Tuesday, December 13, 2016

Advent Journal Day XVII: Thanksgiving In Our Joy

Joy. Reflecting today about what to write concerning joy, I wondered, how does one get joy? As I prepare my heart for the arrival of Christ, how do I get joy—and how will I know my joy has filled this weary soul?

The most recited verse of course is Nehemiah; often cited when I am supposed to pull myself up by the boots straps; when joy seems nowhere to be found: “Then he said to them, "Go, eat of the fat, drink of the sweet, and send portions to him who has nothing prepared; for this day is holy to our Lord. Do not be grieved, for the joy of the LORD is your strength” {Nehemiah 8:10}.

More often than not, I am annoyed by it recitation than encouraged. But I have accepted that the problem is most likely with me. I want joy; I need it; How do I get it? Is it an illusion or tangible, something I can grasp in my hand? Will I want to run and jump and do cartwheels when I have found it? One thing I do know is that Joy is not happiness—happiness changes with circumstances.

Joy in the Old Testament, is remembering all the mighty and wondrous works of Almighty God. He delivered Israel from Egypt { Ex.18:9-11 }. To fulfill His Word to Israel He called them from exile in Babylon { Jer. 31:1-19 } to their precious home in Jerusalem—their highest joy. {Ps. 137:6}. Joy is expressed in Israel's corporate worship life {Deut. 16:13-15 ; 2 Chron. 30:21-22 }, and it should for us as well, and in which we should all participate. “I rejoiced with those who said to me, ‘Let us go the house of the Lord” Ps. 122:1}.

Spiritual joys are often expressed in Scripture with, marriage, military victory, and successful financial undertakings. Christ's coming is described by the joy of the harvest and dividing military spoil ( Is. 9:2-7 ).

This imagery continues into the New Testament. Jesus describes John the Baptist’s reaction to His coming as the joy {chara (carav)} of the friend of the bridegroom {Jn. 3:29-30 }.

Joy of course is illustrated in the nativity narrative. The birth of John the Baptist as the messenger to prepare the way for the Messiah is an occasion of joy for Zachariah and Elizabeth, and their community { Lk. 1:14 }. The shepherds are visited by a magnificent choir of the angelic with rejoice, and joy, on their lips and in their songs. The Magi, upon finding the infant Jesus, are “overjoyed” { Matt. 2:10 }. Luke tell us that the disciples returned with great joy after Jesus’ ascension {Lk. 24:52 }.

Joy belongs also to the realm of the supernatural. Angels rejoice at redemption. The shepherd who finds his lost sheep; the woman rejoices for finding her coin; the long-lost son's return brings rejoicing. The man rejoices when he has found and purchased the pearl of great price  {Lk. 15}.
God has joy in the atoning sacrifice of Jesus {Matt. 13:44}. Jesus who with joy “endured the cross, scorning its shame” { Heb. 12:2 }; for believers, trials and persecution are occasions for joy {Jms. 1:2 }. Peter and John rejoiced that they were found worthy of suffering disgrace for the “Name” {Acts 5:41}. Suffering brings joy as believers are joined to Christ in his suffering {1 Pet. 4:13-14 }. Paul speaks of his joy in the midst of suffering {2 Cor. 7:4-16 } . It is a part of our journey of faith { Php.1:25 }. Joy expresses the relationship between the apostle and his dearly loved children, and for an opportunity for thanksgiving { Rom. 15:32 Php. 2:28 }, with each rejoicing in the other. God's kingdom is “righteousness, peace and joy” { Rom. 14:17}. Salvation is a cause for joy, as the disciples are commanded to “rejoice that your names are written in heaven” {Lk. 10:20 }. Fellowship with Jesus brings continuous joy {John 15-17}.

I read over these verses, and I see so many connections that tell us how have joy. It is not an illusion, or a mystery or hype. It is real. It is tangible. Maybe you will feel like doing cartwheels. Maybe not, and that’s okay too. The Lord commands us to have joy. He commands us to rejoice in celebrating Him, and all He has done for us. I see words like “rejoice,” “thanksgiving,” and “fellowship” colluding in these holy passages. They are the key to this joy.

This Advent Journal’s purpose is for me to create a theology of thanksgiving. I have been wrapped up in the advent theme each week, almost forgetting to cultivate the thanksgiving. I see now how easily the well of joy gets obstructed. I believe that thanksgiving and joy go hand-in-hand. How can I be joyful for something I am not grateful for? And not just in deed, but truly in my heart—cultivating a grateful heart; when I do the joy will be overflowing.

Behold, God is my salvation, I will trust and not be afraid; For the Lord God is my strength and song, And He has become my salvation. Therefore you will joyously draw water from the springs of salvation {Is. 12: 2-3}.

Believing in God and believing His Word may be sound theology, but it is not the end in its self. Obedience is not enough to receive this joy. Belief and obedience express to God that He has our will; it does not mean He has our heart. Our theology must turn into praise and worship—that comes from the heart.

But an hour is coming, and now is, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth; for such people the Father seeks to be His worshipers. God is spirit, and those who worship Him must worship in spirit and truth {Jn. 4: 23-24}.

Worship Him; be thankful for all He has done for you. The God of the universe turned His attention to a lost, dark, planet, and sent His Son to redeem you. Make this your theology of thanksgiving. Even in pain, sorrow, and in dark times, worship unstops the well of joy. Grief will lead to joy.

Truly, truly, I say to you, that you will weep and lament, but the world will rejoice; you will grieve, but your grief will be turned into joy {Jn. 16:20}.

Shout joyfully to the Lord, all the earth. Serve the Lord with gladness; Come before Him with joyful singing. Know that the Lord Himself is God; It is He who has made us, and not we ourselves; we are His people and the sheep of His pasture. Enter His gates with thanksgiving And His courts with praise. Give thanks to Him, bless His name. For the Lord is good; His lovingkindness is everlasting And His faithfulness to all generations {Psalm 100}.

O come, let us sing for joy to the Lord, Let us shout joyfully to the rock of our salvation. Let us come before His presence with thanksgiving, Let us shout joyfully to Him with psalms. For the Lord is a great God And a great King above all gods, in whose hand are the depths of the earth, the peaks of the mountains are His also. The sea is His, for it was He who made it, and His hands formed the dry land. Come, let us worship and bow down, Let us kneel before the Lord our Maker {Psalm 95: 1-6}.

To read the entire Advent Journal click here:

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