Good news of great joy.
Don’t we all need good news at this point? As we journey through the Advent season, and look ahead to Christmas, it is so important that we hold onto and remember the good news that the angel delivered to the shepherds, and which Luke carefully recorded for us. In the city of David a Saviour was born for you, who is the Messiah, the Lord.
Earlier this week, Dr. Steve McMullin of Acadia Divinity College challenged a group of leaders to provide wisdom, perspective, and hope. Over the last nine months, many of us have grown weary. Like the disciples in the boat [Mark 4:38], we’ve been crying out: “Teacher! Don’t you care that we’re going to die?” We’ve forgotten how to lament. We’ve been crying out, without hope anchored in Jesus. So much is uncertain, but we must trust that Jesus is certain. Since Jesus is certain, he leads us to joy. Advent is an invitation for us to re-anchor our hope in Jesus.
Over the last several months, God has been separately leading my wife and me in a discovery of joy. We are now leading our children in a discovery of joy, and we’ve introduced a couple of practices to help us reflect on what causes us joy – on who brings us joy.
Family Conversations of Joy
Through the month of November, our supper time conversations were centered on moments of joy. We asked our children, “what brought you joy today?” The answers ranged throughout the month. Many of the answers were rooted in “earthly joys,” as things like donair sauce, balls, and windows made their way onto our list. Other items reflected deeper longings, such as freedom, rights, and shelter. In a year of social distancing, loss of public gatherings, and regular mask usage, there were many names of people who we care for and miss. We wrote the daily answers on cutouts of the letters “J-O-Y” and they remain present in our dining room to remind us of joy.
I’ve often reflected on how grateful I am that this pandemic is happening in the age of Zoom and social media. While not the same as authentic community, Zoom gatherings can serve as bridges to help us gather virtually, while we wait to gather in-person again. A number of months ago, our family began gathering with a few other families, which some of the group’s children began dubbing as “Family Church.” Although our Family church cannot currently gather, due to our health zone being in the current orange level, we are able to meet on Zoom to light our Advent candles together on Sunday mornings. While “not the same,” this communal experience of Advent, brings us reflection and joy. Thanks to these other families, we experience the joy that a community rooted in Jesus brings.
Personal Pursuit of Joy
The Advent Conspiracy book has been significant to me over the years as it influenced a lot of my pastoral ministry. Its authors write, ““Our world is increasingly fractured, yet we often mask this distance with a kind of pseudo-community – we call; we text; we Facebook, Tweet, Instagram, and the list goes on. These can be important ways to keep in touch, but they can never replace the flesh-and-blood aspect of a relationship. We were made to be with each other.” This year of social distancing has increased my own use of social media, in attempts to create this pseudo-community, but my personal agitation has increased as a result of a lot of bad information that is out there. While I cannot control others’ posting (I wish!), I’ve made the decision, for the pursuit of joy, to remove social media apps from my phone. While this is currently an Advent practice, I haven’t decided yet if I’ll restore those apps to my phone. Removing these apps is increasing my presence with my children, and giving me opportunity to reflect on Jesus, who ultimately brings me joy. Admittedly, I had a problem with checking my phone too often, and it was costing me joy. Joy that is rooted in the presence of an actual community than any pseudo-community. As Andrew Root writes:
“Joy is the experience of the Good, which comes upon us when we receive the gift of new life out of death, by faith.” Social media was robbing me of my experience of Jesus, the one who is Good.
Focus on Certainty
Ultimately, our family’s discovery and pursuit of joy, is an exploration of developing Advent hearts in each of us. We are learning to wait for God’s actions. We choose to believe that:
“God is not dead, nor doth He sleep; The Wrong shall fail, The Right prevail, With peace on earth, good-will to men.”
To help us remember this truth, we are focusing on joy.
In the midst of great uncertainty, what are you doing to keep perspective? How are you reminding yourself, your family, your church of God’s activity. COVID-19 is not the end of God’s plan for the redemption of humanity. Advent and Christmas are seasonal reminders of God’s continued plans for each of us.
Longfellow, Henry Wadsworth. “Christmas Bells,” in Our Young Folks (1865).
McKinley, Seay, and Holder. Advent Conspiracy (Zondervan, 2018), 93.
McMullin, Steve. “Replenish: Leadership Soul Care” retreat on Zoom. November 30, 2020.
Painter, J. “Joy,” in The Dictionary of Jesus and the Gospels (Intervarsity Press, 1992), 395.
Root, Andrew. The End of Youth Ministry? (Baker Academic, 2020), 116.