This Sunday we continue our Still Christmas worship series with the traditional theme of the third Sunday of Advent: Joy. It is a time for rejoicing in the good news of the coming of Jesus. When the angels appeared to the shepherds in the fields to announce the birth of Jesus, they said, “We bring you tidings of great joy.”
In the key turning points throughout the Biblical narrative — times when God has done something major, like setting the people free from slavery in Egypt or the exiles returning home to Jerusalem — the prophets and the people sing a song of joy. While written for the people in their own times and their own situations, Christians have found those passages to be expressive of the meaning of Jesus’ birth and his proclamation of the kingdom of God.
In Sunday’s passage from Isaiah we have that kind of expression of joy: “I will greatly rejoice in the Lord, my whole being shall exult in my God; for he has clothed me with the garments of salvation, he has covered me with the robe of righteousness, as a bridegroom decks himself with a garland, and as a bride adorns herself with her jewels. For as the earth brings forth its shoots, and as a garden causes what is sown in it to spring up, so the Lord God will cause righteousness and praise to spring up before all the nations.” (Isaiah 61:10-11)
This is a season of joy. But, everyone knows it isn’t always a season of happiness. Advent of 2020 is certainly a reminder of that. Treasured family traditions cannot safely happen this year. Something or someone may be missing this year. You may have had a significant financial setback. You or someone you love may be suffering from COVID-19 or in quarantine. At times like these it’s hard to feel joyful because we so often equate joy with happiness.
But happiness and joy are two different things.
Through all the years I’ve served as a pastor, I’ve noticed, sometimes quite acutely, that the holidays can be times of extremes: extremely happy times of building wonderful memories with family — and extremely difficult times for people who have suffered loss or find themselves living in a difficult time in their lives.
And yet, the Season of Advent remains for us as Christians a season of joy because joy runs deeper than happiness. The distinction is that joy isn’t dependent on what is going on around us. Rather, it is dependent on what is going on within us — the experience of faith and the trust we hold within us. It is out of this deeper experience that Paul wrote to the Philippians while in prison because of his faith: “Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, Rejoice. Let your gentleness be known to everyone. The Lord is near. Do not worry about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.
This Sunday we’ll focus on joy. Where did joy come from for Isaiah and the Israelites? Where did joy come from for Mary or the Shepherds or the apostle Paul? Was it about what was going on in the world at the time? No. The times were difficult for all of them. Did it come from the situation in which they found themselves? No. Their situation was in fact quite challenging. Did it come from some promise of a future with no problems? No, an unblemished future was never promised to any of them.
The promise of Jesus was not a promise of a life without trouble, but the promise that “neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (Romans 8:38-39)
This is the source of joy we will celebrate together this Sunday in the Sanctuary in the morning services.
Grace and Peace,
Dr. Tim Bruster
Isaiah 61:1-4, 8-11
1 The spirit of the Lord God is upon me, because the Lord has anointed me; he has sent me to bring good news to the oppressed, to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and release to the prisoners; 2 to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor, and the day of vengeance of our God; to comfort all who mourn; 3 to provide for those who mourn in Zion— to give them a garland instead of ashes, the oil of gladness instead of mourning, the mantle of praise instead of a faint spirit. They will be called oaks of righteousness, the planting of the Lord, to display his glory.
4 They shall build up the ancient ruins, they shall raise up the former devastations; they shall repair the ruined cities, the devastations of many generations.
8 For I the Lord love justice, I hate robbery and wrongdoing; I will faithfully give them their recompense, and I will make an everlasting covenant with them. 9 Their descendants shall be known among the nations, and their offspring among the peoples; all who see them shall acknowledge that they are a people whom the Lord has blessed.
10 I will greatly rejoice in the Lord, my whole being shall exult in my God; for he has clothed me with the garments of salvation, he has covered me with the robe of righteousness, as a bridegroom decks himself with a garland, and as a bride adorns herself with her jewels. 11 For as the earth brings forth its shoots, and as a garden causes what is sown in it to spring up, so the Lord God will cause righteousness and praise to spring up before all the nations.