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ADVENT HALFTIME

     
Hi, friend! If you're knee deep in wrapping paper and cookies, among work and all the everyday things, welcome. Grab a coffee or your favorite cozy drink, and let's take a moment for an Advent "halftime" check in. Can you believe we're just about halfway to Christmas day? Same.
   
As I've been sharing all about joy during Advent over the last few years, I don’t want to miss sharing what I've been learning along the way about the richness joy truly brings to our lives all because of Jesus. It’s not fleeting like freshly baked ginger molasses cookies or bow-wrapped gifts (although those are good and fun!) My hope is maybe it will help deepen our joy in and for Jesus, for such a time as this.
   
Here we go:
   
1 - As Advent brings much cause for joy, it is also very much a season of longing and waiting. Since Advent means 'coming,' specifically, the Messiah's coming, this season ushers in an abundance of emotions as we navigate our own stories. Ancient Advent days perhaps aren't that far off from our world context here and now. Things may seem anything but joyful in your corner. Life can be heavy and pressing into joy may feel heavier. Hear this: It’s okay. You're not alone. I hope Joyful Noise Advent series spurs joy, but I believe we can’t quite grasp the pure and incredible gift of joy without the knowledge (and experience) of suffering. I tread lightly here as I’m learning right alongside you, and it looks different for everyone. I'm connecting more and more just how much joy and suffering hold hands. And perhaps, it is our deepest grief and disappointment that also have a redemptive way of deepening our joy to come. 
      
2 - I am learning joy is not circumstantial. Joy transcends whatever surrounds our days because joy comes from the Lord, and ultimately cannot eternally dwell in any earthly thing. Like those dreamy ginger molasses cookies, it won't stick around for long, and the plate is empty again. But joy found in Jesus can help sustain us through whatever depths we find ourselves in because the joy of the Lord is our strength. Some Bible translations say His joy is our refuge. Yes! This Old Testament Truth in Nehemiah 8 is still a promise for us today, fulfilled in Jesus. His joy makes us strong and protects us. 
     
3 - For the joy set before Him, He endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. -Hebrews 12:2b
What was the joy set before Jesus? Defeating sin and death on the cross for His Father's glory and our salvation. Joy is not beheld only in the absence of sorrow, disappointment, longing, waiting, etc., but can be present in the midst of it. God didn’t bring baby Jesus into the world during the sunshine of the day, but in the darkness of the night. And we still proclaim, Joy to the world, the Lord is come! Let Earth receive her King! I can’t help but believe this is incredibly intentional, and I don’t want to miss it: a dark world was waiting for their King to give them life and light. Jesus came to do just that, and my friend, He is coming again. We don’t wait without hope. We don’t navigate hard times without hope either. 
   
4 - So here we live, rejoicing in the first Advent, and longing for the second. This is our reality, this land between gardens. And we are not alone in this wait. And while we wait, He strengthens our hearts. Could it be He also strengthens us in this contrast of longing and joy? Only He could accomplish widening our hearts to embrace both Advent longing and joy together with open hands. Why? Because Jesus held both firsthand. John Piper says in his Advent devotional, Good News of Great Joy, "Good Friday is the purpose of Christmas" (65). Sobering and awe-striking, Jesus was born with angels rejoicing at His arrival, and yet He came to die for us. Joy and sorrow hold hands.
       
5 - As we share joy together with Joyful Noise Advent collection, I want to pause some of extra the “noise” this time of year brings. Commercials abound and my email inbox overfloweth. It’s my hope we’d tune our hearts and minds to be fixed on Jesus. He is the One our hearts need. He’s where the true joy is, now and forevermore. So let’s press into joy today, because Jesus is near. His Name is Immanuel, God with us! Joy fits gloriously in even the smallest of things. Look for it in the overlooked corners, maybe even in a manger. As we shout joy from the mountaintops perhaps like a night shift shepherd, we aren’t forgetting what is hard. Those first shepherds who heard the news lived their own share of hard times, too.
    
And also like the shepherds, the joy of the Lord is our strength and refuge, indeed. Thank You, Jesus, for drawing near to us, and being our true, eternal, deep joy. I’m grateful God intentionally and kindly gave us Christ Jesus in the night. So too does He find us in the night, even lighting up the dark places around us. In His presence there is fullness of joy and life, pointing to David's Psalm chapter 16. Today we know the His presence became flesh as God Himself put on skin to breathe in our midst, fully God and fully man. Even more than His joy in us, it's all Jesus Himself in us. Because of our coming King, we have good news of great joy to share with every longing heart, even ours. Israel’s strength and consolation, Hope of all the earth Thou art. Dear desire of every nation, Joy of every longing heart. (Come Thou Long Expected Jesus by Charles Wesley). May it be so.
   

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