Isaiah 55:12 (NIV)
12 You will go out in joy and be led forth in peace; the mountains and hills burst into song before you, and all the trees of the field will clap their hands.”
What an image is painted by Isaiah! Creation, singing and clapping, as those who have been held as captives are released – exiting their confinement in joy and escorted in peace.
That picture reminds me of something grand about God’s salvation plan for this world: it is both personal and global. All of creation anticipates God’s redeeming work – the whole earth can’t keep from rejoicing: people and mountains and trees are all part of the parade of joy and all of the joy is centered around God’s redeeming love. Is it any wonder that a star appeared over the place of Jesus’ birth?
One time, when His disciples were praising God for what they had seen Jesus do, the Pharisees wanted Jesus to shut them up. Jesus’ response? “I tell you,” He replied, “if they keep quiet, the stones will cry out” (Luke 19:40 NIV). That’s what I call uncontainable joy!
During Advent remember that we are on an excursion of anticipation. We overflow with joy when we consider all that God has done, is doing and will ultimately do. The joy cannot be contained or corralled. It overflows and oozes out, and somehow, someway, always finds an expression in response to the unfolding of God’s redemption plan.
When Isaac Watts penned the Christmas carol “Joy To The World” in 1719 he may have not known that each Christmas season the words of the carol would be sung as an expression of uncontainable joy. But as we sing it, and as we reflect on the reason for it, we know that the thrill of hope touches a world that’s weary and worn – a world anticipating that maybe something truly good awaits.
Joy came to the world because God loved His creation so much that He sent His Son to unveil His plan. The impact on earth of Christ’s birth can never be diminished despite any force that tries to stop it. Enjoy the expedition and embrace the joy that Christ’s birth reveals – joy that the whole world cannot contain!
Matthew 2:10-11 (NIV)
10 When they saw the star, they were overjoyed. 11 On coming to the house, they saw the child with His mother Mary, and they bowed down and worshiped Him. Then they opened their treasures and presented Him with gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh.
The Wise Men couldn’t ignore it. The star was pulling them to move. The journey they began was because of a sense that this star was God leading them somewhere to someone.
Have you ever felt led by God to go somewhere? To go to someone? Have you ever felt pulled toward something that you couldn’t explain but you couldn’t let go of either? The journey may be exhilarating and exhausting; scary and exciting. But what happens at the destination is worth any trepidation because the result is transformation. That’s what happened with the Wise Men and that’s what God wants to happen for you.
The end of the journey for the Wise Men was Jesus and they worshiped Him and their joy from seeing the star was changed to worshiping the Star of it all.
Luke 1:39-44 (NIV)
39 At that time Mary got ready and hurried to a town in the hill country of Judea,
40 where she entered Zechariah’s home and greeted Elizabeth. 41 When Elizabeth heard Mary’s greeting, the baby leaped in her womb, and Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit. 42 In a loud voice she exclaimed: “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the child you will bear! 43 But why am I so favored, that the mother of my Lord should come to me? 44 As soon as the sound of your greeting reached my ears, the baby in my womb leaped for joy.”
Elizabeth’s unborn baby (John the Baptist) couldn’t help but react in the presence of Mary’s unborn baby (Jesus). When you come into His presence you can’t help but leap with joy.
A friend of mine reported being pulled aside by a TSA employee on a flight just after Thanksgiving this year. She wasn’t in trouble, the TSA man just wanted to read the saying on her shirt. He read it aloud, “Tis the season to be jolly!” He smiled a big comfortable grin adding, “And joyful and joyous, too.” My friend smiled and said she agreed with him. Then she went about the rest of the security process and entered to wait for her flight.
When she boarded she had to stand in the First Class section and wait with other passengers as those ahead of her got their carry-on bags situated. She noticed a smile come across a man’s face. He admitted that he had read her shirt. He commented, “I couldn’t agree more.”
In the middle of your busyness or perhaps in the midst of a wave of loneliness, when there may be too much to do or maybe you wish there was more to do, remember: tis the season to be jolly and joyful and joyous, too.
Ask the Lord to let His joy be your strength because then it’ll be a whole easier in those difficult moments. Let joy be the interactive rhythm of your conversations and interactions. How? Rely on the source of true joy – the presence of Jesus. You can’t help but leap with joy when you recognize you are with Him!
Isaiah 30:19-21 (GNT)
19 You people who live in Jerusalem will not weep any more. The Lord is compassionate, and when you cry to Him for help, He will answer you. 20 The Lord will make you go through hard times, but He Himself will be there to teach you, and you will not have to search for Him any more. 21 If you wander off the road to the right or the left, you will hear His voice behind you saying, “Here is the road. Follow it.”
