THIS WEEK: ReDiscover JOY!
Go and enjoy choice food and sweet drinks, and send some to those who have nothing prepared. This day is holy to our Lord. Do not grieve, for the joy of the LORD is your strength. —Nehemiah 8:10
Christmas was a fairly forgotten holiday in London and most of England by the 1840s. Easter was celebrated. So was Boxing Day. But Christmas? Meh. So publishers didn’t see why anyone would want to read Charles Dickens’s latest book, A Christmas Carol. Turned out, everyone did. As we know, Dickens’s story was a hit, and still is. Because of that book, Dickens has been credited with saving Christmas and shaping the way we celebrate the holiday today. Not just in England, but in the U.S. too.
Of course, we all know the story of Mr. Scrooge and his “Bah, humbug!” It’s ultimately a tale of Scrooge’s redemption, but the Crachit family serve as a reminder of the joy of the season, no matter how miserly and harsh the world is around us.
Long before Dickens, Israel’s leader Nehemiah led the Jewish people back from exile in Babylon to rebuild the walls of Jerusalem. He also led them back to God and to the worship they had forgotten. When Nehemiah had God’s Law read to the people, they wept with remorse and regret. But as a representative of God’s work and voice, Nehemiah was a reminder of grace and restoration. His declaration was to celebrate and embrace the joy of the occasion, “for the joy of the LORD is your strength.”
We know that the pace and activities of our holidays can bring a mixture of emotions that threatens to chase joy into the shadows. As we choose to cling to the joy of the Lord, let us embrace and experience the joy of the season in His hope, peace, and love in our lives.
Apply: What is squashing your Christmas joy? What can you say no to in order to say yes to joy this season?
Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything. —James 1:2-4
If you’ve spent much time in nature, you’ve probably come across the odd sight of a tree growing out of a rock. In the city, you’ve probably seen a flower blooming out of a tiny crack in a sidewalk or street. Plants like that make a stark contrast to our expectations. They go against the grain of what we normally expect from nature and science. We know plants of all kinds need soil to grow and live. Yet these hardy botanical survivors somehow find a way to send roots through the tiniest crevices or to draw nutrients from the most meager supplies. They defy their harsh environments and find a way to thrive.
Joy allows us to do the same. It gives us the strength to persevere even when our circumstances look bleak and we are surrounded by cold, hard reality. Does it make sense to feel joy when we face trials? No. But when we choose joy, when we choose to look with thankfulness for what God will do even in our bleakest days, we can find the strength to persevere another day, and another, and another. And we continue to grow stronger in our rocky surroundings.
It’s not easy. Maybe that’s why Paul said it twice: “Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice!” (Philippians 4:4). He knew we needed reminders often. He had certainly lived through the difficulties of prison, beatings, hatred, ridicule, loneliness, injustice, and more. Yet Paul continued to choose the action of joy, to rejoice, and to place his focus on God, even when life felt like nothing but a rock and a hard place.
Apply: What is the rock you are facing right now? What step will you take to choose joy even when it’s hard?
(Reprinted with permission from Outreach.com “Advent Reading Plan”)