The word Advent means “coming” or “arrival.” It connotes the idea of a child eagerly waiting to open up gifts under the tree or a mother waiting for the birth of a child. The waiting is accompanied by the expectation of joy.
In this 2021 Advent season, we are familiar with waiting.
We have been waiting to be reunited with loved ones. We have been waiting to return to church services. We have been waiting for the pandemic to end. We are waiting for a sense of normalcy.
And because of that, it could be easy for us to miss the abounding grace the Lord is pouring upon us. We might find ourselves struggling to live joyfully or to fully celebrate the birth of our Savior.
If you’re like me, you might be approaching Advent in a bit of a fog.
One of the most famous Christmas stories we relate to is the “Christmas Carol” by Charles Dickens and I think it’s safe to say that we find a bit of Scrooge in all of us.
And like Scrooge, it’s in this special time of the year that we have the opportunity to reflect on our lives, on our relationship with others, and on our relationship with God.
The challenge for us in Advent is to see every day as a new opportunity to come before our Father, walk anew by faith, and choose again to be full of joy.
What is Joy?
Far too often in our lives, we settle for happiness rather than joy.
Joy is something that lasts while happiness is short-lived.
Joy is something that springs from within while happiness is based on external circumstances.
Joy is accompanied by contentment and confidence while happiness is fleeting.
I am often reminded of C.S. Lewis’ words in The Weight of Glory:
“It would seem that Our Lord finds our desires not too strong, but too weak. We are half-hearted creatures, fooling about with drink and sex and ambition when infinite joy is offered us, like an ignorant child who wants to go on making mud pies in a slum because he cannot imagine what is meant by the offer of a holiday at the sea. We are far too easily pleased.”
While we may not still make the mud pies of Lewis’ day, we are far too easily pleased to settle for happiness in place of the infinite joy that is found in the gospel.
Consider how Psalm 51:12 (ESV) states, “Restore to me the joy of your salvation, and uphold me with a willing spirit.”
Of course, we know that Psalm 51 was written after David had committed adultery with Bathsheba. As you think about David’s particular sins, (lust, power, etc.), consider how he has settled for mud pies vs an infinite joy.
But with the weight of that sin on his heart, David’s confession starts with where our joy is found.
In David’s approach to the throne of grace, he begins with his assured understanding of God’s steadfast love and abundant mercy (Ps. 51:1). He does not minimize his sin but rather begins by acknowledging that no sin could separate him from the love of God.
David’s repentance is ushered in by his confidence in the gospel.
His joy is renewed by an understanding of how much the Lord loves him despite his sin.
I have often been convinced that Christians need not be reminded of their sin (the Holy Spirit and others do that work for us), but rather be convinced of the Father’s love.
Because God is joyful over us, we, too, can be filled with joy! (Zeph 3:17)
With this in mind, let us consider the ways that we can access God’s joy in this advent season…
Desiring His Presence Over Presents
Advent is celebrating Immanuel (God with us – Mt. 1:23), who brings us joy everlasting.
David understood this in light of his confession, as he states, “Cast me not away from your presence, and take not your Holy Spirit from me” (Ps. 51:12).
However, at Christmastime, we often settle for presents rather than the real presence of Christ.
May we instead take time to prepare our hearts for the Lord and make room for his presence in our lives.
May we set aside every weight and the sin that clings to us and see the gift of his mercy and steadfast love (Jn 3:16).
As we give gifts to others, may God use those gifts to enable us to see His heart for us and the world (Jas 1:17).
And in all the distractions of the Christmas rush, may we pause to consider God incarnate in the gift of Jesus this year.
Being Child-like, Not Child-ish
When I think of joy, I often picture the faces of my children when they were young.
I remember the first time they opened Christmas presents with awe and wonder. And now, that sense of awe and wonder has been replaced with the expectations of a “wish list”!
In a similar way, we may wonder what happened to the joy that first accustomed our faith in Christ.
One of my favorite memories as a church planter was one Christmas service when a member came into the church with the biggest smile on her face. I assumed that it was because her husband got her the best Christmas present, so I asked, “Why are you so happy today?”
Her response was, “Pastor, this is the first time in my life I am celebrating Christmas for what it’s really about – the birth of Jesus.”
See, this was her first Christmas as a follower of Christ.
She had just become a Christian earlier that year, and even though she was an older woman, she was celebrating the love of Christ with the marvel and wonder of a child.
What if we ask Jesus to renew a childlike faith in us this Christmas? What if we were to ask him to renew our joy in the gospel of Jesus Christ as our only hope?
Sharing the Joy of Advent
When a newborn baby is born, there is usually a proclamation of the child’s birth.
This is because parents cannot contain their joy!
So they make their declarations via birth announcements, phone calls, social media, etc. They will even share the joyous news with strangers on the streets without shame.
Likewise, in the Bible, there were declarations of joy that were public: David’s call to joy is a song, Nehemiah pronounced joy as our strength to a gathering of all the people who had returned to Jerusalem. The angels declared it to shepherds.
At the birth of Jesus, the angel of the Lord declares that advent brings joy!
In other words, the deep joy of the Bible doesn’t stay contained but bubbles out to be shared.
Through Jesus, God is restoring the world and renewing all things. All of history is heading towards that final redemptive moment when everything is made new.
As God’s children, we are invited to join and partner with him and share that joy with others – especially those who have not yet heard.
The gospel tells us that as obedient followers of Jesus Christ, joy is ours today – given freely by God. And that our joy becomes complete in and through Christ as we share the new life He brings (Jn 15:11).
May we ask God to guide us so that his love and joy would be personified in and through us today.
A Prayer for Advent:
Heavenly Father, we thank you that we are the recipients of your great love and the gift of salvation.
You gave your son Jesus to light the way of a joy-filled life. And yet, so often we settle for temporary happiness and find ourselves yearning for more or something different.
This Advent season, will you fill us with joy in your presence, and fix our hearts upon the eternal satisfaction we find in you. Help us to boldly proclaim and witness to the joy of the Gospel by our words and actions.
In Jesus’ name, Amen.
This blog post is part of Renewal for Advent – a five-part Advent devotional series, centered on asking Jesus to renew our Hope, Peace, Joy, and Love:
Renewing Our Hope (by Rev. Scotty Smith)
Renewing Our Peace (by Lindsay Kimball)
Renewing Our Joy (by Dr. Robert Kim)
Renewing Our Love (by Serge Staff)
Catch up on the whole series at: serge.org/renewal-for-advent