Let Heaven and Nature Sing
This week we celebrated Christmas and with that closed out the Advent season. Interestingly, the season of Advent is actually the BEGINNING of the year in the Christian calendar, not the end of it. This is of course because the Christian Calendar is set around the life of Jesus. So, in more ways than one, Happy New Year! As we wrap up the Advent season, and our series along with it, we turn our attention on the final of the four themes of Advent: Joy.
In preparation for this series, I found myself asking, what the heck even is Joy? How is it different than happiness or contentment? Does it happen to you or do you make it happen? I spent the days leading up to Christmas asking those around me what they understand about and how they experience joy. Those conversations only confirmed that we as a culture have a very shallow understanding of what Joy is and how to live into it.
This year I noticed that the meaning and theology of Advent, is revealed most all of in our songs. The songs that we sing together with family, in church services, or hear over the speakers in the mall, all communicate the rich depth of the season. in Advent we hear and sing lines like, “Come all ya faithful, joyful and triumphant” and “Joy to the World, let earth receive her king!“ All of these lines invite us into the deep mystery of joy. Accompanying these timeless songs is our other teacher, the Scriptures.
Joy as a result of God’s movement
And there were shepherds living out in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks at night. An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people. Luke 2:8-10
In this familiar scene of the Christmas story, we find the Angels revealing the birth of baby Jesus to Shepherds in the field. In the Angel’s message, we learn that the news of the night, the fact that Jesus the Messiah has been born, results in GREAT JOY for ALL PEOPLE! This is a distinct aspect of the mystery of joy. As the angel’s teach us, great joy is what overcomes us when the good news of Jesus seeps into our being at a soul level. The more we are able to live into the reality of the good news for all people, the greater our joy will be. Our participation comes in the result of taking the posture of the shepherds and heeding this message constantly and whole-heartedly. Want more joy in your life? Pay attention to the movement of God in your life, the lives of those around you and the world in general. Even if there is no angel shouting from the sky, there is still good news to be seen and great joy to be had.
Joy as an intentional response
Another song of the season that invites us into the mystery of joy is the very FIRST Christmas carol, the Magnificat. The Magnificat is a fancy word for the song that Mary sings as a reflection on the announcement that she will give birth to the savior. it reads…
And Mary said:
“My soul glorifies the Lord
and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior,
for he has been mindful
of the humble state of his servant.
From now on all generations will call me blessed,
for the Mighty One has done great things for me—
holy is his name.
His mercy extends to those who fear him,
from generation to generation.
He has performed mighty deeds with his arm;
he has scattered those who are proud in their inmost thoughts.
He has brought down rulers from their thrones
but has lifted up the humble.
He has filled the hungry with good things
but has sent the rich away empty.
He has helped his servant Israel,
remembering to be merciful
to Abraham and his descendants forever,
just as he promised our ancestors.” Luke 1:46-55
In this passage we learn so much about the character of God. We see clearly God’s heart for the oppressed and hungry and how he will always be at work for the underdog, opposing the prideful. Along with this, we also learn a lot about the character of Mary. Let’s remember some context here, people. Here Mary’s whole world has been turned upside down. For Mary, joy did not so much bubble up, but was rather an intentional choice; the faithful response to a confusing and daunting situation. This is one of the ways that joy works. When we look out at the world and see, as Mary sees, the poor and vulnerable being crushed by the abuse of power, and our own lives not going as planned. In the face of these things we are invited to make the same choice she did: rejoice in the Lord, our savior. We are invited to remember that God does things differently than the authorities of the world. Our rejoicing comes as a brave choice to not lose hope but to move about the world with courage knowing that we are in the middle of the story. A story of God moving through generations making all things right in the end. This is a reason to rejoice, indeed!
Joy as a deep reservoir
Sometimes joy is what happens when we pay attention to God’s movement in the world. Other times, it’s what we choose in the face of trial, fear, confusion and even injustice. Along with these, another aspect of the mystery of joy is how it fuels us in the same way it fueled Jesus.
And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith. 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. Consider him who endured such opposition from sinners, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart. Hebrews 12:1b-3
In this passage, joy is presented to us by the author of Hebrews as something that runs deep within Jesus, driving him towards his goal despite the suffering and shame that opposed him. In the same way, we are compelled by scripture to let the joy of Jesus, introduced to us in the Christmas story and made complete in his death and resurrection, be the deep reservoir from which we live. Shame, sin, suffering, and all other opposition lose their sting when we fix our eyes on Jesus and let joy move us forward. There is something about the joy offered to us in Jesus that can’t be touched by whatever circumstances are thrown our way. This reservoir is cultivated and replenished the more and more we run our race with trained eyes, fixed on the pioneer and perfecter of our joy.
Repeat the Sounding Joy
As we turn our attention to the turning of a new year, may we continue to lean in to the joy available to us in Jesus. At some times this upcoming year you will find Joy coming up naturally as the result of God’s clear and constant movement in your life. At those times, let nothing keep you from jumping in with the Angel’s song and keep singing. There will also be other times this year when the move of God is nowhere to be seen. When you feel confused and upset with the way the world is. At these times, follow the lead of Mary and will yourself to rejoicing in what you do know, even if you can’t see it: God is at work. And through it all, may you keep running your race, fueled by the Joy of our eyes fixed on Jesus, never losing heart.
Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!
INSTAGRAM & TWITTER: @JONATHONMURILLO
Jonathon grew up in six different states across the Western United States. He made his way to Southern California to attend Vanguard University where he earned a Bachelor of Arts degree in Communication. As well as a Master's of Divinity degree from Azusa Pacific University. Jonathon is passionate about discipleship to Jesus and innovation, especially when those two spaces meet. He aspires to encourage people to live well-curated lives of purpose and passion. You can find Jonathon living in his beloved city of Costa Mesa, California with his amazing wife, Cyndi. Oh yeah, and he is a HUGE Raiders fan.