We are near the end of week three of Advent and I haven’t been able to put down any thoughts about what the third candle represents: Joy.
If you’ve been following the news it almost feels like an offense to speak of joy right now. With what’s transpiring in Syria and in Egypt, and many other places around the globe, it could sound heartless to talk of joy from my comfortable Kansas home.
I’ve been out shopping for food and Christmas gifts, and now I’m eating a hot bowl of vegetable beef soup.
Yet, a world away a city is under siege, civilians are dying, sharing videos and tweeting their final words, and Christians have been killed for doing nothing other than daring to show up to worship Jesus.
And I’m eating soup and drinking coffee and the world keeps spinning.
I’ve tried to look away, to avoid thinking about the awful things happening in our broken world. Many people tell us we ought to do just that, because we can’t fix it and it will steal our joy – and we shouldn’t let anything steal our joy.
Really? They are running for their lives, watching loved ones die, bombs are exploding all around, and I can’t let that steal my joy?
What an affront that sentiment must be to people living in a kind of hell on earth.
Now, I agree, there are many things we might do well to close our ears to for a bit – I think we’ve all had our fill of American politics, scandal, celebrity drama and all the “news” that exists purely to make you angry and make them some cash.
But, when it comes to our fellow man, ought we tune it out? Is it too much for us to share in their sufferings, even if only in the tiniest way? Ought we allow our compassion muscles to atrophy out of self-preservation?
Of course not.
Quite honestly there isn’t much we can physically do in these kinds of situations, but being willing to see it, and weep and pray over it, has much value, even if we can’t see it. [And where we can give financial and practical aid, let’s give it.]
But, what about joy? We can have joy right now and I believe those who endure persecution can have it, as well.
In fact, I’ve heard interviews in which persecuted Christians (even ones who had lost loved ones) counted themselves blessed and joyful, because they had been chosen to share in the sufferings of Christ. Astounding.
But lately I’ve been encouraged by another thought – a possibility.
There are many of us who will never suffer the kinds of horrors our brothers and sisters in the Middle East are suffering, but we cry out alongside them,
Lord, how long? How long will this go on? How long until you establish peace? How long until you wipe away every tear?
There are those among us who don’t look away, who long for peace, who weep over the loss of life, the fear, the pain.
There are those who are tortured by the question, “Why? Where are you, God?” [I believe these people are closer to Him than they realize.]
And here’s what I’ve been imagining. Paul spoke about the persecutions he endured as “light and momentary,” in light of the eternal glory they were preparing for him.
One day I believe those who have been least, those who have been abused, persecuted, hungry, abandoned – those who turned to Jesus, who believed Him, who followed God based upon what was revealed to them, despite hardship – will be crowned with a glory beyond comprehension.
Everything will be set right. There will be a reversal of fortune like we’ve never imagined. They will know Love. They will know Freedom. They will know Peace. They will know Joy.
And it will be our joy to see it unfold before our eyes and celebrate from the sidelines.
I can honestly think of no greater joy than to see the last become first.
May it be so, Lord.