Today we were blessed to be able to light the third advent candle at church: joy. And this is what we read:
Isaiah 7:13-14 “And he said, ‘Hear then, O house of David! Is it too little for you to weary men, that you weary my God also? Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign. Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and shall call His name Immanuel.”
Matthew 1:18-23 “Now the birth of Jesus Christ took place in this way. When his mother Mary had been betrothed to Joseph, before they came together she was found to be with child from the Holy Spirit. And her husband Joseph, being a just man and unwilling to put her to shame, resolved to divorce her quietly. But as he considered these things, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream, saying, ‘Joseph, son of David, do not fear to take Mary as your wife, for that which is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. She will bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins. All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had spoken by the prophet: ‘Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and they shall call his name Immanuel’ (which means, God with us).”
What amazing news. Surely this announcement would bring joy. God declared his coming. God would dwell among His people. God would fulfill His promise. God would no longer remain silent.
But joy does not walk alone. Just as we can’t have hope without darkness and peace without turmoil, today we are reminded that we cannot have joy without suffering.
Suffering is the avenue by which joy arrives.
God became man. Immanuel. God with us. Jesus crashed through the divine silence that had been hovering over Israel and came to redeem His people. True joy comes from Jesus alone.
Glory came down and resided in a human body. A body which hurts and scars, decays and dies. Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, endured the cross because of the joy set before Him. He could walk through the valley because of promise of His Father’s presence. He could pass through the darkness of God’s wrath because of the dawn of redemption that would break through. He could go to the grave because of the victorious power that would conquer it.
Therefore we as the church can declare that the joy of the Lord is our strength. We can claim joy in this dark world. As we continue in our costly discipleship, we can trust that God is with us. We can hold tight to Psalm 30:5, which says, “Weeping may tarry for the night, but joy comes with the morning.” Perseverance through the dark and cold and dreadful night brings about the beautiful sunrise that is joy. This momentary suffering must be endured for true joy to take its eternal root.
The beginning of Romans 5 gives us freedom to rejoice in suffering because God will use it to bring endurance, character, and a hope that does not disappoint. James 1 tells us to count it all joy when we face trials. Ultimately those trials will make us full and complete, lacking in nothing.
Suffering can bring glory to God, and it will prepare you for the complete joy to come. May the joy that is to come give us a holy perseverance to keep pressing on. When a believer suffers, that holy trial declares that the Spirit of God resides within him. It is a testimony to God’s presence, His dwelling with us, His name of Immanuel.
God is good and faithful. He is joy. He has gone before us. He is with us. He is Immanuel.