The first week of Advent found me double-booked with activities that included two opportunities to share about the work that God did on our summer mission trip and another opportunity to share the Gospel with a group of senior adults. On top of that there were regular teaching sessions and several parties to attend. Though I had to prepare food, devotions, lessons and talks, I cannot contain the joy that was mine for the privilege of sharing with others how God was near to me. It is what Paul felt in his Philippian jail where he wrote, “Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice! Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near” (Philippians 4:4-5).
Joy which results from winning the national championship, landing the big job, or winning the grand prize dream trip is easy to understand. It is when joy comes from unexpected circumstances that it becomes God-given joy. It is this kind of joy that we celebrate on the third week of Advent when we light the third candle which traditionally is pink. Lighting the pink candle alerts us that the time to end the fasting for the birth of Christ is near. Our hearts are moved with expectation of joy over the reality that the Redeemer from the consequences of our sins was born. No matter your circumstances open your heart and let joy explode from your soul.
When I think of people who are full of soul-exploding joy, my friend Cathi Woodmansee comes to mind. I met Cathi eight years ago when she was in the midst of treatment for cancer. She showed determination and joy right up until the time she heard that joyful word “remission.” It didn't strike me at that time that she was the epitome of joy. It was after her cancer returned several years later and eventually showed up in her brain that I began to recognize that she didn't just have a bubbly personality—she had a spiritual gift of joy. With each delivery of bad news, she opened her heart to deeper joy. Year by year the joy that exudes from her countenance and her words continue to amaze me. She praises God and keeps moving forward no matter how extreme her suffering. As I think about joy this Advent season, my mind automatically thinks about Cathi. Hers is a spiritual joy that comes from knowing that the Lord is near.
The shepherds are the people in the Christmas story who show us that kind of spiritual joy. They were the first missionaries. After they saw that what the angels told them was true (good news of great joy) when they laid eyes on Jesus, they went about sharing everything that had happened to them. The sheep could wait; it was time to tell the world that the Lord was near. The joy of sharing the wonder of Jesus is priceless. It expands beyond the current circumstances and hardships.
The hectic Christmas season that we humans have created for ourselves is the perfect opportunity to open your heart to deeper joy. In all the pressures you are feeling, the joy of the Lord is possible as long as you know He is near. Though the money is running short and the expectations are high, don't give in to despair. Follow Paul’s instructions: Rejoice in the Lord; then do some more rejoicing. This should result in gentleness (joy transforms from despair to gentleness) and will let your soul experience the nearness of God. Just as the Shepherds discovered, God does exactly what He says He will do.
Scriptures for Reflection: Isaiah 9:6-7; John 1:19-34; Ecclesiastes 3:1-8; Philippians 2:1-11.