After Jesus was born in Bethlehem in Judea, during the time of King Herod, MagI from the east came to Jerusalem and asked, “Where is the one who has been born king of the Jews?We saw his star when it rose and have come to worship him.” When King Herod heard this he was disturbed, and all Jerusalem with him. When he had called together all the people’s chief priests and teachers of the law, he asked them where the Messiah was to be born. “In Bethlehem in Judea,” they replied, “for this is what the prophet has written:
“‘But you, Bethlehem, in the land of Judah,
are by no means least among the rulers of Judah;
for out of you will come a ruler
who will shepherd my people Israel.”
Then Herod called the Magi secretly and found out from them the exact time the star had appeared. He sent them to Bethlehem and said, “Go and search carefully for the child. As soon as you find him, report to me, so that I too may go and worship him.” After they had heard the king, they went on their way, and the star they had seen when it rose went ahead of them until it stopped over the place where the child was. When they saw the star, they were overjoyed. On coming to the house, they saw the child with his mother Mary, and they bowed down and worshiped him. Then they opened their treasures and presented him with gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh. And having been warned in a dream not to go back to Herod, they returned to their country by another route. ~Matthew 2:1-12
If hope is “a thing with feathers that perches on the soul”
…what is joy?
That tiny three letter word is so elusive, and often misrepresented. It’s easy to equate joy with happiness. You might even get that if you Google synonyms or right-click, looking for another word. And while they do overlap in some ways, joy is its own creation altogether.
As we light the fourth candle of Advent today and switch themes tomorrow, pause for a moment to think on joy. If you’ve ever seen a skylark, you know how high they can soar, how swiftly they swoop, and how sweetly they sing. This tiny bird has long been a symbol of the joyous spirit of the divine: wildly free, full of passion, and unfettered by the struggles of life. And yet, skylarks face the same threats that roam in the wild. They are prey for crows, snakes, and foxes, but still they sing.
That’s what captures joy for me: the ability to sing even in the face of difficult circumstances. Whether that be a broken relationship, struggles at work, lack of work, financial worries, or health issues. Joy allows us to see the light in the darkness, to radiate that light in our life, and to give voice to that joy in song.
The Magi who journeyed across the desert sands to see Jesus at his birth were filled with joy, but they also had to navigate of Herod’s jealousy and wrath (Matthew 2:1-12): balancing danger and delight in the same breath.
Like the Magi, we have been journeying through the days of Advent with a similar expectation: for Christmas, for presents, for seeing family, for special music, for celebration, for memories part, and memories yet to come.
We’ve journeyed with anticipation about what the celebration of Christ’s birth means for us, and yet, we can already be filled with joy because we know that he has come, he died for us, and he rose again. We can be filled with joy because our anticipation now focuses on his triumphant return and the gathering of all our families of faith in heaven.
Joy is not reliant on external factors that feed happiness. No, the joy we experience comes from our relationship with Jesus and giving thanks both for what he has done for us in an abundance of grace, and for the life we get to live in service to his calling. In him, our joy is complete.
As we step into the fourth week of advent and light the candle of joy, we pray that you will be ever present with us and remind us that our joy is fulfilled in you. Allow the joy we have in you to shine in our lives, that we may be witnesses of that joy in our homes, our neighborhoods, and our city.