This third Sunday of advent, we light the candle of joy, also known as the Shepherd’s candle, reminding us of the choir of angels. Bright light bursting forth in the darkness, startling the poor shepherds, proclaiming the long awaited Messiah's birth, a baby snuggled in the warmth of a humble stable.
Once the shock of this great announcement wore off, the shepherds gathered together, deciding to find the child. Moving as quickly as their legs would carry them to the village, they discover Mary, Joseph, and the baby, just like the angels said. “And the shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen, as it had been told them” (Luke 2:20).
We easily identify with the shepherds, because who wouldn’t walk away rejoicing when they had just experienced such miraculous events. Yet, it would have taken great faith to believe the angels words, in fact, they go to Bethlehem to see it with their own eyes. It took courage to tell everyone they met on the dusty street about the Christ-child, especially when their message was received by quizzical, perhaps even critical, eyes.
The Jews at this time had been growing weary, they were waiting for rescue, waiting for the promised one. Under the hand of the Romans, they were oppressed and persecuted, they could only hold onto hope.
Our hearts, and minds, are weary. We may be experiencing loss, difficult circumstances, or too many changes; this season, once sprinkled with peanuts in a paper bag, the loud hum of families visiting, and itchy pantyhose, now drizzled with joggers, snacks, and the comforts – and dullness – of home.
The feeling of joy may be far off, but we remember that joy is both a feeling and an action, a result of the Holy Spirit in our life. In Scripture we read about rejoicing at finding the one lost sheep, of a woman healed from her bleeding, and when the disciples return to Jerusalem after Jesus’ ascension. Opportunities to rejoice abound.
While we can never force ourselves to feel joy, even if we think we “should” feel joyful, we remember that joy is not limited to a feeling, it is also an action. It’s an invitation to know the truth about who we are, and who our Savior is, to act with faith and hope in the gospel and move courageously in trying times.
So where can our weary hearts find joy?
Find Joy In His Presence
As lonely as this Christmas will feel, we remember that we are not forsaken. Psalm 31:7 says, “I will rejoice and be glad because of your mercy. You have seen my misery. You have known the troubles in my soul.” Those who love and follow Christ seek him in prayer, with our longings, desires, struggles and hardships. We pray because we know he sees us even in our weariness, and has not left us or abandoned us. Knowing that he is near, helps our confidence, even when we don't feel it.
What can you bring to the Lord in prayer this morning?
Find Joy in Suffering
Through my work as a nurse, I see many struggling with health concerns and losses this time of year. There aren’t limits to when our suffering can occur, even if it’s in the middle of special seasons. John writes to the church at Ephesus, and he says, “I know you are enduring patiently and bearing up for my name’s sake, and you have not grown weary” (Revelation 2:3). This is written to persecuted believers, who were watching families get torn apart, friends martyred and severe animosity toward those followed Jesus. While much of our suffering isn’t persecution, they were encouraged to endure patiently for the name of Jesus, for the gospel. It’s a call for us, to hold on tightly to what we know and believe to be true, even when life is devastatingly difficult.
How can you hold tightly to the gospel in your struggles today?
Find Joy in His Strength
“He gives power to the faint, and to him who has no might he increases strength. Even youths shall faint and be weary, and young men shall fall exhausted; but they who wait for the Lord shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings like eagles; they shall run and not be weary; they shall walk and not faint” (Isaiah 40:29-30).
We’ve learned to rely on ourselves, on our own strength for so long, that when the times of hardship come, we are starkly reminded that we have no strength, other than what we are given. Even in our weariness, this beautiful picture of being carried can bring us hope and joy, for when we have nothing to offer up, he has everything to provide. The psalmist cries out, “I love you, O Lord my strength” (Psalm 18:1) and wherever we are, whatever we find ourselves in the middle of, we can call on his strength as our own; in this we find delight, that we don’t supply it on our own.
Where do you need to surrender your own striving, for the strength of the Lord?
The celebration of our rescuer, his coming as in a body like ours, to live and breathe, to experience ridicule and suffering, for us. We worship in spirit and in truth, rejoicing with weary hearts that he came to gift us, not only with life eternal, but with life to the full, for today.
This remembrance, this truth cannot be taken away. May we be encouraged today although we may be tired and grieving, we can move with confidence in the truth of what we believe about our Savior.
How can you find joy in weariness this season?