What Joy Means to Me

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On Sunday, we lit the third candle on the Advent wreath—the candle that represents joy. For most of us, joy is a word synonymous with Christmas.  It announces itself in our favorite carols and the scriptures of the season.  It reveals itself through laughter, song, dance, and an abundance of merriness. Perhaps we experience its magic is the embrace of a old friend or the smell of gingerbread baking in the oven or setting up our nativity scene as we tell the Christmas story to a curious child.

Joy is abundant this time of year, and yet something about this particular year feels a little different. I find myself wondering if anyone else is having trouble finding joy this year.

This has been a hard year for many of us. We feel the weight of what is going on in the world bearing down on us. Instead of letting our hearts be light this Christmas, we feel heavy and burdened. Our souls are tired, and so we long for joy.

But what I’m learning, even in this season, is that joy has very little to do with our circumstances.  While joy does not ignore grief or pain, it does rise above it to speak to some more permanent and more true.

I love how Sarah Bessey says it:

Now, now I know this: joy is the affirmation of the truest thing in this life.

Joy is born, not from pretending everything is fine, but from holding both hope and truth together. The Christian can stand in that liminal space, the place of grief, even there with joy. Why? Because joy is the affirmation of the thing that is truer than any trouble, any affliction: the affirmation that Love wins. Jesus is as good as we hope, it’s all worth it, and all will be redeemed.

Joy, in its truest sense, is not about lights or laughter or carols.  It is a testament to what happened in the world when Jesus entered it. The good news of great joy that the angels proclaimed to the shepherds is still good news for us, still the best news the world has ever received.

We have joy this Christmas because we know that Jesus, who came to meet us and dwell among us, is still at work. He will not tire. He will not quit. Joy to the world, indeed. The Lord has come.

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The Gift of Advent

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Yesterday was the first Sunday of Advent.  Advent is my favorite season in the church year.  Advent offers us the opportunity to pause, to turn inward, to make space is our busy lives and hearts for the coming of Emmanuel, God with us. Advent is both sacred and somber, full of both hope and longing.  Advent has something to teach us about expectation and promise. It makes a way, if we are willing, for us to connect more deeply and profoundly with the God who became flesh and dwelt among us. It offers us a glimpse into the millions of ways, big and small, that he is still making his presence known in our world today, showing up to remind us that love wins in the end.

This year the hustle and bustle of Christmas feel overwhelming to me. Shopping for gifts and hanging lights seems more like a burden, and I feel my soul longing for Advent. I feel myself longing for rest and connectedness and belonging more than cookies and ornaments and holiday cheer. I find myself needing to sit quietly in the presence of the one who came to be with me, the one who offers hope and peace and joy and love to a broken world. I feel myself longing for Jesus.

I don’t know what you’re longing for this year, but if you’re paying any attention at all to this messy, broken world then I know you’re longing for something. And that’s the promise of Advent. God’s gift to us in this season is hope. Hope that he hears our prayers and longings and hope that he is a God who keeps his promises.  Hope that he has not abandoned us, hope that he is still here right where he always said he would be—with us.

So don’t miss it, friends. Don’t skip straight to Christmas and miss Advent. It is too holy, too precious, too worthy to be forgotten. Accept the invitation to pause, to take the time to prepare your hearts for Jesus. It will make all the difference.

 

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The Best Days

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We put a lot of weight on tomorrow.

Everything could be different tomorrow.  I’ll get to it tomorrow. Tomorrow could be the best day of my life.

But why are we always holding out for tomorrow?

Obviously we all have those days that no matter how we look at them, twist them around, or spin them, won’t make it onto our best days list: Sick days. Moving days. The day you got dumped. The day you got rejected from your dream school or fired from your dream job. The day your best friend moved away. The day Duke won the national championship. Those days are bad days, no matter what.

But I also think most days—our normal, ordinary days—have the potential to be our best days. But we miss them. We sweep them under a rug and forget about them. Why?

For me, I find that I’m always looking ahead to the next thing.  What’s next? Where’s the next step? What’s bigger and better and more exciting than this season I’m living in right now? Something in me is wired to keep waiting. Something keeps me looking ahead for something better instead of stopping to look around and notice that the life I’m living right this very second is pretty spectacular, too.

