Because we live in a world full of darkness and pain, it is easy for our joy to be restricted and swashed. Yet if our hope is in the promises of God and our peace is in knowing Jesus, then our joy should not be controlled by our circumstances but, instead, it should be based upon one thing and one thing only:
That God Himself came down into human history and set loose the chains that bound us. That God Himself freed us from sin, evil, death and all darkness. We no longer have to live under the yoke of darkness, but can thrive under the light of God!!
Sorrow, no matter how painful it may be, should not take away our joy. As the Prophet Habakkuk said:
Though the fig tree does not bud and there are no grapes on the vines, though the olive crop fails and the fields produce no food, though there are no sheep in the pen and no cattle in the stalls, yet I will rejoice in the Lord, I will be joyful in God my Savior. –Habakkuk 3:17-18
Victory also should not control our joy. In Luke 10, when the 72 returned to Jesus after their mission to tell people about the Kingdom of God, it says they “returned in joy” because the demons submitted to them in Jesus’ name. Instead of rejoicing with them, Jesus replied:
“I saw Satan fall like lightning from heaven. I have given you authority to trample on snakes and scorpions and to overcome all the power of the enemy; nothing will harm you. However, do not rejoice that the spirits submit to you, but rejoice that your names are written in heaven.” -Luke 10:18-20
We are to be joyful regardless of victory or defeat. Why? Because the King has come! We know the One who Created the Heavens and the Earth! This is why St. James could say:
Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything. – James 1:2-4
Or the writer of Hebrews could say:
Remember those earlier days after you had received the light, when you endured in a great conflict full of suffering. Sometimes you were publicly exposed to insult and persecution; at other times you stood side by side with those who were so treated. You suffered along with those in prison and joyfully accepted the confiscation of your property, because you knew that you yourselves had better and lasting possessions. So do not throw away your confidence; it will be richly rewarded. – Hebrews 10:32-35
Or St. Paul
And now, brothers and sisters, we want you to know about the grace that God has given the Macedonian churches. In the midst of a very severe trial, their overflowing joy and their extreme poverty welled up in rich generosity. –2 Corinthians 8:1-2
St. Paul also declared in 2 Corinthians 7:4 that his “joy knows no bounds” despite all his troubles. And what were those troubles, we may ask? Well, in the previous chapter, St. Paul describes the physical beatings, imprisonments, hard work, sleepless nights and hunger that he has gone through. Yet in the middle of all that, he still stands up and declares that his “joy knows no bounds!” Amazing!!
If joy is simply an un-controlled emotion, then this would be impossible. But it is not!! Joy is a choice, a frame of mind – nay – it is a way of re-seeing the world around us through the eyes of Jesus. It is also a fruit of the Spirit of God, something that comes through knowing and walking after Jesus.
Joy to the World
This brings us right back to Christmas and to a group of outcast people, i.e. shepherds. True, some of Israel’s great heroes were shepherds — Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, and David. Both Psalm 23 and Jesus compare God’s care to that of a Good Shepherd. But in the First Century, it seems, shepherds — specifically, hireling shepherds — had a rather unsavory reputation. Jeremias (German Lutheran theologian) cites Rabbinic sources to the effect that “most of the time they were dishonest and thieving; they led their herds onto other people’s land and pilfered the produce of the land.”
A midrash or Jewish commentary on Psalm 23:2 reads, “There is no more disreputable occupation than that of a shepherd.” Philo, a Hellenistic Jewish philosopher of Alexandria (25 BC – 45 AD), wrote about looking after sheep and goats, “Such pursuits are held mean and inglorious.”
It was to these outcasts, folks outside the normal places of society that the angels of God appeared (Luke 2:10-12)
“Do not be afraid. I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people. Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord. This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.”
The long awaited Messiah had come!!! The world is going to be different!! Joy in all circumstances was now available through the invasion of God in human history.
Celtic Advent Prayer
God of the watching ones, give us Your benediction.
God of the waiting ones, give us your good word for our souls
God of the watching ones the slow and the suffering ones, give us Your benediction,
Your good word for our souls that we might rest.
God of the watching ones, the waiting ones, the slow and the suffering ones,
and the angels in heaven, and the child in the womb, give us your benediction,
your good word for our souls, that we might rest and rise in the kindness of your company.[/box]