Advent 3: Joy?

Year A Readings: Isaiah 35:1-10 | Psalm 146 | James 5:7-12 | Matthew 11:2-19

John the Baptist is sitting in prison, held by Herod Antipas and soon to die. The bold desert prophet who had so fervently proclaimed the coming of Jesus and his kingdom now pleads a question of his Messiah cousin. Essentially:

“Are you really the one? Is this really how it happens?”

John, the son of the priest Zechariah, no doubt knew the scriptures well. But the Jews of the First Century had a different reading of the Messiah who would come, and Jesus wasn’t fulfilling that commonly-held idea of a political and military superhero. John might have wondered, What’s going on here? I’m about to die. I thought that we were taking over the world!

Of course, Jesus reassures him by showing that the signs of the Messiah are being fulfilled. Sure, it might not have been what people were expecting, but God fulfills his promises in his own ways, and he often thwarts the plans we have for ourselves. I certainly didn’t think I’d still be working the night shift at a hotel desk at this point. I didn’t think I’d still be single, either. God, for reasons I both do and don’t yet understand, has chosen not to fulfill my wishes of being part of a church plant, continuing my education, getting married, and having children; this may be a temporary or permanent unfulfillment–only he knows.

It’s easy to get depressed and have doubt when circumstances don’t go as we plan. Happiness in wavering, though. What we must rest on in this times is joy.

I’ve always liked the way C.S. Lewis pictured joy. He defines it in Suprised by Joy as “an unsatisfied desire which is itself more desirable than any other satisfaction.” It is that desire the world gives us that makes us long for God’s Kingdom. We get just the “echo of a voice” and long for its source. This is a joy, much more than fleeting pleasure, that not only exists in the face of our hardships and disappointments in this lifetime but is actually enhanced by them.

As we light the pink candle, the picture of joy amidst the solemn purple candles of the rest of Advent, let us think of the joy that, even through the world’s brokenness, points us to the future kingdom where the echoes of this world become the voice we’ve longed for our entire lives.