Sunday, December 11, 2011

Third Sunday of Advent: Joy

The Third Sunday of Advent is definitely my favorite. On this day, we light the candle that is differently colored than the others (ours is rose while the others are purple, but traditions vary). I like to call it the Mary candle, after the first passage of the readings for this Sunday (see below).

I think the reason that I enjoy it so much is that so often, we forget that Christmas truly is a season of joy. We get caught up in the tyranny of the urgent, moving from event to event and task to task as if they were ends in themselves. Inevitably, a newspaper article will remind me that this is a season when depression spikes - often because of financial stress, family problems, and loneliness. Even those who don't fall into depression face disappointment in a less-than-picture perfect holiday. The truth is, when we make Christmas about gifts, parties, and an ideal coming-together of traditions and circumstances we will always be disappointed. Especially Christians - because God is far to faithful to let us find joy anywhere but in Jesus, especially at this time of the year.

Let's face it - the first Christmas was pretty messy. There is nothing joyful about a scandalous pregnancy, a long journey in the 9th month, the failure to find lodging, and childbirth in a place where animals were kept. God didn't pick a picture-perfect circumstance for His Son's birth.

That's why I love Mary's words in the Magnificat, Mary's Song. " spirit rejoices in God my Savior, for he has looked on the humble estate of his servant." Mary knew that God could have found women from more elite families, but He had chosen her. She rejoiced despite her circumstances, in God her Savior. That is true joy, and that is the heart of Christmas.

The passages for this week remind us that joy wasn't just intended for Mary and those who walked with Jesus on this earth. Joy - a fruit of the Spirit - comes as we learn to have the mind of Christ. As we learn to see things as He does, then we will find joy where He does, as we see righteousness and praise springing up among all the nations.

"Joy to the World" is not just a great Christmas song - it's what He offers to all who embrace the truth that "He comes to make the blessing known/far as the curse is found." In all the dark corners of the world, He offers the hope of blessing instead of curse. The more we become part of that, the more we will experience "joy, unspeakable joy".
In the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent from God to a city of Galilee named Nazareth, to a virgin betrothed to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David. And the virgin's name was Mary. And he came to her and said, "Greetings, O favored one, the Lord is with you!" But she was greatly troubled at the saying, and tried to discern what sort of greeting this might be. And the angel said to her, "Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God. And behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus. He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. And the Lord God will give to him the throne of his father David, and he will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end." And Mary said to the angel, "How will this be, since I am a virgin?" And the angel answered her, "The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore the child to be born will be called holy--the Son of God. And behold, your relative Elizabeth in her old age has also conceived a son, and this is the sixth month with her who was called barren. For nothing will be impossible with God." And Mary said, "Behold, I am the servant of the Lord; let it be to me according to your word." And the angel departed from her. ... And Mary said, "My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior, for he has looked on the humble estate of his servant. For behold, from now on all generations will call me blessed; for he who is mighty has done great things for me, and holy is his name. And his mercy is for those who fear him from generation to generation. He has shown strength with his arm; he has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts; he has brought down the mighty from their thrones and exalted those of humble estate; he has filled the hungry with good things, and the rich he has sent away empty. He has helped his servant Israel, in remembrance of his mercy, as he spoke to our fathers, to Abraham and to his offspring forever."  (Luke 1:26-38, 46-55 ESV)

And the ransomed of the LORD shall return and come to Zion with singing; everlasting joy shall be upon their heads; they shall obtain gladness and joy, and sorrow and sighing shall flee away. (Isaiah 35:10 ESV)

The Spirit of the Lord GOD is upon me, because the LORD has anointed me to bring good news to the poor; he has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and the opening of the prison to those who are bound; to proclaim the year of the LORD's favor, and the day of vengeance of our God; to comfort all who mourn; to grant to those who mourn in Zion-- to give them a beautiful headdress instead of ashes, the oil of gladness instead of mourning, the garment of praise instead of a faint spirit; that they may be called oaks of righteousness, the planting of the LORD, that he may be glorified. 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. ... For I the LORD love justice; I hate robbery and wrong; I will faithfully give them their recompense, and I will make an everlasting covenant with them. Their offspring shall be known among the nations, and their descendants in the midst of the peoples; all who see them shall acknowledge them, that they are an offspring the LORD has blessed. I will greatly rejoice in the LORD; my soul 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 like a priest with a beautiful headdress, and as a bride adorns herself with her jewels. For as the earth brings forth its sprouts, and as a garden causes what is sown in it to sprout up, so the Lord GOD will cause righteousness and praise to sprout up before all the nations. (Isaiah 61:1-4, 8-11 ESV)

So if there is any encouragement in Christ, any comfort from love, any participation in the Spirit, any affection and sympathy, complete my joy by being of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind. Do nothing from rivalry or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others. Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father. (Philippians 2:1-11 ESV)

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