Sunday, December 11, 2011

The Advent of Joy

We lit the "joy" candle in the advent wreath this morning, reminding us that the coming of Christ brings joy.

I love the joy candle because I 'get it'.  It's more than a ritual, it's something life-changing that I've experienced.  My heart does a little happy dance just thinking of it.

You see, joy isn't just the expression of an upbeat personality.  I've seen people who are quietly joyful and others who are a bit more exuberant in their expression.  It's not like winning the lottery--joyful isn't just a disposition you are born with or not. It's a person, Jesus, changing your life.  He gives you joy in the place of mourning.  It's real.

I'd like to tell you part of my story as an example...

In 1990 I decided I needed to change the trajectory of my life.  I ended a four-year relationship with a man, quit a job I really enjoyed, and moved from the east coast to the west.  I was confident that I was making the right choice, I just didn't know how hard it would be.  It was a lot of major life changes all at once.  I sank into depression.  I don't mean just feeling sad, I mean d.e.p.r.e.s.s.e.d.  The kind of heaviness that leaks out of your heart into your body and you feel like you can't even move.

One day I was lying on the living room floor wondering what my life had come to and if there was any possible way other than death to escape this hideous weight.  I really felt desperately at the end of my rope.

I love that God was Immanuel, God with me, at that moment.  He wasn't repelled by my sorry state, He met me in it.  I was crying out to Him for relief.  I felt an "urge" to try to sing a song--a simple, old gospel chorus: God is so good, God is so good, God is so good, He's so good to me.

If you've never been in that state of depression, it may sound silly to you that I could barely form the words.  It was all that I could do to whisper them, but it was enough to let in a ray of light.  I repeated the song over and over and over again until my voice grew stronger.  Eventually I was striding around the house, singing with all my might as though my life depended on it.  It did.

Nothing about my circumstances changed that day.  My heart still needed to mend, I needed to build new relationships and put down roots in a new place, but Joy filled my heart.  By declaring truth--that God is good--the darkness of despair was dispelled.  Lies of hopelessness were annihilated by the light of truth.  Joy came in the place of despair.

God is good.  All the time.  In the worst circumstances He has a plan for redemption.  When we've brought those circumstances upon ourselves by poor choices, He gives grace and restoration.  Anything else is a joy-destroying lie.  His truth brings Joy.

This is so much more than the power of positive thinking--it's an encounter with Jesus that transforms us.  He really did come to live among us, to share our sorrows and to make a way from darkness and despair to freedom.  Joy has come.

He has sent me to comfort the brokenhearted
and to proclaim that captives will be released
and prisoners will be freed.
To all who mourn...
he will give a crown of beauty for ashes,
a joyous blessing instead of mourning,
festive praise instead of despair.
Isaiah 61:1b, 3

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