While many of us would be quick to list joy as a major Christian attribute, less of us understand it or even worse have ever truly experienced it. For some of us, we even wonder if there is anything to be joyous about at all. So what is this whole joy thing about anyway?
When I think of how joy and waiting mingle, especially during this season, I think of Christmas Eve when I was a little kid. I could NEVER go to sleep. As hard as I tried, sleep seemed to always allude me those nights, but it really didn’t matter; I was just so anxious about what the dawn (and Santa) would bring.
While presents were high on my list, the whole experience excited me. The glow of the tree in the low light of early morning, everyone in their underwear and jammies with hair all a mess, a delicious breakfast of biscuits and gravy made by my favorite chef (mom!), the huge pile of waste accumulated by the end of the unwrapping session, rummaging through what seemed like a bottomless stocking, seeing the rest of my family open the gifts I had picked out, and the afternoon trip to Grandma’s for even more fun.
It was the highlight of my year and sleep simply could not compare. I knew that just around the corner was a day unlike any other, a day of peace, excitement, and joy.
Yet, I grew up.
I have lost much of that sense of wonder from my youth. I now know better about jolly old Saint Nick and mom is a thousand miles away. I will probably sleep quite soundly on December 24th. Often my only real hope for the holiday season is that I might actually enjoy it.
Is this what we call maturity? Dear Lord, I hope not.
I believe we could all learn quite a bit from our younger selves. They would tell us to play some more, to imagine, and to laugh. They would tell us to let go of our pride and shame and run into our daddy’s arms when things hurt. Oh to have the faith of a child, Lord have mercy on me.
We need these lessons from of former selves because our present selves have incurred the burden of what we call “the real world.” There are bills to pay, things to clean, papers to be written, calls to make, and we alone are responsible. We have awoken to the reality that life is hard. And in this midst of what used to a joyous season, we’ve heaped more burdens upon our shoulders: debt, stress, plans, worries, and strife.
We fill the mall parking lots hoping to fill our hearts, only to find we’ve been lied to. We strive and strive looking for “something,” waiting for “someday” that will set us free, that will awaken that sleepless child from Christmas eve. Yet the more stuff we amass and the more things we do, we still can not find it.
A wise man once said “I considered all that my hands had done and the toil I had expended in doing it, and behold, all was vanity and a striving after wind, and there was nothing to be gained under the sun.”
Where are the glad tidings of joy? What will set us free from this life of decay? Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord!
I, like my younger self am often in sleepless state but for altogether different reasons. I find rest hard to come by in a world like the one I know. So I wait. Not idly, but actively. I hope, not fleetingly but confidently. Just as Jesus came the first time at just the right time, He shall come again.
Lord knows that there is a day, right around the corner, that will change everything, a day of peace, a day of excitement, a day of Joy indeed! The following Scripture from Romans 8 fully embodies this Advent idea of joy in waiting
“This resurrection life you received from God is not a timid, grave-tending life. It’s adventurously expectant, greeting God with a childlike “What’s next, Papa?” God’s Spirit touches our spirits and confirms who we really are. We know who he is, and we know who we are: Father and children. And we know we are going to get what’s coming to us—an unbelievable inheritance! We go through exactly what Christ goes through. If we go through the hard times with him, then we’re certainly going to go through the good times with him.
That’s why I don’t think there’s any comparison between the present hard times and the coming good times. The created world itself can hardly wait for what’s coming next. Everything in creation is being more or less held back. God reins it in until both creation and all the creatures are ready and can be released at the same moment into the glorious times ahead. Meanwhile, the joyful anticipation deepens.” (Romans 8:15-21 MSG)
That author knew what was right around the corner and he knew that in the waiting was joy. That deep down inside each of us (and even all of creation) there is an intense longing for “someday.” In Christ, we can know that that “someday” is coming, that He is coming. And we can join all creation in singing the joyous victory song, “Free at last, free at last, thank God Almighty we are free at last!”
Michael is a student at Denver Seminary and wants nerdy things like books on theology for Christmas. He is planting a church in North Little Rock, AR; you can find out more about it here: www.churchargenta.org. He also has a blog, A Sprig of Hope, found here.