And there were shepherds living out in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks at night. An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people. Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord.
“Joy to the world! The Lord has come.” Do you believe these words? No, no. Don’t skirt this question. I know you’re busy. But slow down, just for a moment, and really consider the words. Make them personal. “Joy to _____ (fill in your name). The Lord has come.” Do you have joy right now?
Tonight, the local news opens with another homicide. We’re desensitized at this point. We scroll through social media. The latest terrorist attack catches our eye. Fear creeps in, anxiety nipping at its heels. We locked the doors a couple hours ago. But we check them again. Deadbolt locks. Gates with keypads. Alarm systems. But do we feel safe?
Christmas season nears its end. We double-check the list, but most of the work is complete. Presents rest under the tree. Family plans are set. We find a few moments to relax. But our minds hardly rest.
Sometimes, if you close your eyes and silence your chattering mind, you can almost hear something in you (or around you) groaning.
This groan is the Spirit within us, I believe, joining the eternal groaning of creation. It groans, but why? Because we rely more on the material than the Messiah. Because we exchange the Substance of the season – the Incarnation – for the shadows.
We sincerely desire joy. How do we find it? A few thoughts.
Joy is a product of focus. It comes when we fix our gaze on Jesus. Joy is not circumstantial. It’s not a feeling, either. You can be joyful through suffering. Joy is, in fact, what prevents suffering from turning into despair and hopelessness. The discipline that sharpens the focus of joy is gratitude. Gratitude frames every moment in light of God’s never-ending presence. We must cultivate gratitude if we wish to experience joy.
Joy can only be received. The world sells an illusion of joy. Buy this car or that house, and it’s yours. Find someone who completes you, your better half, your soul mate, then you will have joy. Get through this season, joy will meet you in the next. The lies are many. All of them – don’t miss this – are focused on more. You’re inadequate right now, in other words. And you need to add this or do that to experience joy.
Christmas Joy, however, can only be received. You must make room for it. Ironically, this is the opposite of the world’s message. We’ve bought it, unfortunately. And that’s why our roots are thin and our faith superficial. That’s why we’re often plagued with insecurity and anxiety. We think more locks and alarm systems will bring us security. We think more presents will bring us happiness. Advent says the opposite. If you want to experience Joy and Peace – the kind that surpasses understanding – you must make room. Something’s gotta go. Joy needs space to take up residence in your heart.
Joy is an overflow of humility. “Angels can fly because they take themselves lightly,” says G. K. Chesterton. Maybe that’s why the angels appearing to the shepherds are wholly convinced that Advent is cause for great joy. It’s a no-doubter.
Can we confess that we take ourselves too seriously? We’re too convinced that without us, it won’t get done. So we pridefully grab the bull’s horns and commit to spending our days wrangling the wild beast that is our life. No wonder we’re exhausted and disoriented. Until we can accept that everything is going to be okay, we’ve little hope of finding joy.
To quote Chesterton again, “Joy, which was the small publicity of the pagan, is the gigantic secret of the Christian.” The world is desperate for this gigantic secret, joy. But we cannot give to others what we do not have.
Tis the season to redeem your focus, to clear space in your heart, to stop taking yourself so seriously. Joy to the world!
What step can you take today to make joy a greater reality in your life?
God, thank you for the advent of Joy. I desire joy in my life. Redeem my focus and give me a spirit of gratitude. Release my heart from the pursuit of more. Show me what needs so I can make room for Jesus. Give me a deeper faith, one that trusts that everything is going to be okay, that you are in control. I believe Advent is cause for great joy. Help my unbelief. Amen!