Friday, December 18, 2015

Advent: A Time of Joy

Of course it is! The song says so: "Joy to the world!" Everybody has to be happy, right? Look around. Do those people in the "Black Friday at Walmart" videos look happy? How about the UPS driver? How happy does she look? Or the old man sitting alone at the bus stop? Or the homeless mother living in a shelter with her three children? Or the girl who is celebrating her first Christmas without her dad? Well, may I suggest Christmas is not merely an opportunity for those eager to line the churches, to celebrate the birth of Christ. Christmas is a time for those who do not know who this Child is, who do not have a real relationship with Him, to catch a glimpse of what it means to be in a deep, committed relationship with Him and experience the joy it brings. And the perfect way for that to happen is for those of us who do know Him to take our joy to the streets.

I was blessed to have been raised in the church. Church has always been my "Default." I could always tell when I was out of step with the Lord. I'd cry. I'd beg. You may have done some of this yourself: "Lord, if You'd just clean up this mess..." Only to turn right back around and make another mess as soon as I felt it was "safe." Now, I do not mean that's the way this all works -- far from it; but I accepted the existence of God like I accepted my natural inclination for trouble -- both were part of me; equal and at war. To "fall back on" Jesus was to be at home: restful, warm and comfortable -- like PJs. To get into trouble was natural: normal, easy, common -- like my skin. At times I'd cry, wanting to "go home," wishing I would die: the struggle to be good was too difficult. I hated waking up each day knowing what a failure I had been yesterday and what a failure I was going to be today. There is no joy in the "religious" life.

It wasn't until God allowed me to be "brought low," with a lot of time on my hands; I began to search the Scriptures, trying to find out what was so great about God, or being His child. I didn't realize it, but I was looking for my "want to." Why would I want to obey? Why would I want to love others? I found my "want to." I found it in the disobedience of two children in a garden, and the promise their Father made that He would fix it. Because He loved me so. I found it in the sorrow of two widows, and the God who rewarded their faithfulness throughout history. Because He loved me so. I found it in a train wreck of a woman whose shame had left her aloof and cynical; she met a Savior who was not surprised or repulsed by her past, but longed to reveal to her a future. Because He loved me so. And I found it in a Babe sent to die that I might live, because He loved me so. God's kindness had drawn me to repentance, just as His Word says. I had done nothing, I could do nothing to warrant that kind of love. He asked only that I yield to it and trust Him. I will never fully grasp that kind of love: not the love I find in the pages of the Bible; not His love that I find in the moments of my day. But I do know that is why I "want to." I want to obey. I want to love others. I want to worship at His throne and live each day to bring glory to His great name. I want to point others to Jesus.

And what better time of the year to show others that joy comes not from pretending to like those gathered 'round our tables. Joy comes not from feeling obligated to give because they gave last year; not from painting on the fake smile and heading out to the living nativity; not from begrudgingly dropping your change in the bucket hanging before that smiling bell ringer. Joy comes because Jesus is our "want to." And it is at Christmas we celebrate the night when Joy came to the world!

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