It stands out a little bit, does it not? The pink candle that is. It brightly burns as it is encircled by the Advent wreath’s three purple candles.
On this third Sunday of Advent, it is not just that solitary pink candle that stands out. The message it represents also stands out. It represents joy. A sense of happiness that can be unlike many of the emotions of experiences that we tend to focus upon.
That is because we tend to focus more on the difficult moments in our world than on the places where we see joy. We are reminded of the differences that divide us. We are filled with violence in our communities, even in places that are to be safe. We continue to see people struggle to find work or provide for their basic needs. Even so, we are more likely to focus more on what is wrong than what is right.
It is not just the world around us that seems to focus more on the negative experiences of life. We are just as likely to focus more on negative than the places where we see joy at work. In our lives, we are more likely to focus upon our stresses and anxieties. We get easily discouraged when life does not go as planned. We think a lot about the issues that plague our families and personal lives. Even within the church, we can talk more about the small frustrations we notice than about where we have seen God at work through the life of the church.
There are a lot of negatives around us that can claim our attention. It is easy to allow the negative to overwhelm us and to forget about the pink candle that sends us a message that stands out. We need the message that the pink candle gives.
We need joy. We need true happiness. We need a happiness that is not easily forgotten when life’s problems presents themselves. We need a joy that cannot be defeated or overwhelmed. A joy that can withstand any negative that is placed against it. A joy that defines who we are.
This kind of joy is about more than having a smilie and singing “loudly for all to hear.” It is about a way of life that responds to the joy that came upon the earth in Bethlehem. It is about a joy that defines how we live in response to the love of Jesus.
Joy is a central theme in the letter to the church in Philippi and is readily described in our passage from Philippians 4:4-7. This passage comes at the end of what amounts to a thank you note by Paul for the church’s financial gift to support him while in prison. Paul writes throughout the letter to encourage them to in their joy and to participate in the joy he has for them.
Here, like elsewhere, we see Paul describe joy as a response to how we live for Christ. He calls the church, and us today, to “rejoice in the Lord always.” What does Paul mean by this familiar phrase? What does it mean to “rejoice in the Lord always?”
Rejoicing in the Lord is about recognizing that Christ is the source of our true joy. It is about an inner sense of true happiness and contentment that can come from no one but Christ. It is about a peace in knowing that when Jesus came into the world joy entered also. A joy that set us free from our burdens and sins. A joy that broke down barriers. A joy that reestablished the world into God’s original intent. A joy that healed the sick, gave sight to the blind, and gave community to the outcast. The joy of Christ is about the Lord’s presence being at work in the world and being proclaimed through the joy of our life through our faith.
This joy brings an inner peace to our soul that nothing else can bring. No matter how hard we try to fill our lives with other things they can only give us momentary satisfaction and joy. Think about the things that bring joy to our lives, such as a work accomplishment or achieving a goal we set out for on our lives. These only bring a momentary sense of inner joy. In time, the feeling of joy will pass and will be replaced with the demands of life or the feeling of having to accomplish something again in order to have that same feeling return. Nothing can fulfill our soul and satisfy the deepest need of our heart to know the Lord than the joy of Christ.
Christ’s joy is different than the world’s joy. It breaks into our lives, especially into the places of our spiritual darkness, and shines a light of joy into them. A joy that can be seen in every trial we face. The joy of Christ is there in our anxieties and stresses. The joy of Christ walks with us, comforts us, and surrounds us in every moment of our lives.
We know this joy is present because we have a hope that is found in the meaning of Jesus’ name. Matthew’s narration of Jesus’ birth connects his initial arrival with Isaiah’s promise of a child who would be named “Emmanuel,” which means “God is with us.” Jesus’ name is a promise that God’s joy for us walks with us in every situation we could ever face. There is joy, even when we think there is nothing but negativity around us, because God is with us. That is hope. That is the source of our joy that is found in the One who came and will come again.
Rejoicing in the Lord is an active way of responding to the fact that Jesus’ joy is with us in every moment. This is a joy that allows us to be centered and defined by the incarnation of Christ – the very fact that Christ came and dwelt among us and walks with us every day. This kind of joy is about a daily way of living that seeks opportunities to focus on where God is at work in our lives, our churches, and our world.
That is a kind of joy that stands out in a world that so easily focuses on the difficulties and negative. As followers of Christ, we are called to has as our witness our joy in Christ that can expressed through finding Christ at work in the good and bad moments of our lives. Having this kind of joy requires us to change our focuses. To use an old journalism lingo, it is about having a joy that changes the story we tell others. As followers of Christ, the story we tell others is one about where we see Christ’s joy at work.
Admittedly, there are some places and time where Christ’s joy is more easily noticed. Just because we cannot immediately find places where Christ’s joy is at work does not mean that it is not there. Joy is all around us, even here in our church. For in my short time with you I have seen so many places of joy and places where we can announce to our community where God is at work. Joy of new energy. Joy of new baptisms. Joy of conversations about faith. Joy through tears and laughter we have shared together.
As we see joy, and places where God is at work in our lives, we are more prepared to share joy with our friends and neighbors and be a witness of joy in all situations. A witness that finds the places where God is at work. For instances, seeing places of joy in the care of doctors and nurses in medical trials. Finding joy in families in need receiving a Christmas blessing through the love of giving hearts. Finding joy in the presence of hope in difficult and tense conversations.
What if joy and finding places where God is at work was our first reaction to our lives, our communities, and our world? I think it is a witness of joy that our communities and world desperately need. Even more, it is a perspective that our soul desperately needs for we are more alive and more closely connected to God when we have joy and where God is at work as our focus than when we see the difficulties and frustrations around us.
So, my friends, let us be willing to stand out like the pink candle. Let us be willing to stand out in a sea of negativity that can engulf us and see that God is at work in the difficult and challenging moments. Let us be willing to stand out an announce to others that joy is present even when it is hard to find. Let us be willing to stand out by being willing to see that joy does not come through the world, but through the One who is found in the lowliness of the manger.