Seeking, finding, and understanding the person of joy in the season of Advent.
Joy is a marker of the Advent season. But this throng of festivities, gifts, and gatherings is often insufficient in cultivating joy. Our season, instead, may be wrought with deep loss, chaotic schedules, or family drama. If so, we aren’t far from the original “Christmas.”
Christ’s nativity was intensely painful and outwardly pitiful. It is a story that deeply, explicitly posits itself in suffering. Yet still, it centers joy. The joy of Advent does not avoid, overlook, or diminish the suffering of our present moment. It enters into it.
“After this interview the wise men went their way. And the star they had seen in the east guided them to Bethlehem. It went ahead of them and stopped over the place where the child was. When they saw the star, they were filled with joy! They entered the house and saw the child with his mother, Mary, and they bowed down and worshiped him. Then they opened their treasure chests and gave him gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh.” - Matthew 2:9-11 NLT
A caravan of Eastern astrologers follow a star, seeking a ‘king of the Jews’ to worship. Though their quest is dramatically complex, they find Jesus — and are overwhelmed with joy.
Joy is exposed when we seek it. Joy is something—or rather, someone—that can be found. These wise men trek far beyond their home, expectantly bearing gifts and shamelessly inquiring of an unknown king—only to find him in a cave. They use their own eyes to behold the star, Mary, and the Child. Because they seek, they are filled with joy.
In his teachings, Jesus often describes having “eyes to see.” Born of a foreign, pagan world, the wise men’s experience of joy is entirely predicated on their ability to see. Jerusalem’s own religious authorities recite prophecy concerning Christ’s birth, but they do not join the wise men’s pursuit. They fail to see, and therefore miss this “good news of great joy for all people” (Luke 2:10).
All people. From the onset, Matthew emphasizes all people. He names non-Jewish women with broken marital stories in Jesus’ genealogy. He depicts foreigners as the first to seek Jesus. And he details the shame, rejection, and life-threatening harm that Jesus, Mary, and Joseph endure.
Joy is essential to Advent. But it isn’t a fanciful, wishful, airy “feeling.” Joy is a person, wrapped in swaddling cloths and lying in a manger; and He is enough. He includes our present suffering, complex identities, and societal marginalization in his incarnation. He writes them into his own story, inundating them with joy. May we seek joy in the person of Jesus, bringing all of ourselves and our world to the manger.
I. Joy is found in the person of Jesus. How can you seek joy this season? How can you share it with others?
II. Jesus enters into our pain. Are you or someone you know experiencing suffering during this season? In reflection and prayer, name your areas of pain and invite Jesus into them—to bring peace, joy, and transformation.