We are finishing up the third week of Advent and moving quickly towards Christmas! At thinplaceNASHVILLE this week, we listened to, and reflected on, the Christmas Story found in Luke 2. This third week of Advent is about Joy, yet in this season of Covid, Joy is sometimes hard to find. What is your definition of JOY? What is bringing you Joy in this Advent season that is filled with complexities, paradoxes and pain? What symbolizes JOY to you? Start by reading Psalm 97 and then consider how JOY is found in Luke 2.
Psalm 97 The Message (MSG)
God rules: there’s something to shout over!
On the double, mainlands and islands—celebrate!
2 Bright clouds and storm clouds circle ’round him;
Right and justice anchor his rule.
3 Fire blazes out before him,
Flaming high up the craggy mountains.
4 His lightnings light up the world;
Earth, wide-eyed, trembles in fear.
5 The mountains take one look at God
And melt, melt like wax before earth’s Lord.
6 The heavens announce that he’ll set everything right,
And everyone will see it happen—glorious!
7-8 All who serve handcrafted gods will be sorry—
And they were so proud of their ragamuffin gods!
On your knees, all you gods—worship him!
And Zion, you listen and take heart!
Daughters of Zion, sing your hearts out:
God has done it all, has set everything right.
9 You, God, are High God of the cosmos,
Far, far higher than any of the gods.
10 God loves all who hate evil,
And those who love him he keeps safe,
Snatches them from the grip of the wicked.
11 Light-seeds are planted in the souls of God’s people,
Joy-seeds are planted in good heart-soil.
12 So, God’s people, shout praise to God,
Give thanks to our Holy God!
LUKE 2: 1-20 THE MESSAGE
1-5 About that time Caesar Augustus ordered a census to be taken throughout the Empire. This was the first census when Quirinius was governor of Syria. Everyone had to travel to his own ancestral hometown to be accounted for. So Joseph went from the Galilean town of Nazareth up to Bethlehem in Judah, David’s town, for the census. As a descendant of David, he had to go there. He went with Mary, his fiancée, who was pregnant.
6-7 While they were there, the time came for her to give birth. She gave birth to a son, her firstborn. She wrapped him in a blanket and laid him in a manger, because there was no room in the hostel.
8-12 There were sheepherders camping in the neighborhood. They had set night watches over their sheep. Suddenly, God’s angel stood among them and God’s glory blazed around them. They were terrified. The angel said, “Don’t be afraid. I’m here to announce a great and joyful event that is meant for everybody, worldwide: A Savior has just been born in David’s town, a Savior who is Messiah and Master. This is what you’re to look for: a baby wrapped in a blanket and lying in a manger.”
13-14 At once the angel was joined by a huge angelic choir singing God’s praises:
Glory to God in the heavenly heights,
Peace to all men and women on earth who please him.
15-18 As the angel choir withdrew into heaven, the sheepherders talked it over. “Let’s get over to Bethlehem as fast as we can and see for ourselves what God has revealed to us.” They left, running, and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby lying in the manger. Seeing was believing. They told everyone they met what the angels had said about this child. All who heard the sheepherders were impressed.
19-20 Mary kept all these things to herself, holding them dear, deep within herself. The sheepherders returned and let loose, glorifying and praising God for everything they had heard and seen. It turned out exactly the way they’d been told!
What do you notice that you haven’t noticed before?
What questions do you have? What questions come up as you read the passage and/or the psalm? Talk to Jesus about them.
The psalm says, “Light-seeds are planted in the souls of God’s people, Joy-seeds are planted in good heart-soil.” We aren’t planting seeds in the Northern hemisphere during Advent, but our friends in the Southern hemisphere are planting and seeing plants grow! What seeds of LIGHT and JOY do you want to plant in your heart this December?
Last week, we talked about the gift of interruption. The Shepherds definitely had their evening disrupted. What do you notice about the Shepherd’s response? How did this interruption change them?
“Shepherds were a despised occupational group. Shepherds could be romanticized, largely due to the status of King David, the once and future shepherd king…However, in social fact shepherds were generally ranked with ass drivers, tanners, sailors, butchers, camel drivers, and other despised occupations. Being away from home at night, they were unable to protect the honor of their women; hence they were presumed to be dishonorable. Often they were considered thieves because they grazed their flocks on other people’s property.” (Malina/Rohrbaugh, 93)
It is interesting who gets the news of the Birth of the Messiah. It’s not the religious leaders or the wealthy, but rather a bunch of shepherds. If Jesus was born today, who would get to hear about it first?
The sign the Angels announced to the shepherds was they would find a baby wrapped in cloths/swaddled in a blanket lying in a manger, not exactly where you’d expect to find a baby.
Are you willing to go look for Jesus in unexpected places? Are you willing to be willing to go to unexpected places for Jesus and to look for him in places that aren’t the normal places of power and prestige ?
FIND A WOOL SCARF or blanket. HOLD IT IN YOUR HAND. Consider the sheep that gave the wool for this scarf or blanket. Consider all the people involved in making the scarf or the blanket. Everyone from the shepherd/farmer to the person who wove the cloth or knitted out of the yarn from the sheep. Thank God for these people. Thank Jesus that He is in the details of this creation. Then put on the scarf or cover yourself in the blanket. HOW DOES JESUS WANT TO WEAVE OR KNIT his love and joy into your life this December? Talk to him about this.
Use or wear the scarf or blanket or a wool sweater as a reminder that God is still announcing GOOD NEWS of GREAT JOY to ALL PEOPLE! God/Jesus wants to wrap you in his love and weave into you his JOY! Allow the itch of the blanket, the itch of the sweater or scarf to help you pray for people who don’t know they are loved today. Who feel like outcasts like the shepherds this Advent/ Christmas.
PICK an Object or a Photograph that brings you JOY or reminds you to be joyful and keep it out on your desk or use it as your screen saver this week to help you receive the GIFT OF JOY from JESUS!
WATCH this video on what JOY means in the Bible
READ this article on what is happening with shepherds in contemporary Israel.
As we head into the holidays, set aside a specific time each day to find JOY ! Do something that brings you JOY, watch something funny create something, sing a song, take a walk, create something, call someone, play, dance, read an old favorite book or story that you love. Make time to practice and plant the seeds of JOY this Christmas!
“Take Joy in this! God is with us! That is what his name means…Emmanuel” Scott Erickson