I don’t rise in the morning and think, “I really hope today is going to be a hard day because I feel like I need a good dose of joy.” Do you? And, we don’t usually consider that God makes us go through hard times. After all, He loves us and wants us to enjoy the life He’s given us in Christ. Actually, when hard times come don’t we often look for a way we can force God to come to our rescue? Yet verse 20 is clear that the Lord will sometimes MAKE us go through hard times.
Here’s why we can be joyful when He does: God gives us His very own self: His compassion, His eagerness to answer us when we cry to Him, His gentle correction, His presence with us during times of sorrow or difficulty or training (see Hebrews 12:3-11).
In today’s reading Isaiah speaks God’s words and paints some of the most vivid pictures of the life that Christ would live 700 years before He was born. Look again at verse 21. Isn’t it amazing that the Lord is so close? Isn’t it wonderful that He bends down to hear us and help us? He didn’t wait for us but He came to us in the babe born in Bethlehem. We can live out the full implications of Isaiah’s vision only when we believe that the Son of God loved us and gave Himself for us. The more we draw near to Him, the more we will experience His guidance and comfort and joy.
During this week of Advent reflect on your sorrows and rejoice that our compassionate Lord knows them all. In fact, sometimes He leads us through hard times but even when He does His presence assures us of the joy we have in Him.
Psalm 118:22-25 (NIV)
22 The stone the builders rejected has become the cornerstone; 23 the LORD has done this, and it is marvelous in our eyes. 24 The LORD has done it this very day; let us rejoice today and be glad. 25 LORD, save us! LORD, grant us success!
Psalm 118 is a promise that the Savior would come. Verse 22 explains, in construction terms, that God would choose to use what the builders (the religious know-it-alls) thought of as worthless to instead, be of highest worth, in His construction plan. That “cornerstone,” of course, is Jesus. God would choose to send His Son in such a way that our natural ways of evaluating people would dismiss His arrival – a baby in a poor family, in a poor neighborhood, in a poor community, in a poor nation, in a poor time. These were all intentional choices by God.
In verse 24 the psalmist calls on us to choose joy when he says, “let us rejoice today and be glad.” The immediate circumstance of Psalm 118 was that there had been no reason for God’s people to rejoice for a long time. But finally God was bringing victory to them. You might think that rejoicing would just spontaneously flow because of God’s saving work on their behalf. But, like us, they needed to be told: It’s time to let joy flow freely. It’s time to choose to rejoice.
So, in these days leading up to our celebration of Jesus’ birth, you’ve got a choice to make. You can choose to focus on the poor condition of this world or the poor circumstances of your finances or the poor relationship you have with a family member or a friend or any other poor condition you know of, OR, you can choose to focus on God’s answer to all of it: JESUS!
Can you really choose joy? Absolutely! You can say to God, “Thank You for the work You have done and are doing in our world and in me through Your Son, Christ Jesus, the Lord.” When you are purposeful in doing that you are heightening your sense of joy and that will make it possible for you to daily choose joy.
Psalm 126:5-6 (NIV)
5 Those who sow with tears will reap with songs of joy. 6 Those who go out weeping, carrying seed to sow, will return with songs of joy, carrying sheaves with them.
My beautiful wife of 36 years loves gardening. Everything from the impractical, like roses, to the hyper-practical, like vegetables and herbs, are all part of her seasonal contribution to oxygenating our atmosphere. But I’ve noticed this one thing about some of the stuff she plants. Much of it isn’t all that beautiful to start with! In fact, some of it has a pretty disgusting appearance during the pre-planting season. Roots and bulbs don’t exactly shout out, “Look at how pretty I am!” In fact, if you look at some of it just before it goes into the ground you’d probably be inclined to put it in the recycle bin.
But what appears to be ugly is suddenly very beautiful when the season for blooming and harvesting comes. Walking alongside our house at the right time of year brings a smile to my face because I see and smell vibrant and colorful flowers. At the right time, what went into the earth is unrecognizable, emerges in its season and is amazing.
Tears are often like that. They seem to be the exact opposite of joy. Tears are mostly about pain. They are most often the outcome of our sadness. But that’s just in the season of planting. Like the psalmist writes, “Those who sow with tears will reap with songs of joy.” Tears can cleanse when they flow, and then, they can water a harvest of joy. Same tears, different season.
So, if you are in a season of planting with tears let those who love you embrace you and bring comfort to you. And, if you are in a season of reaping with songs of joy, share – be an encourager to someone who needs your kindness, warmth, humor, generosity. Allow The Gardener (see John 15:1) of your soul to do what He needs to do in you to bring from you goodness and beauty. When you let Him work on you He will turn your tears of despair into tears of joy in just the right season.
Luke 2:10-11 (NIV)
10 But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people. 11 Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; He is the Messiah, the Lord.
