-Pastor Melissa Fain-
Sing aloud, O daughter Zion; shout, O Israel! Rejoice and exult with all your heart, O daughter Jerusalem!
My childhood church had something called, “Children’s Moment.” It’s a moment in worship where all the kids are brought up front, and an adult teaches them a very-important-lesson.
This particular lesson happened one of the Sunday’s leading up to Christmas. The lady teaching us had a bag full of tiny presents. The lesson was simple, as all these lessons were: Jesus is the real present for Christmas.
She then gave us one of the wrapped presents, and the lesson was done.
I think it took about three hours before I had to know what was behind that wrapping paper.
It was a piece of wood. It was nothing.
When a good illustration turns bad
As an adult, I know the present couldn’t be a real present. As a kid, my brain started seeing those fake presents in department stores, and under Church trees as the wrong “Jesus.” I knew they were just beautifully wrapped empty boxes. "There’s Jesus." /s
I’m sure the little old lady who led that Children’s Moment would be mortified to know that’s how my brain worked, but not too mortified. I was an Uber-Christian back then. I knew Jesus wasn’t empty boxes, but it didn’t stop my brain from constantly making that connection.
But honestly, y’all! I’ve seen so many empty box Christians out there! They are all focused on making the wrapping work, they forget that God doesn’t trick us with empty boxes. God’s present is NEVER empty. The inside, the purpose, the meaning is what's important; not whether the sound system is on point, or the lighting is tight. God’s present usually doesn’t always come with beautiful wrapping paper and a nice bow. God's present is always meaningful and real.
Yet, we get so caught up on the wrapping, we forget the present within. It’s all beautifully wrapped emptiness. Highly produced nothingness. No Jesus here. Look at it and move on.
This is what happens when one tries to go straight to Joy; attempting to skip Hope and Peace. It’s not real and it can never be real. Real Joy happens when you break through the shadow of Peace and actually see that Christmas light for the first time. That’s when you realize the Hope you found back when you had no idea what God was giving you, is actually real! Only the people who have actually taken God's hope, and walked it through peace know what I'm talking about.
You can’t sing yourself to it.
You can’t decorate yourself to it.
You can only get there by taking the long path through Peace.
Stop planning your joy. Just stop.
It's like a rollercoaster. You can be at a park and choose to walk to the coaster. You can stand before the coaster, and choose to get in line. You can't control the experience once you are strapped in for the ride.
That's Godly Joy. It's unpredictable, and happens because you made that initial choice to follow God's call and began the hard work to reach that call. After that, you can't plan or work to reach it. Godly Joy doesn't happen because it just happens to be our Christmas season. It doesn't happen because we watched the correct Christmas movie combination, or listened to our favorite Christmas jams. You can't bake or wrap your way to it. It will happen when it happens.
The real gift is Jesus, but Jesus isn't a beautifully wrapped box of nothing.
Jesus was, is, and always will be real.
-Pastor Melissa Fain-
The spirit of the Lord God is upon me, because the Lord has anointed me; he has sent me to bring good news to the oppressed, to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and release to the prisoners.
Isaiah 61:1 NRSV
Did you know there is a difference between patience and anticipation? Both are waiting for something that we expect to come. We know that Christmas is only 12 days away. Patience means we accept that wait without getting upset about it. Anticipation is different.
Anticipation is not only waiting for an event or object but getting excited about its arrival! Anticipation is always tied to something we want to happen.
Remember when we talked about the four parts of Advent? We’ve already talked about two of those parts: Hope and Peace. Joy, the next part, is super special because it lets us know our hope and planning for that hope is for a purpose. Joy has no other choice but to burst through, because we realize we’re working towards something that is real. Remember Mary’s song? Well, that is part of the joy we feel. We are not only waiting for Christmas, we’re anticipating it!
Christ is coming! Christ is coming indeed!
Question: What are you anticipating this Christmas?
Prayer: Dear God, our souls magnify you, and our spirits sing out! Thank you! Amen.
