The Third Sunday of Advent: Joy

Light the two previously lit purple candles and the pink candle.

From the very beginning, in the Garden of Eden, the need for a Redeemer was seen and felt and the promise of His coming was first made. A Redeemer, a Savior, but also a king who would come from the line of King David who would rule forever and ever with justice and righteousness was promised as well. The prophets gave us more insight into just who this promised one would be – born of a virgin in Bethlehem, from the line of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob and the tribe of Judah, he would sit on David’s throne, and would be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace, Immanuel – God with us. The writer of Hebrews tells us that in the past God spoke to our ancestors through the prophets and in various ways. These prophetic voices telling what to expect created a sense of joy amongst the people who were living in darkness and despair.

The prophet Isaiah wrote these words, “Nevertheless, there will be no more gloom for those who were in distress….the people living in darkness have seen a great light; on those living in the land of the shadow of death a light has dawned. You have enlarged the nation and increased their joy!” (Isaiah 9:1-3). Jesus comes and brings light and life and joy because He is in fact the light of the world, the one in whom life can be found and the embodiment of the fullness of joy. The prophet goes on a few chapters later to tell us that in the day when the Root of Jesse stands as a banner for the peoples, men and women will say, “Surely God is my salvation; I will trust and not be afraid. The Lord, the Lord, is my strength and my song; he has become my salvation. With joy you will draw water from the wells of salvation” (Isaiah 12:2-3). The prophets spoke of a day when the people would sing for joy because salvation had come. But Isaiah was speaking these words while the Kings of Judah were still leading the people further and further away from God’s laws. There were still hundreds of years to pass before they would be taken into exile where for another 70 years they clung to the hope offered them through the prophets – someday they would sing with joy again, someday they would once more have reason to be joyful.

For 400 years following their return from exile the prophets were silent. The silence must have left them wondering when this promised one would ever come. The wait was long and dark and there weren’t too many reasons to rejoice. In those 400 years we have no recorded words from God. Then, on a silent, yet holy night in Bethlehem the very word of God took on flesh and made His appearing among us. The angels brought good news of great joy to the shepherds – a Savior had been born! Joy is wrapped up and lying in a manger. Light is dawning in a stable not far away. A new life has drawn its first breath and consequently has brought life to all of us. Jesus, the joy of heaven, has come to earth! In so doing He began to fulfill all that the prophets had spoken. Jesus himself would later tell the people He did not come to abolish what the prophets had said but to fulfill all that was spoken (Matthew 5:17).

Isaiah had said “The Lord himself will give you a sign: The virgin will conceive and give birth to a son, and will call him Immanuel” (Isaiah 7:14), and it’s fulfilled as Luke writes that an angel appeared to a young woman in Galilee who when told she would be with child and give birth to a son questioned him asking, “How will this be since I am a virgin?” (Luke 1:34).

The prophet Micah said, “But you, Bethlehem though you are small among the clans of Judah, out of you will come for me one who will be ruler over Israel, whose origins are from of old, from ancient times” (Micah 5:2). It’s fulfilled when Caesar Augustus decided to take a census and “Joseph also went up…to Bethlehem the town of David, because he belonged to the house and line of David. He went there to register with Mary, who was pledged to be married to him and was expecting a child. While they were there, the time came for the baby to be born, and she gave birth to her firstborn, a son” (Luke 2:4-7).

The prophecies regarding his coming, his birth and his death go on and on – every one of them fulfilled. What was promised has come true! But Advent also reminds us that just as Jesus came the first time in fulfillment to the words spoken in scripture so too will He come again just as it is promised! Advent means we can believe the Apostle Paul when he writes, “For we believe that Jesus died and rose again, … For the Lord himself will come down from heaven, with a loud command, with the voice of the archangel and with the trumpet call of God, and the dead in Christ will rise first. After that, we who are still alive and are left will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. And so we will be with the Lord forever” (1 Thessalonians 5:14, 16-17). And we look forward with joy when John writes the words spoken by Jesus himself, “Behold! I am coming soon!… I am the Alpha and the Omega, the First and the Last, the Beginning and the End…I am the Root and the Offspring of David, and the bright Morning Star.” The Spirit and the bride say, “Come!” And let the one who hears say, “Come!” Let the one who is thirsty come; and let the one who wishes take the free gift of the water of life”( Revelation 22:12-13, 16-17).

Jesus, the joy of Christmas, has come and is coming again for all who will receive Him! There is reason to rejoice. Let joy fill your heart today.