Believe it or not, this is the last newsletter from the church that you will receive this year. With everything else that’s going on, we usually give the newsletter a break during the last two weeks of December. (Actually, we give Janet Howell a break from doing the newsletter.) So between now and the next time you open up your newsletter, we will have finished our journey through Advent, celebrated Christmas and rung in the New Year. As we head into each of these celebrations, I pray that you will recognize God’s presence and feel God’s steadfast love surrounding you.
As we move through these last days of Advent, I wanted to share one last “Advent moment” with you. It happened on the second Sunday of Advent, when we were gathering in the sanctuary for worship. After the Call to Worship was read, we heard the voice of Matthew Minor singing, “Prepare ye the way of the Lord.” Then the whole youth choir came running, skipping and jumping down the aisle. They were laughing and smiling and singing with such energy that my spirits immediately soared. To me, they just embodied joy. Pure, unadulterated joy.
This time of year we hear a lot about “joy.” We get Christmas cards that wish us joy. We hear it in the music and put it in block letters on our mantles. It’s on Christmas ornaments and stockings and coffee mugs. Hearing it so often and seeing it everywhere in bubble letters makes us forget what it really means.
Joy is not shallow. It’s not easy. It’s not even something that comes and goes. Joy is at the heart of life with Christ. Jesus said, “I have told you this that my joy might be in you, and that your joy might be complete.” When the Apostle Paul named the fruit of the Spirit in Galatians, joy was second on the list, coming in closely behind love. We are called to be joyful people.
We might wonder how we could possibly be joyful right now, after the horrific tragedy of Newtown, Connecticut. We might feel that the news of this terrible loss has pulled all the joy out of our spirits. And there’s no doubt that we as a nation are grieving beyond words. We cannot begin to express the sadness. The suffering is real. The pain is indescribable.
We have to remember, though, that joy is not the same thing as happiness. It is not the absence of sadness or suffering. No, the joy that comes in Christ does not depend on life circumstances. Mary was joyful, even though she was pregnant outside of wedlock and didn’t know how her betrothed would respond. Jesus taught his disciples to be joyful, even though he knew the persecution and hatred that he and they would face. Paul was joyful, even as he sat in a prison cell at the mercy of the Roman government.
If these believers could be filled with joy in the midst of terrible circumstances, then where did their joy come from? It came from God. It came from knowing and loving God. It came from being known and loved by God. Christmas reminds us that God has reached out in love to us through Jesus Christ. We are known and loved. Even if we are sad and grieving, sick or suffering, God is with us. And that is enough to make our hearts leap and skip and jump with joy!