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In the same way, I tell you, there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who changes both heart and life than over ninety-nine righteous people who have no need to change their hearts and lives.
Luke 15:7 CEB
Joy is a slippery word. People often use it in place of happiness, but joy is so much more than feeling happy in the moment. Joy is something you feel with your whole heart. It fills us up.
The verse above doesn’t say there will be people in Heaven who say, “Another sinner has changed his heart and life. Well, that’s nice.” There will be joy. Heart-thumping, fist-pumping, shout-out-your-excitement joy.
If a changed sinner receives that sort of recognition in Heaven, what sort of recognition should they receive on Earth? Shouldn’t we welcome them with the same joyfulness?
It’s easy to pat a new convert on the head, hand them a cheap Bible, and say, “Well, that’s nice. Make sure you read Romans.” But where’s the joy in that? Where’s the influence of the Holy Spirit in that?
Instead, we should be willing to open ourselves up to joy. If a person has changed both their heart and their life, they’ve done something amazing. How many people manage to pull off something like that? Let’s recognize these transformations for the miracles that they are and rejoice alongside our new brothers and sisters.
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Please open me up so that I can experience joy. Help me to reflect your divine joy as I interact with others.
Kristy Burmeister writes about stalkers, church-related trauma, feminism, and pie (pretty much in that order) at kristyburmeister.com. She's currently working on a memoir about a church that almost got her murdered when she was a teenager. (Spoiler: She's still alive.)
I have a lot to tell you. I don’t want to use paper and ink, but I hope to visit you and talk with you face-to-face, so that our joy can be complete.
2 John 1:12 (CEB)
Many of whom I consider to be my closest friends live very far from me. I live in Michigan and they all live in Texas. As such, these days most of our keeping up with each other is done online over Facebook or Skype. Occasionally, we might even call one another! While these alternative modes of communication have been a great blessing to me, there is still nothing quite like meeting up in person. Every couple of years, my friends and I will decide upon a destination halfway between us and travel there together for a reunion trip. Over the course of the weekend together, we will laugh and smile as we reminisce, sharing stories and making new ones. All of this is done with great joy.
In John the Evangelist’s very short letter that we know as Second John, we see something very similar to what I just described. Whomever the woman is that he is writing to, John has a very close relationship to her and cannot wait to see her in person once more. There is much more to tell her beyond that thirteen verses of this letter contain, but pen and paper just isn’t enough. He wants to see her face to face. In doing so, their “joy can be complete.” Any reader can see that this letter reflects great joy in its words, but it is nowhere near the levels of joy seen in the immediate personal interaction between these two people.
Why is that? Much has been written and discussed about joy, especially in its relation to happiness. What’s the difference between the two? Without going into great detail, I offer a simple supposition: joy does not come from within. Joy comes from other people. I can make myself happy in many different ways, from eating a cookie to watching a favorite movie. However, I cannot give myself joy. Joy is a gift from God that His Spirit bestows upon us in the company of our fellow people.
Joy is a fruit of the Holy Spirit. I will confess that I have most often thought of this spiritual attribute in the context of receiving it. However, I believe that the Holy Spirit is also made manifest in the giving of joy as well. I know many people in my life who are very good at this and the simple act of seeing them walk into the room with a smile on their face brings joy to everyone in the room. Perhaps, though, it is the work of these two in tandem—both the receiving and giving of joy—that are at the heart of what the Spirit provides for us.
Is it any wonder that God calls his people to assemble? I experience great joy on a Sunday morning. It isn’t from the songs we sing (though I often do love them.) It’s not from the sermon, though I do enjoy both listening to our pulpit minister as well as preaching myself. Joy is in the interactions with my fellow brothers and sisters in Christ. Joy is in the breaking bread together. Joy is not in the words or music of a song, but in the united voices joining together. Joy is in the little children being cared for by the elderly widows sitting next to them in the pew. Joy is in the love of God that is present when His people are together face to face.
Wherever you are, whomever you are with, you have an opportunity to be a beacon of joy to another person. May God’s Spirit be at work in you to bless others with your presence.
