Joy- 3rd Sunday in Advent 2018

Joy? Yes. Joy for several reasons but not only or always completely linked to “God answered my prayer/s, He did as I wished He’d do” for myself, a loved one, a job, a home, financial security, healthcare or release from jail or prison.

The young virgin mother of Jesus reportedly made two amazing statements (among others) that we would do well to ponder.

the-annunciation

God sent the angel Gabriel to Mary, a poor, young Jewish girl engaged to Joseph.

And coming in, he said to her, “Greetings, favored one! The Lord is with you.” (Luke 1.26-37) In the same discussion he again told her she was being favored by the Lord in verse 30.

As it was for her, in the real, everyday world God’s favor does not mean triumphalism, the concept one will alway win, everything will work out according to one’s desires.

Mary’s response after hearing Gabriel’s announcement that she would miraculously be impregnated by the Holy Spirit, carry and give birth to the Savior of Israel and the world?

Mary said, “Behold, the bondslave of the Lord; may it be done to me according to your word.” (Luke 1.38) Incredible!

She made a statement of devout faith but more,  a serious response of surrendered commitment to accepting what God willed and what He would allow -regardless. She trusted Him through the difficulties!

A bit more than 3 decades later the One born of her -Jesus, Son of God, promised Messiah was mocked, spat upon, viciously beaten, compelled to haul His own instrument of death up a hill before screaming crowds. He was then crucified right in front of her and a large portion of Jerusalem. The innocent, sinless One was murdered in a state execution in between two truly guilty thieves.

Another word spoken to her had come to pass: “…and a sword will pierce even your own soul”. (Luke 2.35)

The ebb and flow of life in a sinful, broken, not God-forsaken (but populated with humans-who-often-forsake-God) world is… what it is. It’s not merely a matter of faith, it’s a matter of intimate connection and obedience with God when trust in Him is challenged.

Joy? Yes. Easter came! It came later, eventually, after all.

The truly favored Mary experienced incredible joy but was not entirely delivered from excruciating pain.

On this 3rd Sunday in Advent I’m confronted with my wife’s horrible pain due to arthritis and a recent knee replacement. As I type this she (and I in different form) are experiencing a fair bit of misery as at night the pain often really kicks in hard!

Several of my friends are dealing with a husband or wife who is suffering terrible physical pain and mental/emotional stress due to cancer, others deal with similar miseries due to disease.

Quite a few friends have lost loved ones within the last weeks as we approach Christmas.

I believe in miracles. I fully believe and have experienced divine healing. I’ve seen God do it for others. Yes! I’ve also buried and attended funerals of faithful, godly people whom the Lord took to Himself during Thanksgiving and the Christmas season.

Holidays are not immune to grief for those who are either in the midst of suffering or reminded of tragic loss 1 year, 10 years or even 30 years after the event.

“Swords” and not only Christmas present wrap appear when they appear.

People wrapped in a mantle of hurt are no less favored by God! The struggle to trust in Jesus, His love and the fact that God is Love and source of all true, eternal love is the issue. The battles happen in our mind when physical and emotional pains ravage us or those we love. Those with chronic pain on Christmas wonder if Easter will ever arrive.

So consider Jesus, “anointed with joy beyond all others” and yet “a Man of sorrows, well acquainted with grief”. Same Person, favored and suffering -though the most sinless, perfect One Who ever walked the earth, the One Whom God the Father always heard and responded to when His prayers were offered!

In the midst of our struggles, considering rank injustices done in our world and it may seem God is neither listening nor near how do we find “the joy of the Lord” which scripture tells us is our strength?

Our true joy is He Himself! It is IN HIM, in a relationship of love and trust regardless of anything else. I am here reminded of the old marriage vows- “Forsaking all others… in sickness and in health… in joy and in sorrow…”. Christ-followers are referred to as “the bride of Christ”. Relationship! We commit to God as God regardless of suffering, because of suffering, -and it, like this life, here or hereafter shall pass!

When God is our God and not ourselves nor those we love, when we do not have control and wonder if He exists, or cares, or listens to our prayers though apparently at times answering with silence or even “No”… He remains faithful and true and His character is no less diminished.

The temptation to “Curse God and die”, (Job’s wife’s suggestion) backslide, walk away from belief and relationship to Jesus in times of deep loss, grief and despair, the options of bitterness, anger and resentment against God are in my mind, obvious, clear and even understandable. They are also tragic and life-destroying even to the extent of eternity in which we will see and give account to God.

In the end, we either trust, respect and love Him or we do not. We may think we have “good reason” to be the center of our universe, but we are not and never shall be!

Jesus and Mary offer us examples of love, grace and life in the face of but not excluded from suffering and death. The question is whether we are willing to believe and follow Him.who “for the joy set before Him endured the cross…” for we who are favored.

There is a joy only known to those who do likewise.

I wish you that joy!

As always, thanks for stopping by. -Glenn

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