Parties, colorful lights, tinsel, special meals, music, family gatherings – it’s like a conspiracy to make the weeks leading up to Christmas Day merry and festive. You might think that this is an imitation of what the first Christmas was like. But is it? Certainly the announcement from the angel was good news. However, all the news wasn’t good. The circumstances certainly didn’t seem all that much of a reason for joy.
Joseph had to deal with the fact that his fiance was pregnant. An angel assured him that Mary’s baby was conceived by the Holy Spirit so he believed Mary was not unfaithful to him. Even so, this didn’t eliminate people’s harsh and hurtful words. It didn’t remove the pain of the actions that were conspiring to make the blessed event anything but joyful.
And, think of Mary. She’s at full-term. Now she must ride a donkey for hours and then give birth in a stinky, filthy, animal pen. These are certainly not the ingredients for joy. It feels more like a conspiracy to cause humiliation.
So, where does all this “great joy,” the angel announced, come in?
If we read the balance of the angel’s announcement as recorded by Luke, we will understand that the joy is not tied to circumstances at all, but to a person – Christ the Lord. God conspired with all of Heaven to bring joy to the world by sending a Savior into the world.
The reason to get excited about Christmas Day in 2017 in the midst of all the pain, grief, sorrow and, yes, even humiliation…the reason to be enthusiastic about Jesus’ birthday even when life has more downs than ups…the reason we sing Joy To The World again this year is because we who are already “in Christ” are co-conspirators with God. We are His ambassadors of joy because the Lord has come!
“Therefore God has highly exalted Him and bestowed on Him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.” –Philippians 2:9-11
We all experience trouble and hardship in life. But when we truly have our hearts and minds set on Christ we can see even the setbacks in life to be a work of God for our good and His glory. Instead of worrying we worship; and instead of fret there’s faith. This is what taking refuge in the love of God does from our hearts, minds, and lives. This is the Christmas story at work in us. And so this is what I want to share with you this Advent season.
Today’s devotional isn’t going to come from me, but from John Piper, who has taught me over the years what it truly is to experience the joy of the Lord in my life by taking refuge in His love for me. I hope you enjoy it and learn from it as much or even more than I have.
“God’s Most Successful Setback” – An Advent devotional thought by John Piper
Christmas marked the beginning of God’s most successful setback. He has always delighted to show his power through apparent defeat. He makes tactical retreats in order to win strategic victories.
In the Old Testament, Joseph, one of the twelve sons of Jacob, was promised glory and power in his dream [Genesis 37:5-11]. But to achieve that victory he had to become a slave in Egypt. And, as if that were not enough, when his conditions improved because of his integrity, he was made worse than a slave: a prisoner.
But it was all planned. Planned by God for his good and the good of his family, and eventually for the good of the whole world! For there in prison he met Pharaoh’s butler, who eventually brought him to Pharaoh, who put him over Egypt. And finally, his dream came true. His brothers bowed before him, and he saved them from starvation. What an unlikely route to glory!
But that is God’s way – even for His Son. He emptied Himself and took the form of a slave. Worse than a slave – a prisoner – and was executed. But like Joseph, he kept His integrity. “Therefore God has highly exalted Him and bestowed on Him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow” (Philippians 2:9-10).
And this is God’s way for us too. We are promised glory – if we will suffer with Him as it says in Romans 8:17. The way up is down. The way forward is backward. The way to success is through divinely appointed setbacks. They will always look and feel like failure.
But if Joseph and Jesus teach us anything this Christmas it is this: What Satan and sinful men meant for evil, “God meant it for good!” (Genesis 50:20).
You fearful saints fresh courage take
The clouds you so much dread
Are big with mercy and will break
In blessings on your head.
Family Ministries Pastor
“Come, everyone who thirsts, come to the waters; and he who has no money, come, buy and eat! Come, buy wine and milk without money and without price. Why do you spend your money for that which is not bread, and your labor for that which does not satisfy?” –Isaiah 55:1-2
After Jesus had resurrected from the grave, He sat on a beach one morning cooking breakfast over a charcoal fire for His disciples, who were fishing about 100 yards offshore. When the disciples got to the beach and began eating with Jesus, Jesus asked Peter “do you love Me more than these?” Peter answered “Yes, Lord; You know that I love You.” So Jesus said to him, “Feed My lambs.” (John 21:1-19). Throughout the Bible we see that satisfying people’s physical hunger is one of the greatest acts of love. When we’re hungry we groan for the satisfaction that food brings. And just as physical hunger makes us groan, so does our spiritual starvation. And that’s is more what Jesus was referring to in His conversation with Peter on that beach WHILE feeding his physical belly.
