Today's advent word is JOY. I was so excited when my baby boy opened the box this morning, because this word is something that I ask God for continually. I want to be known as a person of joy, but far too often I complain, I hang my head with fatigue or stress, and I forget that the joy of the Lord is my strength. At the nursing home where I sing weekly, there is a woman there named Mary who always listens to the songs and sometimes sings along. When I do the hymns, she lifts her hands in praise to the Lord, beaming with a smile. I've never seen Mary without a smile. It's not the superficial type of smile that masks what is behind, but rather the most genuine, humble, joy-filled smile I think I've ever seen. Her memory is going, but her joy will never go. She is rooted in joy. I told myself this week, she is the kind of woman that I want to be. I don't know much about Mary, but the one thing I am certain of is that her heart exudes the deepest kind of joy, and everyone around her is affected by it and lifted by it.
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. This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger."
Christmas is all about good news. The Gospel is the good news! And this good news causes great joy for all people, when we realize the weight of glory that is before us and the fullness of life that is found in Christ. The angel's message to the shepherds was that joy was around the corner, found in Bethlehem in a stable. The human heart longs for happiness, but there is something deeper, more profound, which lasts forever, that can be attained. Christmas is where we find it, because the joy is found in the Christ-child. When we feel weak, tired, upset, angry, frustrated, bitter, and all the other emotions that can assault our spirits throughout the day...where do we go to be restored to joy? We have to go back to the Christmas story, the Gospel, the good news--it is in Christ alone that true, everlasting joy is given.
Nehemiah said, "Go and enjoy choice food and sweet drinks, and send some to those who have nothing prepared. This day is holy to our Lord. Do not grieve, for the joy of the LORD is your strength."
I have so much to learn about joy. As the hymns, Robert Robinson, wrote in 1757, "Prone to wander, Lord I feel it, prone to leave the God I love..." My heart often wanders away from the joy of the gospel and is distracted by so many earthly burdens and emotions. Thank God, the gospel is a gift and His mercies are new every morning- I can continually drink from the well of living water and find joy for every moment.
One last thought...just a phrase for each of us to cling to and declare over our lives, over our days:
"Joyful, Joyful! Always, Always!"
My friend, Melissa, told me that her grandmother always said that to her. A strong woman of faith, a woman who knew that the good news was her great joy, and that the joy of the Lord was her strength. Let us spur each other on toward joy and remind one another to choose joy, because it is in response to the gift of Christ and the story of Christmas.