The Third Sunday of Advent

The third week of Advent is about Joy and we light the Shepherds’ candle.

And in the same region there were shepherds out in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night. And an angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were filled with great fear. And the angel said to them, “Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. And this will be a sign for you: you will find a baby wrapped in swaddling cloths and lying in a manger.” And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying, “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among those with whom he is pleased!” (Luke 2:8-14 ESV)

I went to Miriam Webster .com to define joy.  The first entry was “the emotion evoked by well-being, success, or good fortune or by the prospect of possessing what one desires.”  No, that sounds too much like happiness.  That’s not the biblical sort of joy.  That’s not what the Apostle Paul is talking about.  Let’s try entry 2: “a state of happiness or felicity.”  That is happiness.  Happiness is conditional; if the conditions change so can the state of one’s emotions.  One phone call can turn a person’s state of happiness around quick.  On to definition 3: “a source or cause of delight.”  That’s what we’re looking for.

When we say that our joy is found in Christ, we’re talking about something permanent, something lasting.  Happiness can depend on many factors.  It comes and goes.  But joy is lasting because our source is lasting.  James says “Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change.” Sometimes life is tough.  My parents would have celebrated their 50th wedding anniversary this past weekend, but Dad passed away in 2010.  Cancer is a terrible, wicked thing and of all cancers melanoma is particularly bad.  It is the most likely skin cancer to spread to other tissues and organs, and even with proper treatment will almost always return.  My mother lost a brother and then her husband to cancer only a few months apart.  That’s what this life is like.  We have good days, bad days, and ultimately death has all our numbers.  Jesus was born in a stable to an unwed teen-aged mother, and things only got worse from there.  He was acquainted with grief and strickened with sorrow.   He died on the cross after being scourged, spat upon and his beard pulled out.  When he told his disciples he wanted them to share in his joy, they surely must have thought “What joy?” Jesus explains in John 16 that he will be leaving them, and how someday their sorrow will turn to joy.  Then he shares this thought: “When a woman is giving birth, she has sorrow because her hour has come, but when she has delivered the baby, she no longer remembers the anguish, for joy that a human being has been born into the world. (John 16:21 ESV)  Giving birth become an allegory for life.

Have you ever been in a delivery room?  I’ve spent the night in an overcrowded maternity ward.  Carol Burnett explains that for a man to understand child birth he needs to grasp his bottom lip and pull it over the top of his head.    In the first century, natural child birth was the only kind.  But Jesus says after the birth pains and labor and sorrow, holding a new born baby makes everything else worthwhile.  Suddenly a mother’s expression turns to joy when handed her baby for the first time.  The sickness, pain and sorrow of this life will quickly vanish away when we enter into the joy of our Lord.  Jesus will says Well done my good and faithful servant to those written in the Book of Life.  Our sorrow will turn to joy.  Compared to eternity, this life is merely a vapor.  Hebrews 12 says Jesus endured the cross for the joy that was set before him.  A never ending joy that we are invited to share.  That is good news.

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