Advent: Joy!

“Fear not, for behold, I bring you good tidings of great JOY, which shall be to all people.” – Luke 2:10

“For a second you catch a whiff in the air of some fragrance that reminds you of a place you’ve never been and a time you have no words for. The extraordinary thing that is about to happen is matched only by the extraordinary moment just before it happens. Advent is the name of that moment.”- Frederick Buechner

I have a confession: this year I broke the rule of appropriate Christmas carol commencement and instead of waiting until after Thanksgiving, I began listening in the beginning of October (which even for this Christmas-fanatic, is a new record)! Between a fall, filled with family health challenges, parenting struggles, natural and man-made disasters saturating my newsfeed, and our country’s current political divide, I just wanted to listen to music that would bring me… JOY! And so, despite the fact that it wasn’t even yet Halloween, I turned on my Pandora Christmas station during my commute home and the familiar and nostalgic melodies instantly turned my focus from fear to joy. Karen Carpenter’s smooth voice singing “Little Altar Boy” filled my car and instantly transported my mind back to my family’s old rec room- decked in burnt-orange shag carpet, multi-colored Christmas lights and Karen’s voice playing from vinyl records. In that moment I felt enveloped in a child-like sense of safety and peace, and also the joy that characterized my childhood Christmases.

As an adult, Christmas does not often feel as magical. The anticipation of Santa’s visit on Christmas morning doesn’t have the same power to make everything right, like it did when I was young. There is hurt and fear and stress that the “magic” of Christmastime cannot sooth, despite the images we are presented. We are sold the idea that we will have joy this Christmas if we have the perfect family portraits for our Christmas cards; Pinterest-worthy crafts for our children; hours spent in crowded stores trying to find the perfect gifts…all in hopes that we will find that original, nostalgic joy of Christmas from when we were kids basking in the magic of the season.

However, the advent season isn’t magical- it’s JOY-full. GK Chesterton wrote, “Joy, which was the small publicity of the pagan, is the gigantic secret of the Christian.” Beyond the commercialism is the true joy that is found only in Christ’s birth. We have this joy because we know that one day Christ will reconcile all pain. Advent gives us a glimpse of this future we have not yet fully seen, where all hurt in our lives and world will be redeemed by God’s love. And then we wil know no fear, only “glad tidings of great joy.”

Whatever forms of darkness or fear you might be facing this Advent season- health struggles, political frustrations, relational stress… my prayer is that the JOY of Advent would be made apparent to you in the midst of it. As we go about our activities leading up to Christmas day, let us be mindful of the glimpses God gives of his great joy: colorful Christmas lights piercing the darkness of winter skies; hearing the story of Christ’s birth put to music, playing in shopping malls and on radio stations; watching our kids’ faces lit by the light of one small flame at our church candlelight service; focusing on quality time versus quantity of gifts…These are only small glimpses of the JOY God desires for us- dispelling fears and uncertainty and pointing us back to Him.

-Mandy Neill

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