Today was the day when all the holy, righteous, and good order of Advent was broken by lighting the pink candle before finishing off the purple ones. Seriously, people, finish dinner before you head for dessert, ok? But I digress.
The candle in question, the pink one, is the joy candle (or, at least it is in our little world, so if you do it differently just enter my world for a few minutes). Being solemnly charged with the leadership of Bible time, I therefore had to figure out how to talk about joy in a manner apropos of the season.
My quick, unscientific search indicated to me that joy surrounding the birth of Jesus is the particular focus of Luke. (Ok, so he didn’t have much competition since only he and Matthew tell stories surrounding Jesus’ birth, but throw me a bone, ok?) Yes, Matthew tells of some rejoicing over the sight of the moving star, but Luke tell us:
- John the baptist will be a source of Joy for many
This same John leaps for joy in the womb at the voice of Mary
Mary sings a song of rejoicing at the work of God
Elizabeth’s neighbors rejoice at John’s birth
The angel tells the shepherds of the coming joy for all
As I wrestled with the content of joy in the context of Advent, it seemed to me that joy in these stories is particularly slanted toward the theme of faithful waiting. Joy abounds here not because of what has already been brought to pass, but because of what the faithful characters in the story believe is right around the corner because of the faithfulness of God.
John is a source of joy–because he is calling many back to the God of Israel in anticipation of God’s visitation.
Mary’s voice is a source of joy, not merely because she is carrying the Messiah, but also because she believed what the Lord had spoken to her (*ahem, Mr. Zechariah*).
Mary’s song is full of joy–because she looks to the coming acts of God and proclaims them in the past tense as though the advent and exaltation and subduing of the powers is a done deal.
And it all got me thinking about what joy looks like in 21st-century advent. Somehow we have to live into, grab hold of, the promised future of God. The boldness that would seem to be an over-realized eschatology must proclaim that the Kingdom of this world is become the kingdom of our Lord and of His Messiah–even as we still await the throwing down of the tyrants and the coming consummation of God’s reign.
How can we have joy? Not [just] by looking at our present circumstances and believing that somehow God has orchestrated it all and thus we should be thankful. Advent joy speaks to a different field of vision altogether.
Joy is faithful looking to the future and celebrating it–not as something to be trusted in as what is yet to come (which is hope)–as something that has already dawned and is reaching back into its past, our present, to transform now into the Age to Come.
So get ye up unto a high mountain, behold the coming salvation of your God, and rejoice.