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We pray to you, our Fount of Joy. We thank you for every cherished moment we have with one another, knowing that you are present there, too. Help us to be joyful and to spread Your joy to those around us in our words and in our actions. Amen.
Mike Miles is the student and family minister at the Livonia Church of Christ in the western suburbs of Detroit, Michigan. He attended Abilene Christian University, where he obtained his Bachelor of Arts in Christian Ministry in 2009. Mike is currently working on his Master of Religious Education in Missional Leadership at Rochester College in Rochester, Michigan.
Mike has a love for community and for bringing people together, especially across society's dividing lines. Born in the Philippines, he has since lived in over twenty different places but happily calls Michigan "home." He is unashamedly nerdy. He has tried to maintain a blog for years, but has decided that he is just too lazy. He is married to Blythe and has a son, with a baby girl on her way in early 2017!
-Rev Sarah Renfro-
In every province and in every town—wherever the king's order and his law arrived—for the Jews it was a day of happiness and joy. For them it meant feasts and a holiday. Many people in the land became Jews themselves, out of fear of the Jews.
Esther 8:17 CEB
Birthdays and holidays are so much more fun when there’s a young person to help blow out the candles, unwrap the presents, delight in the balloons and boxes. A four-year-old does not know that her presence causes others to smile more broadly, laugh more easily, act more comically. But it does. There is an unbridled, untamed, and unabashed joy that seems to exude from the pores of a glowing child in the midst of celebration. And it is contagious
Esther did not know that she would be the one to usher in the salvation of her people, but still she showed up. Exuding beauty and grace, hiding her background and fear, she begged for mercy from the king that the Jews be saved from slaughter. And it worked!
Her willingness to be part of something beyond herself led to the protection of her people. And they were filled with joy! Of course they were! Although God is mentioned nowhere in the book of Esther, the Feast of Purim celebrates a saving act that could only be considered Divine.
One need not name God in order to feel the Spirit that radiates from those who shout with joy, dance with joy, eat and drink with JOY! In feasting with family and friends, we are able to know true delight, putting aside pretense in place of being present with one another and God.
Perhaps, Esther, in preparation of meeting with the king, pretended to be a child, who has no inhibitions and whose beauty shines from within. And in response, her people were infected with a hunger and thirst for gratitude.
When people are able to be themselves, be free from fear, they live in joy. And it spreads like the Spirit, infusing each bite of cake and taste of life with a smile.
May each of us “catch” the joy of a life lived in thanksgiving and share the Spirit with all those we meet.
God, we don’t even need to know your name in order to experience the joy of being in your presence. Make our laughter infectious, our gratitude contagious, and the taste of life delicious, like that of a child at a party. Amen
Rev Sarah Renfro is the Pastor of Family Ministries at Geist Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) in Fishers, Indiana. Born and raised in Lexington, Kentucky, Sarah formerly modeled internationally, was ordained into ministry in 2010, is married to Rev. Kyle Brown, mother to Miriam, March Madness fanatic (Go Big Blue!), and writer at m-bodied.com. Her ministry includes leading body image workshops and preaching on embodiment and faith.
-Rev Jamie Brame-
Let heaven celebrate! Let the earth rejoice! Let the sea and everything in it roar! Let the countryside and everything in it celebrate! Then all the trees of the forest too will shout out joyfully before the Lord because he is coming! He is coming to establish justice on the earth! He will establish justice in the world rightly. He will establish justice among all people fairly.
Psalm 96:11-13 CEB
Lent is not a particularly joyful time in the church year. Many of us think of it as a penitential time, a time of quiet, of reflection, of sacrifice.
I’m reminded, though, of two stories, one of my own experience and another from the Desert Fathers and Mothers. The first happened to me on a retreat at a small Trappist monastery (Roman Catholic). Trappists are known for their simplicity and silence: monasteries often have reminders in hallways: “Silence, Please.” I joined the five monks and other visitors for lunch, the only meal that the community shared each day. At my surprise at the feast of fried chicken set before us (during Lent; and the monks are mostly vegetarian), the visiting nun sitting next to me said, “They love visitors during Lent, because the rule of hospitality trumps the rule of self-denial!”
