Advent of Joy
Reflecting on Luke 2:1-21
Kay Hardin

One morning I stepped outside to call Scrappy Tabby (my cat who adopted me), and I was moved by the splendor and beauty of the day. I longed to take my 1.5 mile walk in my Park Hill neighborhood. But my disciplined self said, No I’ve got to write. No I’ve got those finances to work on. No I’ve got several cards to send off. No I’ve got places to be this afternoon. I busted out and walked anyway in that sparkling cold sunshine smiling, full of joy.

So what is joy, and how do we practice it (besides walking outside)? Luke 2:1-21 gives us several clues.

When Mary and Joseph left their home in Nazareth to register for the Roman census in Bethlehem of Judea, it took them about 70 miles on foot (and donkey). That would take three to four days of foot-walking, depending on how many hours Mary, at nine months pregnant, could tolerate sitting on a donkey per day. 

Where’s the joy in that?

When Mary and Joseph finally arrived in the city of Bethlehem, all the places to stay were full of other distant travelers who had shown up to accommodate Caesar’s census expectations. Mary and Joseph had no other choice but to bed down in a barn—only after Joseph probably shoveled the “fertilizer” out, found fresh hay, moved a few animals to the back of the barn, and wiped down a trough transforming it into a makeshift a crib. 

Where’s the joy in that?  

Mary gave birth to Jesus right there in the straw, in the cold. She had no experienced Jewish midwife to cut the umbilical cord, bathe the infant Jesus, and then swaddle him. It was left up to Mary and Joseph to navigate the birth and aftercare of Jesus. To make matters worse, there were no happy family or friends to celebrate this birth of their baby boy by reciting the Shema and singing over him. Only the braying of animals and a baby’s hungry cries could be heard.

Where’s the joy in that?

If we depend on joy coming from good things happening to us, we might be waiting for a while. Joy, as the Luke 2 passage shows us, comes from a depth and source much deeper than favorable circumstances. As one of my favorite theologians, Marva Dawn, says: Joy is not “a simple exuberance, happiness, or excitement caused by circumstances.” Rather joy signifies “that deep, abiding confidence, gratitude, and trust that are ours when our lives are transformed by the truths of the Christian narrative . . .” (Dawn, The Sense of the Call, p. 3).

After Mary had Jesus, an angel appears to shepherds in the outlying fields of Bethlehem. The glory of the LORD also appears to those shepherds. And then “thousands of other messengers—a vast heavenly choir” (2:13) appear to those shepherds.  That astonishing display of God proclaimed and demonstrated “good news that will cause great joy for all the people. Today . . . a Savior has been born . . . the Messiah, the LORD” (2:10-11).  The shepherds looked at each other and said, “Let’s go…!” (2:15)

Can’t you just imagine what it was like when those wild-eyed shepherds banged on the barn door while shouting about angels, a choir, a Savior, and a Messiah? Soon it became obvious that the God Mary and Joseph trusted was a God who saw them, celebrated them, and would provide for them, no matter how much circumstances and the world tried to convince otherwise. 

The Good News, the Gospel, the Word and Joy Himself comes to transform us and build joy into our soul–no matter our settings, our circumstances, our struggles, or our world.

So how do we practice joy in the midst of our own aching world and circumstances? 

Follow God’s lead like Mary did, like Joseph did, like the Shepherds did.

As we abide in Jesus and abide in God’s transformative Word, we will practice, participate in, and produce joy in us and around us to the glory of God.

A Joy Exercise:

Even though it is as familiar to each of us as we are old, read Luke 2:1-20 again, maybe in a different translation, and look for a phrase or a word that catches your attention. Underline it and lift that phrase or word up to God and thank him for pointing it out to you. Ask God what else he would have you know or act on regarding the phrase or word. And be careful to notice that wellspring of joy that may just bubble up.



(Picture by Melani Pyke Custom Portraits & Inspirational Paintings – Niagara Falls, Canada)

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