is a light that will never dim or go out!
“Restore to me the joy of your salvation, and uphold me with a willing spirit.” Psalm 51:12
Pastor Steve Vera