They say a picture is worth a thousand words. Well, the little framed picture beside my bed always shouts just one word to me—joy! It only takes a glance to remember the laughter of my two kids, then 8 and 5, my daughter hugging her little brother from behind, and in a fit of giggles shouting, “I’ve got him, Mom!” My smile, trying to get the perfect picture, was quickly turning to terror as I realized how close my kids were, in their silliness, to tumbling backward off the edge of the cliff to the awesome, rocky surf below—I snapped the picture, then rather un-joyfully grabbed them and pushed them toward safer ground.
Joy in the midst of this life—in the chaos, stress, excitement, sorrow, laughter and yes, even terror, around us . . . we remember Emmanuel—God with us. God’s got us firmly in his grip . . . and he has asked us to rejoice, to celebrate! Just as scripture tells us that we, as believers in the Truth, do not grieve as the rest of the world grieves, because we have the Hope of the resurrection; it also reminds us that we do not celebrate as the rest of the world celebrates.
While others may celebrate this season of Advent with parties, colourful lights, shopping, baking, days off, family get-togethers, travel . . . we celebrate because behind it all, there is a reason, a real, true history of events unfolding in real time, from the foundation of the world! Sentimental feelings are wonderful in a moment’s glow of the fire crackling, the lights shining, the snow sparkling, but if there is nothing else–what will happen when there is nothing left but ashes, burnt out lights, and melting slush?
We need to remember the story, the true HIS-tory, the why, behind all the celebrations to give us true joy. Tucked away in the book of Nehemiah, in the middle of the Old Testament, is a passage that gives us a glimpse of the why behind the holidays or holy-days . . .
He continued, “Go home and prepare a feast, holiday food and drink; and share it with those who don’t have anything: This day is holy to God. Don’t feel bad. The joy of God is your strength!” (Nehemiah 8:10 MSG)
Now why did Nehemiah say, Don’t feel bad? Let’s back up and read the verse before it: And Nehemiah, who was the governor, and Ezra the priest and scribe, and the Levites who taught the people said to all the people, “This day is holy to the Lord your God; do not mourn or weep.” For all the people wept as they heard the words of the Law. (Nehemiah 8:9 ESV, underlining mine.)
These were God’s chosen people, but they had forgotten God’s words, his law. They had been taken away from Jerusalem, as slaves to Babylon, for almost 100 years (538BC – 468BC), and needed to be reminded of who they were and the promise of a future Messiah who would one day come to set them free once and for all in real time and space. So they wept with regret as they heard again, for a few, and for the first time, for most, the words of the Law.
So now, just as the Israelites, in the midst of all their troubles, looked back and remembered how God has rescued them out of Egypt so long ago, looked forward, longed for, and celebrated the Messiah to come into space and time; so we now celebrate with joy as we look back and remember His first coming and anticipate His second coming. We truly have a reason to sing, Christ has come! God’s got us, no matter how close we are to the cliff!
Prayer: Our Father, help us to remember and be thankful, to be present and celebrate, and to anticipate with hope our King who will come again to reign forever and ever. Amen.
Listen and celebrate: Joy, Joy by David Phelps
Contributed by Heather Armour