If you are anything like me, you are thankful for another Advent season but also struggling to find joy in the midst of a polarizing political season that has pitted many Americans against one another. Regardless of where you stand with politics, I think we can all agree 2016 was a crazy year. 2016 saw the deaths of multiple unarmed black men and police officers, the club shooting in Orlando, a devastating hurricane in Haiti, ongoing warfare in the Middle East, and a major land battle between a Native American tribe and drilling company- to name a few.
The temptation in the midst of supposed chaos is to lose joy. The world is not as it should be. Paul’s exhortation to “Rejoice in the Lord always” [Philippians 4:4 NIV] often feels like more of an ambitious task than a consistent way of life. Thankfully, the Advent season- in its timely manner- reminds me I am apart of something bigger.
The passage above from Luke 2 records a story from over 2,000 years ago, yet I cannot help finding the strange parallels between it and 2016. When the angel spoke to the shepherds of “good news”, it would have been in a season of much pain and uncertainty. The Jews were under Roman domination without much sense of hope. The political climate was tense as the Jews despised Roman rule and consistently tried to fight against the system. To make things worse, there were Jews who could not be trusted because they were in partnership with the Roman government.
Before the stories documented in Luke, there are no recorded interactions between God and God’s people for 400 years! There must have been some sense of abandonment. I imagine Jewish children waiting to believe God’s promises relayed by the rabbis, and yet still wondering silently, “Has God forgotten about us?”. The Jews were promised a Messiah and waited in eager expectation for that day. How hard it must have been to find joy in the midst of oppression and uncertainty.
It is in this setting that an angel appears to shepherds in a field and reshapes their worldview with a proclamation that will change their lives forever.
The Advent season challenges us to forsake fear.
Before sharing the good news of joy with the shepherds, the angel commands them to not be afraid. They cannot fully embrace the joy of the angel’s message if there is fear in their hearts. The opposite of joy is fear. The Advent season challenges me to forsake fear and embrace the joy found in God’s love. There is much to be afraid of, but the good news of Advent reminds me to choose joy even in the hardest of times.
The Advent season reminds us of the Good News that brings joy.
The angel did not stop with a command to the shepherds to not fear, but gave them an enticing reason to choose joy. God has come to earth in Jesus, providing a beautiful example of sacrificial love and joy in the midst of pain. God cared enough about creation to come down to creation’s level. Jesus provides the reason for joy. God had not abandoned the Jews, but instead came to live and share about the Kingdom with them. The Jews would not always be under Roman reign. In the same way, the marginalized of 2016 will not always feel such. Joy is found because God cares and has come to the world in Jesus- what good news indeed!
The Advent season points to a future time where joy will be complete.
Even though Jesus did come and introduce a new way of living, it did not mean all pain went away. Jesus sacrificially gave of himself unto death- he experienced immense pain. But Jesus knew death was not the end. The author of Hebrews writes, “For the joy set before him he endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God” [12:2B NIV]. Kingdom living does not fear because there is an unexplainable joy that knows God will make all right. The shepherds went home that night and continued to experience all the emotions: pain, anger, fear, joy, love. But there was a difference now. They knew God had infiltrated humanity and was making all things new.
As I enter 2017, I desire to choose joy remembering what God has done, what God is doing right now, and what God will do in the future. God is at work even when it is hard to understand. There is grace for the times I can barely see beyond my own pain and frustrations. Sometimes I might not feel joyful- and that’s okay. God’s joy in me is enough, even when I do not feel it myself. I do not know what the future holds, but I know God is moving and I can find joy in that.
As we journey through this Advent season, please remember God is still working to make all things new. We are invited to join God in the mission of bringing the Kingdom to earth. Advent reminds us the story is not over- there is much joy to be found in that!
Instagram & Twitter: @Mattvnixon
Matt is on a new journey of discovery as he tries to stop placing God in boxes. He has worked in Admissions at Vanguard University for the past three years. Matt received a BA in Communications from CSU Bakersfield and a MA in Leadership Studies from Vanguard University. He currently resides in beautiful Costa Mesa with his wife. Matt's main life goal is to eat at Del Taco at least once a week.