Brothers & Sisters:
I am inviting you to capture the mood of the Advent Season as it changes Sunday by Sunday. Advent 1, the mood was one of watchfulness. We needed to be watchful for at least two reasons. One, there were false teachers who were ready to deceive us, and two, no one knew the day or the hour when the Lord would come, so we were to be vigilant at all times.
As we journey through the Season of Advent our focus is on Christ and all that he means to us, and this we demonstrate as we light the Advent Candles. First we lit the Candle of Hope, for Christ is indeed our Hope, our only hope. Next we lit the Candle of Love, remembering God’s love for us. When we read the words of John 3:16, we are reminded that God sent His only Son to die for our sins. Today we light the Candle of Joy to remind us that Christ is the bringer of true and everlasting joy.
The call to joyful living and joyful worship rings out in our liturgy today. The Prophet Zephaniah sets the tone, “Sing aloud, O daughter of Zion; shout, O Israel! Rejoice and exult with all your heart, O daughter of Jerusalem.” The Psalmist asks a searching question, “Will you not give us life again, that your people may rejoice in you.” The Apostle Paul then adds the finishing touch as he urges the Christians in Philippi to “Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, Rejoice!” How can we fail to capture that sense of joy which we give voice to in the hymn, “Joyful, joyful, we adore thee, God of Glory, Lord of Love?” Let me suggest three simple steps to joy, mentioned by an Anglican Priest, Ian Barclay in his book, ‘Living and Enjoying the Fruit of the Spirit.’
First, there is joy in believing. Time and time again in the New Testament we see people who become joyful as they meet Jesus Christ. The unscrupulous, tax-collecting Zacchaeus became a happy man after he met Jesus and welcomed him joyfully into his home. The Ethiopian eunuch, after he was led to Jesus by Philip and was baptized, went on his way rejoicing. Listen to the words of Peter to the church he was addressing, “Although you have not seen him, you love him; and even though you do not see him now, you believe in him and rejoice with an indescribable and glorious joy” (1Pet.1:8). Many through the years have testified to the joy Jesus brought into their lives. Blaze Paschal, many centuries ago described his conversion experience with the words, “joy, joy, joy, tears of joy.” We cannot afford to be satisfied with anything less.
Secondly, there is joy in Christian living. When Jesus outlined the Christian character in the beatitudes, he made it very clear that it was a blessed life, one in which the joys of paradise could be experienced here on earth. Their joy depended entirely on him, so that even when they were reviled and persecuted, they were to rejoice and be exceedingly glad. Hardships and trials were not obstacles to joy, but in fact they became occasions for joy. In fact, when the apostles were flogged for speaking in the name of Jesus, Luke tells us, “they rejoiced that they were counted worthy to suffer dishonour for the sake of the name (Acts 5:41). Let us allow the Spirit to produce his fruit of joy in us, and banish all ‘miserableness’ from among us.
Thirdly, there is joy in winning others for Christ. Paul refers to his converts as his joy and crown.. A phrase that I often used to express the importance of working in the Mission Field is, “if you are not winning others, you are sinning.” This is more than a mere failure to carry out the mandate we have been given, it is depriving us of the joy that God intended us to have. We know from the teaching of Jesus, that there is joy in heaven over every sinner who repents, but we must understand that we are given the privilege to share in that joy.
Let us pray that as we embrace those lessons, ours will be a joyful church.