The final words in my previous post are promises that God will bring the change His people need and most desire. Those exact words from God, through the prophet Isaiah, would have created a sense of longing and yearning for the day when what’s promised would become real. Focusing on the promise of the good that is coming is the source of great joy! You’ve probably experienced joy in anticipating..
+ the delivery date for something you ordered online
+ the approach of a significant milestone you’ve worked hard to achieve
+ saving up for something you wanted to buy
+ hearing your unborn baby’s heartbeat for the first time
+ pulling into the driveway of your grandparent’s home as a child
+ waiting an eternity for Christmas morning to arrive
Those last two points held lots of joy for me. I remember the excitement and anticipation growing by the mile as we would travel the hour north to visit my grandmother. She was affectionately known as Grandma Mac, or just Mac to some. She was a strong, red-headed, independent woman who I not only called grandma, but I called her my friend. I looked up to her so much. She was always kind and gentle with me (although tough as nails!).. even when she was pulling my baby teeth out with needle nose pliers, or by a string on the back porch door. Most of the time we'd visit, I was welcomed into her home with the smell of cinnamon pin wheels or an apple pie, handmade from apples in her own orchard. There aren't many better things in life than grandmas and apple pies!
My memories of Christmas are equally significant. I was buzzing with excitement Christmas eve day as we drove to Grandma Mac's house to gather with our extended family. We'd spend the afternoon chatting, eating a meal together and then heading to Grandma's Methodist church where she had been a member for 65 years, serving as the treasurer. The service sitting with family in those hard, cold pewas an experience. We heard the Christmas Story of Jesus' arrival on earth, sang carols, lit candles and greeted townsfolk. Beautiful. Quiet. Comforting.
Here is Mac's home from the air. Lots of memories were made here, for many, many years.
In the Gospel reading today we see both John the Baptist’s anticipation of the fulfillment of God’s promised Messiah, and the fulfillment itself in Jesus’ life.
“John the Baptist was in prison, but he heard about what the Christ was doing. So John sent some of his followers to Jesus. They asked him, “Are you the One who is to come, or should we wait for someone else?”
Jesus answered them, “Go tell John what you hear and see: The blind can see, the crippled can walk, and people with skin diseases are healed. The deaf can hear, the dead are raised to life, and the Good News is preached to the poor. Those who do not stumble in their faith because of me are blessed.”
- Matthew 11:2-6, NCV
We know God is faithful because He’s followed through on His promises in the past. So, we can have confidence that He’ll do the same for us now and in the days ahead. That’s all good, but even though we may have joy anticipating the good that our God will bring, how do we handle the distance between now and then? It’s hard enough waiting on it’s own, but our culture has primed us to find no satisfaction in the waiting. We want the fruit from the tree before the tree has even been planted.
This comes into view in our relentless pursuit of possessions. In ages past, if there was something expensive we wanted to buy, we would have had to work and save for a long time before we could finally acquire it. Since much of our economy has centered around the use of credit, we buy what we want first, then we’re meant to work to pay it off afterward. The problem? Once we’ve purchased the object of our desire on credit, the motivation for paying it off flips on it’s head. The anticipation that once led us to work hard and save has given way to the weight and fear of being chased to pay off what we bought. Joy looked ahead, now frustration looks behind. When we don't preserve certain experiences for just the right time, we miss out on joy in the waiting.
Today, the last word belongs to James. James’ advice for how to live in the waiting room creates the best environment to birth a healthy Joy.
“Brothers and sisters, be patient until the Lord comes again. See how farmers wait for their precious crops to grow. They wait patiently for fall and spring rains. You, too, must be patient. Don’t give up hope. The Lord will soon be here. Brothers and sisters, stop complaining about each other, or you will be condemned. Realize that the judge is standing at the door.
Brothers and sisters, follow the example of the prophets who spoke in the name of the Lord. They were patient when they suffered unjustly. We consider those who endure to be blessed. You have heard about Job’s endurance. You saw that the Lord ended Job’s suffering because the Lord is compassionate and merciful.”
- James 5:7-11, GW
Joy grows larger as we learn to wait patiently on Our Father’s perfect timing. Like Hope and Peace, Joy is a gift from God. We cannot will ourselves to have it, or generate it on our own. The right environment must be created for it to come and rest in our souls. Like putting out a bird feeder with just the right kind of seed. Then you wait and watch, as it begins to grow!
"Wait for the LORD; Be strong and let your heart take courage;
Yes, wait for the LORD."
- Psalm 27: 14,
Father God, thank you for sending your Son, Jesus Christ, to draw us home to You. Thank you for beginning the renewal of all things through Him, and continuing it by your Spirit in and through Your people. Please help us to enter Advent with an appropriate sense of awe at who You are, and the expectation that You'll continue to show up for Your people as you did supremely in Jesus so many years ago. May JOY take hold in our hearts! We love You, Dad!
I'll end by sharing a song by Northern Irish artist, Foy Vance, that cause Joy to rise up in me. Enjoy!
'Closed Hand Full of Friends' by Foy Vance