This series of Advent devotionals is based on the themes of Advent, continuing with the theme of Joy. For this second week, all of the Bible quotations are taken from the Gospels.
Since Advent always begins with a Sunday, this set of devotions can be used any year!
Third Sunday of Advent
Our third week of Advent focuses on the spirituality of joy. Sometimes we take Jesus so seriously that we forget that joy is also at the heart of our tradition. In the New Testament, the word for “joy” comes from the same root as the word for “grace.” So, joy means something like, “rejoicing in the grace of God” or, put another way, joy is the feeling we get when we experience God’s grace. Zechariah met an angel and he was so scared. But the angel came to tell him about the child his wife would bear – John the Baptist. In the face of what might have been the greatest fear of Zechariah’s life, the angel says, “do not be afraid… You will have joy and gladness.” This promised gladness is a rejoicing, an exulting, an overwhelming joy (in contrast to the overwhelming fear). The word for gladness is literally one who feels so much joy that they spontaneously jump up in celebration. So, let your heart leap, let your spirit be light, and be glad in the coming messiah.
Repentance might not be your first go-to topic when you think about joy, but God’s willingness to forgive us when we go astray and ask for forgiveness is one of the surest ways that we can experience God’s grace. More than that, we learn in this passage that there is joy in heaven when we repent – angels, seraphim, cherubim, all the heavenly host jumping for joy! Central to this concept of repentance is that we come to understand differently. After we have sinned, our thoughts and our hearts consider what we have said or done. We have second thoughts that lead us to seek mercy and a new way of thinking and being. This twinge of regret is transformed into making amends, righting wrongs, mending fences, and a return to joy in God’s loving guidance. Let us open our hearts to God’s healing and restoration.
Did you ever notice how deep, profound joy can make people look kinda nuts? They’re laughing and crying, leaping up randomly, forming half sentences that make no sense! I guess finding profound spiritual joy can look crazy to other people, too. Jesus tells us this super short parable about the kingdom of heaven Not everyone can see the treasure that’s there or what it means for humanity. But the one who sees? In their joy, they will sell everything, do anything to be a part of that kingdom. One of the most fascinating things about this passage is that the treasure is unspecified. Think today about the treasures you have found in your life of faith. Are there more treasures to be explored or is it a season to marvel at the treasures you already hold? Wherever we are in our spiritual journey, sometimes the Spirit urges us – why not dig over there?
Jesus tells us that we are blessed (which can mean “happy” or “to be envied”) when people devalue us, when they leave us out, and when they disgrace us for our faith. When we read passages like this, we must be so careful to consider whether we are tempted to wield them like a sword against our enemies or if we are tempted to shame our own spiritual life because it is somehow not contentious enough. The most important part of this verse is, “on account of the Son of Man.” The road that leads us to heaven is a path walked in love and compassion as well as concern for justice and integrity. Love that ignores evil is not love at all. Seeming justice that stampedes over one group or another is not justice at all. Profound love can make some people very upset or uncomfortable, but this is how we live for Jesus’s sake. Challenging injustice can inspire some turmoil, but it opens us to deeper grace for all people. If people would shame you for living in the light of love, be glad and leap for joy. When we live in love, we anticipate our life in heaven to come.
Jesus tells us that we will have pain and sorrow – troubles so great that we will cry aloud. And the world’s response to this grief will be to delight in it. But, Jesus assures us that even this deepest pain will become joy for us. No matter the cruelty of those around us when we suffer, Jesus promises to restore our joy when we see him again. We are like mothers in labor, fighting, pushing, struggling, working to get to Jesus. We know that some labors are easier and others can be catastrophic. Yet, Christ is the ultimate end of all of our labor and the joy he brings will never leave us. When life gets hard, labor on! Keep breathing and push!
We are each born with innate gifts and talents. As we grow up, we have access to a different range of opportunities and resources. Everything that we have and everything that we are has been given to us by God. God has entrusted us with all the blessings and abundance of our lives. Jesus tells this parable to get us to think – what have we done with what we have been given? Have we been faithful with what we have? Do our lives spread hope, peace, joy, and love? It is our joy to serve God faithfully as we strive to show ourselves trustworthy. May we each finally hear the ecstatic words, “enter into the joy of your master.
Jesus tells us to abide in his love and in the Father’s love. This word “abide” has such a fascinating range of meaning: it could mean to stay, to continue, to endure, to be present, to tarry, or to dwell. What it comes down to is this: where do you make your home? Does your heart live in fear, impatience, hatred? Or, does it live in trust, steadfastness, and love? The thing about “abiding” is that it can be a short-term stay or a permanent residence. So, if parts of our hearts have moved into a bad spiritual neighborhood, Jesus tells us that any day can be moving day. And as we live and move more and more of our being into the light of grace, we find a precious promise. Jesus’s joy will be in us and our joy will be complete. We will know fullness and satisfaction and rest. With promises like these, maybe it’s time to pack up some boxes!