November 26, 2018
Beginning four Sundays before Christmas, Advent is a time of preparation and expectant waiting for the promised Savior. Each Sunday of Advent focuses on a particular liturgical theme. In our first article, we talked about Advent hope, in the second article, we explored Advent peace. In this third installment, we consider Advent joy.
On the third Sunday of Advent, many churches will light another candle, this time pink as a symbol of Advent joy. Believers will read and reflect on scriptures from the Old and New Testaments about the joy of our salvation in Jesus Christ. In fact, in many traditions, the third Sunday of Advent is called Joyful Sunday. But what exactly is biblical joy? Let’s look more closely at the meaning behind our Advent joy.
Israel’s Joyful Expectation
As Christmas draws ever more near, we joyfully look forward to our celebration of Jesus’ birth. We look back at the blessed event and rejoice in a promise fulfilled, a Savior born. But in the years and centuries before Christ’s birth, God’s people waited in joyful expectation, for a Savior promised, but One who had not yet come. Their joy was not based on the knowledge of what God had already done through his Son Jesus Christ, but their joy was an outpouring of their faith in what God WOULD do.
Throughout the Old Testament, God calls his people to joyfulness. In a section of Deuteronomy about tithing and offering to God, it says that after giving an offering, “then you shall rejoice in all the good things the Lord your God has given to you and your household” (Deuteronomy 26:11). This verse is a command from God to rejoice, but it also a recognition of the cause and effect relationship between orientation toward God, and joy. When we take time to reflect on what God has done for us and offer him our very best—in time, effort, skills, gifts—the inevitable response of our souls is joy.
Biblical joy is different than what most people think of as joy. It is not just a happy emotion that we either feel or don’t feel, it is a state of being that finds its source in God. The Bible is clear that joy comes from God (Neh. 8:9-10), and our joy is a product of what God has done and continues to do. It is gladness and contentedness flowing out of the well-spring of God’s faithfulness and mercy, quite independent of our circumstances. The Psalmist writes, “Let the heavens rejoice, let the earth be glad; let the sea resound, and all that is in it...Let all creation rejoice before the Lord, for he comes, he comes to judge the earth. He will judge the world in righteousness and the peoples in his faithfulness” (Psalm 96:11-13). Isaiah declares, “Sing for joy, O heavens! Rejoice, O earth! Burst into song, O mountains! For the Lord has comforted his people and will have compassion on them in their suffering” (Isaiah 49:13).
God’s people had joy because they anticipated a time when the promised Messiah would come and “Those who have been ransomed by the Lord...will enter Jerusalem singing, crowned with everlasting joy. Sorrow and mourning will disappear, and they will be filled with joy and gladness” (Isaiah 35:10). Their faith in God promise meant that even in sorrow, “Though the fig tree should not blossom and there be no fruit on the vines. Though the yield of the olive should fail…Yet I will exult in the Lord, I will rejoice in the God of my salvation” (Hab. 3:17-18).
Our Joyful Response
Today, our joy is anchored in the knowledge that God fulfilled his promise. And with Advent more than half over, our joyful anticipation of Christmas is coming to a head. It’s easy to be giddy and full of rejoicing when we replay the angels words, “I bring you good news that will bring great joy to all people. The Saviour—yes, the Messiah, the Lord—has been born today in Bethlehem, the city of David!” (Luke 1:11). But, it is important to remember that the joy we have in Christ is not seasonal or situational. Like the joy of the ancient Israelites, our joy is a response to what God has already done and continues to do.
When Christ came and dwelt among his people, he was their rabbi or teacher. He taught them about God’s love and urged them to remain in him, saying “I have told you these things so that you will be filled with my joy. Yes, your joy will overflow!” (John 15:11). Paul encouraged the Colossians saying, “May you be filled with joy, always thanking the Father. He has enabled you to share in the inheritance that belongs to his people, who live in the light” (Colossians 1:12). It is kind of joy, grounded in thankfulness for the first Advent of Jesus Christ and looking forward toward his second coming, that is a marker of faithful believers.
Today, our joy, fueled by the Holy Spirit, is what God uses to spread his joy throughout the world. Mother Teresa once said “Joy is a net of love by which you can catch souls. A joyful heart is the inevitable result of a heart burning with love.” True biblical joy is what God calls us to, and it is a joy that endures whether we’re in the throes of cheerful Christmas anticipation or the lows of post-holiday blues. So, this Advent (and beyond), will you respond to God’s call to be joyful? If you’re looking for a resource to help you experience a more joyful Christmas season, check out Today’s free, Advent devotional series, “Waiting in Expectation.”
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