Text: Luke 1:26-56
“Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice.” —Philippians 4:4
The third week of Advent is Joy. Of course, joy and happiness are two different things. Happiness is an emotion that is contingent upon pleasant and conditional circumstances—it is fickle and can be fleeting; joy is the fruit of activating your faith in any given circumstance—good or bad. Joy is a fruit of the Spirit that can be sustained through any and all circumstances when our faith is resting in the Almighty.
The mystery of joy is that we can experience it even in seasons of pain, loss, or fear. This year has been an exceedingly challenging year for our family. We’ve dealt with unique spiritual battles, physical illnesses, and the tragic loss of Cindy’s sister to cancer. We have found that grief doesn’t have to be the absence of joy. Joy can be sustained despite the throes of sorrow and pain, because we know that God has a redemptive plan for our troubles (2 Corinthians 4:17). We grieve over the loss of our dear loved one, but we rejoice in the fact that death has been swallowed up in victory—a cancer-stricken mortal body was overtaken by an immortal and indestructible body (1 Corinthians 15:42-57). The Almighty has conquered the grave and in that we rejoice!
Joy is celebrating when you want to fear and doubt. It’s activating your faith when you want to run and hide. Imagine being in Mary’s shoes that very first Christmas with all those unknowns. You are an unwed teenage girl—a virgin still—and yet it’s been proclaimed by an angel that you are with child. She had so much to fear: the supernatural mysteries of her pregnancy, the implications of giving birth to the son of God, the scandalizing of her name, the potential rejection of her fiancée, the ridicule of her family. But what’s the first thing the angel says in this divine encounter? “Greetings, O favored one, the Lord is with you!”
Don’t miss the etymology of the word “Greetings.” It’s not just code for a casual hello. The Greek verb is chairō and it means “to be cheerful, to be well, to bid farewell or God speed, to hail, or to rejoice.” Gabriel is speaking (declaring) joy into Mary’s circumstances, letting her know that she doesn’t have to serve her fears, but she can trust the Almighty to take care of her; it’s overwhelming in the moment but everything is going to be okay. Joy is the fruit of rejoicing. Rejoicing is not an emotion or feeling; it’s a deliberate act of the will declaring its trust in God’s promises and assurances. It’s what Paul was doing from a prison cell and admonishing us to do in every circumstance (Philippians 4:4-8, 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18).
Mary gets it. She tunes her heart to worship and sings a powerful song of praise in the middle of all her fears, uncertainties, and feelings of aloneness. “My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior,” she sings. It’s a declaration of faith in the One Whose grip will not let her go. Her chorus has at least twelve allusions to Old Testament promises, implying that Mary was well versed in the Scriptures. God’s Word was on her heart and it came out through her song.
During this time of advent, we are reminded that circumstances don’t have to dictate our joy. To rejoice is to abide in Him regardless of our circumstances. We can trust that God is going to come through because He has given us His Word and His faithful résumé. He’s never failed you (Psalm 37:25). As my old friend used to say, “He’s brought you through the ocean, He won’t let you drown in the bathtub.”
We have a choice when it comes to rejoicing. We can choose to focus on all the worries that consume us, or we can choose to focus on the faithfulness of Christ that ultimately consumes all of those fears. We can rejoice in all circumstances! Begin to do that this week by speaking (declaring) joy over your given circumstances, like the angel did with Mary. Do that by tuning your heart to worship God, like Mary did, singing about His faithfulness throughout every generation. This Christmas, may the real joy of Christ overtake you as you choose to abide in His unfailing love and unwavering promises.
Father in heaven, thank you for the gift of your son, Jesus, who came to be the Savior for everyone who trusts in him. Fill our hearts with fresh wonder of what that first Christmas means for us today. Help us to rejoice in all that Jesus has done to save us, and help us to share the great joy of this good news with others you put in our path. In Jesus’ name, Amen.
Questions for Reflection, Small Group or Family Discussion:
- Why do you think some people have a heightened sense of joy around Christmas time? (family, festivities, gifts, parties, etc.)
- If you had the skill and opportunity, how would you tell the world about a life-changing experience: write a song, publish a book, make a documentary, produce a movie, etc.? Why?
- What kind of attitude was apparent in Mary’s response to the angel’s visit and what did Mary’s final statement to Gabriel show about her relationship with God? (Luke 1:38)
- What attributes of God are extolled in the first part of Mary’s song? (Luke 1:46-49) How did Mary describe herself in her song? (1:47-48) In what ways can you develop the kind of humble spirit that Mary had?
- What correlation does God’s Word factor into our ability to rejoice? In what practical ways can you choose to rejoice this week, regardless of your circumstances? (write out Bible verses on memory cards, have a specific worship playlist, write in your journal, have conversations with others, have each family member share one thing they are trusting God to handle, )
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