I think we all do it. We keep waiting for the big moment—the perfect job, the pivotal relationship, the smaller jean size—so that we can really start living. But when we do that, we miss it. We miss the beauty and sacredness and profound moments that are happening right here in the middle of this seemingly ordinary day. We miss the little glimpses of the divine that are taking place all around us.

This season is all about hurry. It’s about the hustle and bustle of creating the perfect holiday, shopping for gifts, decorating, crowded malls and parking lots, deadlines, and overpacked schedules. But it’s also about gathering around the table for story-telling and prayer and the clinking of glasses. It’s about learning to find joy in giving, in taking care of someone else who needs it more than you do. It’s about twinkling lights that add a little more magic and beauty to our world. It’s about hope and peace and joy and a baby who changed the world. I want to notice that side, too. I don’t want to miss this season because I’m too focused on getting to the next one.

These days, the ones I’m living right now, are my best days, and I want to treat them that way. Give them all my energy and passions, because there’s no point in waiting. Today is already here.

*Photo Credit

Friday Links

Friday Links are a round-up of my favorite posts/videos/projects/photos from around the web.

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This weekend feels like the calm before the storm. We have a few quiet days then our next few weeks are full of Christmas celebrations, meetings, gatherings with friends, work functions, traveling, and lots and lots of Christmas movies. We’re about to head into the holiday season at full speed, so these next few days are about rest, finishing up our Christmas decorating, and just being together.

Here’s to hoping your weekend brings fun and relaxation. And Christmas movies. XO

For your weekend reading pleasure:

  • This excerpt from Anne Lamott on asking for help.
  • More gift guides! I love this one from Lauren Conrad—someone in my life is getting that wine. And also that elephant bottle stopper. And that someone may be me.
  • Earlier this week I wrote about Advent, and this piece from Sarah Bessey captures it perfectly. I love her voice and her raw, vulnerable honesty. The weary world is still waiting.

On Advent

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This past Sunday was the first Sunday of Advent.  If we’re not careful, Advent is pretty easy to miss. Christmas lights go up mid-November, holiday music starts playing sometime shortly after Halloween, and everything feels festive and merry long before Christmas day. Advent, with its somberness and quiet, gets swept under the rug. We light a few candles, but our hearts barely register what it means.

The season of Advent is about yearning, waiting, and anticipating. It is about creating space in our chaotic lives and hearts for the coming of Jesus, for the Word made flesh. It acknowledges that the twinkling lights and Christmas trees and familiar carols don’t tell the whole story—that before rejoicing there was longing. And it was hard.

Longing is something we all understand. Maybe this year we understand it better than ever before.  We understand the deep ache for something that is yet to be and the hunger for what is not yet ours.  But Advent offers more than just waiting. It offers a promise. It offers a promise that God made a long time ago that no feeling of brokenness or loneliness or emptiness is too great for his power and love to heal. It was a promise that he would send a Savior to heal this pain-stricken world and remind us all that this is not the end.

Advent, at its very core, centers on the belief that everything is going to be okay. It is about expectation and anticipation and longing and waiting, but most importantly, it is about hope. Yes, there is darkness and pain, but wait—there is more! There is a light coming, and that light will shine in the darkness and the darkness will not overcome it. Yes, there is hurt and brokenness and despair, but there is also rejoicing for a weary world whose cries have been heard. Yes, sometimes it feels like life is not worth living, but a new way of living is on the horizon, and it is good and holy and so, so worth it. And we have the promise that everything is really and truly going to be okay.

One of my favorite authors sums it up kind of perfectly:

“I believe deeply that God does his best work during times of great heartbreak and loss, and I believe that much of that rich work is done by the hands of people who love us, who dive into the wreckage with us and show us who God is, over and over and over. There are years when the Christmas spirit is hard to come by, and it’s in those seasons when I’m so thankful for Advent. Consider it a less flashy but still very beautiful way of being present to this season. Give up for a while your false and failing attempts at merriment, and thank God for thin places, and for Advent, for a season that understands longing and loneliness and long nights. Let yourself fall open to Advent, to anticipation, to the belief that what is empty will be filled, what is broken will be repaired, and what is lost can always be found, no matter how many times it’s been lost.”

-Shauna Niequist, Bittersweet

To me, Advent is about hope. It’s about knowing that something better is coming, and this season I’m holding tightly to that truth.

What are you hoping for this Advent?

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