The other story comes from Desert spirituality. A group of monks were in a season of fasting. During fasting periods, the monks ate only a small bit of food and water daily. However, one day a group of visitors came, and the old head monk was seen preparing a big meal of cheese, bread, figs, and wine. The younger monks complained to him after the people left, saying, “We can’t believe you partook of that sumptuous meal while your brothers ate only bread and water!” He replied, “The One who taught us to fast also taught us to love our neighbors.”
During Lent, it is easy to get so caught up on our sacrifices that we forget to hold on to joy and love and all the good things that our faith wants us to offer to those around us. So, let’s keep our sacrifices between us and God, and let’s hold our heads up and offer a greeting of love and joy, gifts of God, to those around us!
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God, bless us with a spirit of joy in the midst of this season of sacrifice, that we might not take ourselves so seriously that we fail to be infected with the joy that comes from a life lived with you, in Jesus name, amen.
Rev Jamie Brame is the Program Director at Christmount Conference and Retreat Center, located in Black Mountain, NC. He has served there for over 27 years, working with both youth and adults. His interests include the study of spirituality and prayer, with an emphasis on eastern spirituality and its application in a Christian context. In addition to his ministerial vocation, he is also a musician who performs with his wife, Renae. He holds an M. Div. from Duke Divinity School and B.A. from Atlantic Christian College (now Barton College.)
-Rev. Melissa Fain-
On Sundays during our livecast I've been explaining the positive attributes of Advent. On these Thursday Meditations, I want to dig deeper into those possible negative attributes.
Our first week I discussed how some hopes are left unfullfilled. The second week I discussed how the road to peace often looks anything but peaceful. Today I want to talk joy.
There are things we should be joyful for. Redemption. Love. Peace. Salvation. There are things that shouldn't bring us joy. Revenge. Suffering. False teachings. Empty love. Well, empty anything for that matter. Joy is also not something that can be planned. It's not like the Christmas season comes and everyone is all of a sudden joyful. Actually, there is statistically a rise in depression come the holiday season.
Therefore, you might get where I'm going with today's scripture. The Israelites wanted things to happen. They wanted a god that would give them everything without any work. Instead of waiting for God's timing, they decided to take matters into their own hands and craft an icon of Baal. (Better known as the "Golden Calf.") Now, in scripture, they don't even know about the commandment, "You shall worship no idols," It just so happened, Moses was, at that moment, coming down from the mountain with the commandments. Honestly, it was probably going to be a joyous moment. God gave the commandments to Moses, and now they had a precept, a set of rules. Instead, there was anger and back steps because the Israelites tried to force the point. Israelites tried to make joy instead of allowing it to come naturally.
That's what we need to remember this Christmas season. Don't force joy. If it happens, great. If it doesn't, maybe that's okay too. God will give us authentic joy when it's the right time.
We will be at The Daily Grind this Sunday at 2pm for our livecast! We would love to see you. If you can't be there in person, show up online on our Facebook page.
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Join Jerusalem Christian Church on Christmas Eve for a Virtual Candle Lighting!
Only a 1/2 hour long. Starts at 11pm EST.
There is something very special about having kids during the holiday season. While I'm stressing over things I shouldn't stress over, they are joyfully jumping into everything. Their eyes twinkle as they see the colorful lights. They get excited over putting their favorite ornaments on the tree. There is something that makes me smile when they anxiously stare at those first presents under the tree.
"I assure you that whoever doesn’t welcome God’s kingdom like a child will never enter it.”
Mark 10:15 CEB
This childlike joy should be adopted by adults when anticipating Christmas. That star that shines should make our eyes twinkle. We should fill with excitement as we recall our favorite part of the nativity. We should anticipate God's son in the form of a tiny baby.
What kind of stress can we let go of, to let joy in?
God of Joy,
Help us leap into anticipation for the birth of Christ in our lives!