December 23, 2018

The Gift of Joy

Passage: Micah 5: 2-5a and Luke 1: 41-52

I realize that traditionally the advent candles have love as the last of the candles before the Christ candle, but I have chosen to reverse the order because in my mind the gift of love brings the gift of joy. Now I fully appreciate what a great gift of love the birth of God in Jesus Christ is. I also appreciate what a great gift of peace and of hope that it is as well. But I think that receiving this greatest hopeful gift of peace and love is what brings us the gift of joy.

For any of you who have ever given birth to a child or experienced holding a newborn baby, you know what absolute joy and delight it is to receive this child into your life. You are filled with hope for this child’s life; you are filled with love for this child that has been entrusted to your care; you desire that this child may know peace in his or her life; and I am sure that you pray that this child will experience joy in life.

When we read through the record of human interaction with the One we know as the Lord God, the creator of the earth and the heavens, we are invited to share in the life experiences of individuals, families and whole nations. And while every story is not a pleasant story, every story contains within it elements of hope, peace, love and joy. Life is not a utopian existence for us as believers in God today and life was not a utopian existence for the people of past generations; but they did not hide their sins or ignore the realities of their lives. They faced suffering, disease, even death. They experienced despair, hatred, war, famine, and exile. They experienced infidelity, broken homes, and broken relationships. But they did not hide their inability to lead perfect lives. They recorded their struggles as well as their victories. They recorded the moments of their lives that brought them the most joy and peace but they also recorded the moments of their lives that brought them the most pain and conflict; and they did this because they knew that they could never have fully appreciated the hope, the peace, the love or the joy that God shared with them if their lives had been lived without any troubles or trials or suffering.

One of the things that is most difficult for people to comprehend is that while God is all-knowing and all-powerful, he does not want people whose lives are lived like unthinking and unfeeling robots. God wants people who are capable of thinking, of reasoning, of making wise decisions through seeking for the wisdom of God and the strength of God. God wants people capable of questioning their experiences of life and yet remain willing to be in a relationship with God. In response, God promises to be ever present to and with people in their lives and to never abandon them or give up on them – no matter what they may have done,

The coming of God in the person of Jesus Christ was the greatest gift of hope because it gave us proof that no matter what may happen to us in this world, God has promised that we will have a life beyond this life and we are to remember that promise even in the darkest moments of our lives and the lives of those with whom we share home and community.
The coming of God in the person of Jesus Christ was the greatest gift of peace because it gave us proof that beyond any war, any conflict, anything that might seek to shatter our life here, we can know a peace within our souls and spirits that goes beyond all human understanding and can fill our hearts and minds in a way that no other in the world can ever give.

The coming of God in the person of Jesus Christ was the greatest gift of love because it gave us proof that God loved us and continues to love us even when we or others find us unlovable. God declares his love for us from the beginning of Jesus’ life through his ministry on earth and even through his crucifixion, death and finally in his resurrection and the granting of the Holy Spirit. It is a love that nothing in the world can ever take away from us. Paul affirms this so often in his writings declaring that of all the gifts of God, love is the greatest and reminding us that nothing in all creation can ever separate us from the love of God as expressed through the life of Jesus.

The coming of God in the person of Jesus Christ was also the greatest gift of joy because it gave proof that while our frailties, our challenges, our sorrows, and our suffering are known to God, God’s desire is not to condemn us for these things or allow such things to remove the spark of life from us. The desire of God is to be present with us in these times of our lives and remind us that we do not take this journey of life alone but that we have his constant companionship, peace, love, mercy and forgiveness.
God has given hope to each generation in the midst of their despair and suffering; God has given peace to each generation calming the turmoil caused by mind, body and spirit; God has given love to each generation reminding them of how precious each one is; and God has given joy to each generation reminding each and every one that the circle of life that we experience will never come to an end until the time when God finally reveals his kingdom on this earth.

As we come to celebrate again the coming of God in the birth of the one known to the world as Jesus, let us take hold of the gifts of hope, peace, love and joy that this visitation of God brought and continues to bring. Let us seek to experience these gifts actively in our lives and through that seek for the gift of God to be born again in our hearts and lives.