So here’s the good news of the Christmas story: the birth of Jesus is an invitation to the best, most satisfying dinner ever! The Bible tells us that Jesus is the only food that will ever satisfy the needy, groaning hunger that is in the heart of every one of us. The birth of Jesus- who is the Bread of Life- is an invitation to finally have your spiritual belly filled with the most beautiful, hunger-satiating food ever. Consider your spiritual hunger this morning, and learn in the deepest parts of your heart how Jesus can and wants to be the filling and nourishment you need. As you do here are some verses – along with some thoughts from Paul David Tripp – to consider:
The promise of satisfying spiritual food. “The afflicted shall eat and be satisfied; those who seek Him shall praise the Lord! May your hearts live forever! (Psalm 22:26). “Afflicted” in this passage means poor. One of the harshest realities of poverty is hunger. Sin makes us spiritually poor, and God promises to satisfy that hunger.
The invitation to feast and to be satisfied. “Come, everyone who thirsts, come to the waters; and he who has no money, come, buy and eat! Come, buy wine and milk without money and without price. Why do you spend your money for that which is not bread, and your labor for that which does not satisfy?” (Isaiah 55:1-2). Here is both an invitation to eat spiritually satisfying food that someone else has paid for and an exhortation, in the form of a question, to quit eating what can never spiritually fill you.
The illustration of what food satisfies, and what doesn’t truly satisfy. “And He took bread, and when He had given thanks, He broke it and gave it to them, saying, ‘This is My body, which is given for you. Do this in remembrance of Me’” (Luke 22:19). “I am the bread of life; whoever comes to Me shall not hunger, and whoever believes in Me shall never thirst” (John 6:35). The birth of Jesus is not only an invitation to the best dinner ever, but it is also the delivery of the food that will be served to the very hungry person who comes to God’s table. Jesus is that food.
The celebration dinner. “And the angel said to me, ‘Write this: Blessed are those who are invited to the marriage supper of the Lamb.’ And he said to me, ‘These are the true words of God’” (Rev. 19:9). Our invitation to this celebratory dinner where we have been forever united to Christ is written in His shed blood. He is not only the food that satisfies, but also the sacrifice that pays the price for us to be part of the final dinner that will never, ever end.
Jesus was born because God cared about our hunger. Jesus was born because God knew that nothing in creation would ever silence our growling stomachs. Jesus was born to invite us to the ultimate meal that would finally satisfy the hunger of our hearts. And Jesus, in His life and death, paid the price that we could never afford to pay, so that we could sit at the banquet table of His grace and finally be satisfied. The birth of Jesus is not only an invitation to dinner, but also the gift of the food that every spiritually hunger person is by grace invited to eat, so that with full hearts we would groan no more.
Family Ministries Pastor
“By this we know love, that He laid down His life for us…” –1 John 3:16
“Shane and Shane”- who happen to be my favorite worship leaders of all time- produced their first Christmas album in 2008 titled Glory In The Highest. And while the album was filled with holiday favorites like O Holy Night and O Come O Come Emmanuel, it also featured a song that they had written for the album titled Born To Die (check it out here). I’m sure you can guess what it’s about.
There are many Truths regarding the reason for Christ’s coming into the world on that first Christmas over 2,000 years ago. It’s true that Jesus came to bring Light into this dark world. It’s true that Jesus came to demonstrate the true purpose of life. It’s true that Jesus came to bear witness to the Truth. It’s true that Jesus came to preach the good news of the Kingdom of God. And it’s true that Jesus came to call sinners into repentance. But what drives all of those reasons is the reality that Jesus came to earth on Christmas so that He could die here on Good Friday, and ultimately raise again on Easter. The opening lyrics to the song are:
When the babe was born
In a manger on the hay
God saw a veil torn
He saw Good Friday
He was born to die
Jesus came to die. And He did so out of a great and pure love for you and I, knowing that His death would atone for our sins, reconcile us to God, disarm the spiritual rulers and authorities of their power over us, and bring about abundant life for us in the here and now and for all eternity. Jesus saw our greatest needs and went to the greatest lengths to meet them.
Have you truly allowed your heart to embrace just how loved you are by God?? Have you allowed His love for you to overflow into a life of love for others? In John 15 Jesus says “This is My commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends” (vv. 12-13). We may not have the opportunity to physically die for someone else, but we have endless opportunities to put our wants and ambitions aside to serve the Lord and others. Loving like Jesus could look like covering a shift at work, helping a student in a class who is struggling, having a hard conversation that will lead to reconciliation, or simply giving someone a ride. Believe it or not, these simple acts of sacrificial love can cause people to ask questions and can ultimately lead them to Jesus! Can you think of any opportunities to lay yourself down to serve someone else this Advent season?
Family Ministries Pastor