It’s an absolute joy to have my children finally home from school this week for ISU’s Christmas break! There’s nothing in the world that I love more than snuggling with my family and my dog, so I’m pretty much in Heaven right about now. :)
But as they lit the third Advent Candle this week, Kelvin and Shari Wynne reminded us all that real joy doesn’t come from the circumstances around us, but from the attitudes of our hearts. Yes, we can “enjoy” this moment or that one, this blessing or that one, but Paul could find joy while he was still chained in prison, and Jesus could find joy even as He faced the cross. We can and should appreciate our happy moments in our lives, but we should always seek joy -- a deep, abiding appreciation for knowing that we are right with the Lord, and an inner peace that comes from knowing that He knows what He’s doing -- even in the least happy moments in our lives.
Speaking of that, please do be praying for our church family members even more than usual during these holiday times. For some of us, they’re times of excitement and genuinely positive feelings. But for others of us, they can be times of stress, disappointment, confusion, and even loneliness. So please take the time during your week to mentally (or even literally) go through our Church Directory and lift everyone individually up in prayer. Consider visiting people who haven’t been able to interact with the rest of the church family for a while (for instance, I know that Cliff would appreciate a visit -- especially while he’s still at Proctor Hospital). There’s never a better Christmas gift than the one that shows that you sincerely care.
As we continued through our Advent series looking at what people were looking forward to in that first Christmas, we talked about Christ as King. Could you imagine what it must have felt like to be a shepherd on those night-shrouded hills, after four centuries of silence and fifteen centuries of waiting for the promised Messiah-King, to hear an angel proclaim that all of that waiting ends today...? Probably not -- you’d almost have to be a Jewish family at centuries of Seders gazing longingly at that empty plate or waiting endlessly for that knock on the door (or, I suppose, be a Cubs fan in 2016) to really understand the idea of yearning for something for generations.
Then again, much like what we talked about last week, the enthusiasm of the people of God for their promised Messiah was based less on wanting more of a connection with God and more on actually wanting less of a direct connection with God (remember why they wanted a prophet in Deuteronomy 18:15-16, or why they wanted a king in 1 Samuel 8:4-20?). They wanted to live more and more in this world, and yet feel more and more like they’re being “holy” about doing it. Think about how they treated Jesus when they thought He was a great, heroic King riding into town on a colt... and then think about how they treated Him when they realized that He was more interested in changing their hearts than in a worldly regime change. They weren’t wanting a Kingdom of God -- they were wanting God to give them a better version of a worldly kingdom here.
So where do you find yourself on that spectrum? Are you wanting to look more and more like the world (and yet be, y’know, a Christian), or are you wanting to be more and more an active ambassador of an entirely different Kingdom? Are you looking for an intensely intimate, personal relationship with God, or are you more comfortable with humans (prophets, pastors, world leaders, etc.) who can act as “filters” between you and God? Are you looking for a happier life by having a better version of what you want, or are you looking for a more joyful life by being changed by the God who sculpted you?