Saturday, December 12, 2020

Reflections Upon The Third Sunday In Advent 2020 - The Theme Of Joy

Luke 1:41-45 "When Elizabeth heard Mary’s greeting, the baby leaped in her womb; and Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit. 42 And she cried out with a loud voice and said, “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb! 43 And how has it happened to me, that the mother of my Lord would come to me? 44 For behold, when the sound of your greeting reached my ears, the baby leaped in my womb for joy."

Introduction: Happiness and Joy

       For some readers today, it may seem odd to read a post that claims cause for joy in a time of pandemic, fear and earthly unrest. However, we must realize there is a difference between "joy" and "happiness". Happiness is a temporary state of light emotions brought about by pleasant circumstances. Joy, on the other hand, is a settled state of the soul that may or may not have accompanying happiness. Happiness is fleeting, external and rooted in what is seen. True joy is enduring, internal and rooted in what is perceived beyond what is seen. Happiness finds it comfort in the moment. Joy discovers it's rest in true meaning beyond the moment. Happiness comes because of people. Joy's fountain-head ultimately arises because of knowing God.

        During these last two weeks, I have offered posts that reflect on this season of the year that Christians the world-over call "Advent". Four Sundays and Christmas Eve are devoted to reflection upon on the First Coming or "Advent" of the Lord Jesus Christ. For the reader's review, the first two Sundays of Advent were reflected upon and are found by clicking on the following links:

        As I said already, some may find it difficult to see how anyone could find "joy". However, the joy that only Christ can deliver is what we so desperately need! This weekend will commemorate the third Sunday in Advent. The third Sunday of Advent and has a special theme attached to it: the theme of "joy". Many churches today utilize what is called an "Advent Wreath", which consists of three purple candles, one pink candle and a center white candle called "The Christ candle". The candle for the third Sunday of Advent is pink in color and is deemed the "candle of joy". 

      Sometimes the lighting of the pink candle is referred to as the "Shepherd's candle". Luke 2:15-17 records the Shepherds' response to the angelic announcement of the birth of the infant Christ:

"When the angels had gone away from them into heaven, the shepherds began saying to one another, “Let us go straight to Bethlehem then, and see this thing that has happened which the Lord has made known to us.” 16 So they came in a hurry and found their way to Mary and Joseph, and the baby as He lay in the manger. 17 When they had seen this, they made known the statement which had been told them about this Child."

       The underlined phrases convey the urgency of the Shepherds. The zeal with which the Shepherds proceeded to announce the news is taken by many as evidence of joy. We can define Biblical joy as the overflow of confidence and satisfaction in God. As Providence would have it, the shepherds knew where feeding troughs were in Bethlehem, making them appropriate to first hear the news relayed by the angels. Indeed, it was not only fitting for shepherds to announce the arrival of the "Great Shepherd", but also a fulfillment of a particular prophecy. Micah 4:8 predicted that a grand announcement of God's Kingdom would first arrive at a place called "Tower of the Flock" (Hebrew "Migdol Eder"), which was a main grazing area for sheep raised in Israel. The text of Micah 4:8 reads:

“As for you, tower of the flock,
Hill of the daughter of Zion,
To you it will come—
Even the former dominion will come,
The kingdom of the daughter of Jerusalem.

       Joy is distinguished in the Advent season from the other candles due to the fact that in the midst of winter's long, growing shadows, the light of hope kindled by Christ's incarnation lights the way for the Christian. Christians of old used a Latin verb to describe the third Sunday in Advent as, "gaudete", which means "rejoice". In the infancy narrative of Matthew, we find wise-men bringing gifts to what would had been a 2-year old Jesus. Two-years prior, the events in Luke's record have shepherds hastening back to tell everyone the joyous news of Messiah's arrival. We also note the tone of joy that pervades the song of Mary, "The Maginificat" (Latin for "Magnify" or "Make great") in Luke 1:46-55. Angels sing songs of praise over the birth of the Messiah (Luke 1:14). 

Joy in Jesus Christ can chase away the shadows of gloom

      The long, dark shadows of oppression and despair had hung over Israel for centuries. The Jews longed for the coming of Messiah. A swift survey of Jewish literature composed between Old and New Testaments tells the story of their longing. Although the so-called "Apocryphal books" composed by various Jewish authors some 200-100 years before Jesus' birth are not found in Protestant Bibles (nor were they ever part of the Hebrew Old Testament canon), they nonetheless record how badly the Jews desired the coming of Messiah. Later Jewish authors (such as Josephus of the first century, the time of Jesus) tell us that the expectation was so bad that several "wanna-be" messiahs appeared and were killed. The Jewish people had a certain conception of Messiah that included liberation from tyranny. The view of Messiah by Jesus' day looked more for freedom from human oppressors (such as Rome) than redemption from sin (as predicted by the Old Testament books). Other Jewish literature (called "Pseudepigrapha", due to  their alleged authorship by well-known Old Testament figures, composed between the end  of the Old Testament into the first century) contain "Apocalyptic literature" which emphasized the appearance of cosmic signs as heralding Messiah's arrival. Such non-inspired writings gives a peak into how desperate the Jewish people wanted "joy". To hear of cosmic signs such as a star appearing in the East, angels appearing and people mentioning the arrival of a King stirred the hearts of people in those days. 

       Just as dawn heralds the arrival of a new day, so too did the angelic announcement to the Shepherds. The lack of a "Word from God" resulted in long shadows of despair in Israel and ultimately the world. Quite literally, the arrival of the "Babe in Bethlehem" would begin the inbreaking of God's Kingdom into our world.  As mentioned, Biblical joy refers to the overflow of confidence and satisfaction in God. None expected that the "King of Israel" came to undergo "death on a cross" and "resurrection from a tomb". The joy of Advent is that what Jesus came to achieve really did happen! Nehemiah 8:10 declares how the "joy of the Lord is our strength". Whatever long shadows you are facing today, joy in Jesus is the strength required to push through the darkness.

Closing thoughts

       As time marches on for me in this 21st century world, I find the need for the joy of the Lord to be rekindled in my own heart. I find an oasis in Advent season. Such a season reminds me that life is not defined merely by the possessions one has or hopes to have. Indeed, I find my own soul grappling with shadows of sadness and the increasing groanings of this fallen world. Rather, only in Christ do I find hope for this present life and the strength to hope for the world to come. The lighting of that third candle will send a message. The shadows of despair must flee. Endless joy is available. Jesus came to offer Himself in His humanity as an atonement for sin. His glorious resurrection was a resurrection of physical, glorified humanity. His ascension means I have a human representative praying for me, who is simultaneously truly God that strengthens. Such wondrous, joyous news is the possession of all who by grace through faith respond to Him. May we celebrate the joy of Jesus this Advent season as we commemorate this Third Sunday of Advent.

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