My church created an Advent devotional this year. A handful of people each took a few passages and wrote reflections throughout Advent so that, together, we could walk through the season of waiting and hear one another’s hearts as we did. It was a beautiful gift to the church. Our in-house professional editor and designer both worked hard to make it excellent, and I have been so blessed to read my friends’ thoughts on various passages.
I wrote the reflection for December 24, and thought I’d share it here. When I wrote it, the Newtown shooting had not yet happened. But there was already plenty of darkness and sorrow in the world—people hurting in the midst of dancing Santas and manger scenes. I began my Christmas morning by reading a bit of the news headlines—I’ve been pretty out of touch with the news this week, as I’ve enjoyed some time with my family in Phoenix. But one of the stories I read this morning was about how celebrating Christmas has provided the residents of Newtown, CT a respite from mourning. People are singing carols, Christmas pageants are taking place.
Today is a day of joy. Not because it’s a day when sorrow goes away. Not because it’s a day when people stop shooting or yelling or killing with silence. But because it was into a world just like ours that Jesus was born. He came into the darkness and to this day, the darkness has never outshone Him.
I pray my Christmas Eve devotional from Mount View Presbyterian Church’s Advent reflections will bless you today. Regardless of the circumstances of your life, may you know great joy today because Jesus was born.
(Genesis 25:19-28 | Psalm 113 | Colossians 1:15-20 | Luke 1:46b-55)
We have journeyed together these last several weeks, exploring our church’s collective reflections on this season of Advent. We have explored some of the richest and most hopeful texts in the Bible, joining people like Isaiah and Amos and Micah and Malachi, who could only imagine the experience of standing beside the Messiah they foretold and so longed to receive, as well as Mary and Peter, who knew what the Messiah looked and felt and smelled like, and Paul and Luke, who lived the Great Adventure of the days and months and years immediately following Christ’s death and resurrection. We join this cloud of witnesses as we, today, stand on the cusp of yet another “Christ’s Mass”—the day we have set aside each year to commemorate and celebrate our Lord’s birth.
As we read today’s texts, the word that seems to sum up the psalmist’s perspective and Mary’s attitude and Paul’s JOY. Barren Rebecca has conceived and born twins—JOY! The poor are raised from the dust, the needy are lifted from the ash heap, and they are now sitting with princes—JOY! The barren woman is given a home and children—JOY! Mary receives the commission from God to bear the Light of the World, singing a song of praise and worship—JOY! In Jesus Christ, the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, making peace by the blood of his cross—JOY! JOY! JOY!
Of course, if we’re honest, Christmas is not always a joyful time of year for everyone. For those who are suffering from illness, Christmas does not make their pain go away. For those who have lost a loved one, Christmas can be the most painful time of year. For those who are unemployed, Christmas is particularly difficult, bringing existing financial woes to the very forefront of our days. For those who are lonely, Christmas magnifies that loneliness “times twenty.”
But this has always been true. Even the very first Christmas came during a dark time in the history of God’s people. And Jesus’ birth did not do away with the trouble. Mary suffered the pain of childbirth. Herod committed infanticide, leaving many women weeping for their slain babies, as Mary, Joseph, and Jesus had to flee for their lives (Matthew 2:15-18). Even as Mary sang her song of praise at the announcement of his birth, echoes of Simeon’s prophecy to her must have been ringing out: “a sword will pierce through your own soul also,” warning of the witness Mary would give at her son’s crucifixion (Luke 2:22-38). And we know of the persecution the apostles faced during the early days of the church accounted throughout the book of Acts.
Yet, even in the midst of all of this pain and turmoil, there is tremendous joy.
Joy that rises above devastating circumstances. Joy that erupts from hearts that know that this pain—whatever its cause—is not the end of the story. Joy that flows through those who see not only the “here and now” of this present darkness, but also “then and there” of the return of the King, when God himself will dwell among his people forever as we who are in Christ worship at the throne of grace along with the redeemed from every tribe and tongue and nation and people (Revelation 21-22).
As we prepare to celebrate the birth of the Savior tomorrow, let’s welcome the joy of Christ to fill our hearts and lift us out of the ashes of our pain. JOY to the world—the Lord is coming soon.