An Advent of Giving

Week 3: An Advent of Giving – The Gift of Joy

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The Lord your God will raise up for you a prophet like me
from among you, from your fellow Israelites.
You must listen to him.
For this is what you asked of the Lord your God at Horeb
on the day of the assembly when you said,
“Let us not hear the voice of the Lord our God
nor see this great fire anymore,
or we will die.”
The Lord said to me:
“What they say is good.
I will raise up for them a Prophet like you from among their fellow Israelites,
and I will put My words in His mouth.
He will tell them everything I command him.
I myself will call to account anyone who does not listen
to My words that the Prophet speaks in My name.
Deuteronomy 18:15-19 NIV

Christmas, one lyricist tells us, is the most wonderful time of the year.

Which is all warm and fuzzy and true enough.

Except when it’s not.

And celebrating the third week of Advent when Christmas isn’t the most wonderful time of the year can get tricky because this third week is all about – well – joy. Think about it for a moment: the Christ-follower faces a lot of expectations from friends, family, neighbors and his or her worship community this week. Our traditional wait for the birth of our Incarnate Savior is almost over as we count down the final days to Christmas Eve. Once that night arrives, we wish everyone a hearty Merry Christmas as we share meals, give gifts and celebrate our way through overdue visits with loved ones.

But oh the irony that comes with staunch reality: for many Christians the joy of this season is elusive, mythical for any number of reasons – temporary as well as permanent. And compounding the matter is the cloak of guilt that enshrouds us when we know we should be celebrating but – honestly – we don’t even feel like smiling.

So where do we find this joy – this childlike sense of wonder – when it’s just not there where it’s supposed to be?

His Own Heart is going to explore that question in this post, so we’re overjoyed – no pun intended – that you’ve returned for the third installment of four-part series, An Advent of Giving. Won’t you join us as we think about the gift of deep abiding joy that Jesus Christ longs to bring to a person, regardless of his or her circumstances?

Also, His Own Heart continues its series-long giveaway of all-natural beauty products, courtesy of Truth Biblical Beauty and its amazing founder, Maureen Laniak. I hope you won’t miss this chance to win some awesome products that will pamper and nourish your skin. It’s as easy as 1-2-3, so jump right in:

  • Step 1:Go to His Own Heart’s Facebook page and share this week’s post ONCE to your own timeline, then comment shared on His Own Heart’s post.
  • Step 2: At some point this week, we will post a fun question on our page and tag everyone who completed Step 1. The answers will then be used to select two winners on Saturday, December 15.
  • Step 3: Read this post. The question from Step 2 will relate to what you’re about to read.

Meanwhile, let’s peek into the world of ancient Israel and see if we can track down some joy in hard-to-find places.

The entire book of Deuteronomy records the final sermon that Moses delivered to Israel just prior to his death – as the nation stood with its toes touching and the border of the Promised Land. Obviously, Moses had quite a bit to say after spending 40 years in the wilderness with this group of people who acted at times with all the mentality of preschoolers. And yet, here they stood – likely in haphazard formation – these people whom God had claimed as His beloved and promised to deliver from bondage.

As such, it isn’t often that Deuteronomy strikes a Christ-follower as go-to Scripture for finding joy in Advent; but here, tucked snugly into chapter 18, we find surprising words that God sets forth through His servant. In today’s opening passage of Scripture, Moses prophesies of the OneWhom God will send—a Prophetwhose words to His people will be the very Word of God Himself.

The reference to this Prophetcan seem puzzling because it contains so little explanation beyond its immediate context. I imagine the statement left its listeners perplexed or at least vaguely curious. Had I been an Israelite within earshot of Moses’ speech on that day, I likely would have had questions about this Prophet – lots of questions. So I would have been disappointed, maybe even a bit miffed, when Moses had the audacity to mention in passing not only this coming Prophet but also the fact that God would expect me to listen to His every word before moving to the next paragraph of his speech.

Thankfully, the words that must certainly have puzzled Israel all those centuries ago has gained unmistakable clarity for its readers today. We have the advantage, after all, of studying both the Old and New Testaments whereas they had only the word of Moses to go on. And he was about to hang up his ephod.

But a sound interpretation of these two verses of Scripture reveals that, while Moses’ words may refer to Israel’s forthcoming prophets in general, they also pinpoint one specific Someone handpicked for a calling all-at-once similar to but beyond that of the others.

One example of this idea of similar appears in Deuteronomy 6:16. Moses instructed Israel, “Do not put the LORD your God to the test,” but God spoke twice to Ahaz, King of Judah, telling him to ask for a sign as a means of winning the king’s trust. Ahaz refused to do so; therefore, God selected a sign Himself—promising to send a Prophet, born of a virgin, who will be able to choose right and reject wrong, even as an Infant.

Moses’ statement apparently remained a source of hope for Israel even into the days of the New Testament. John’s Gospel, in fact, carries this theme of the Prophet who would speak for the Father.  People would have to heed the Prophet, he said, or withstand God’s wrath (John 3:31-36). Furthermore, Jesus openly stated that He spoke on behalf the Father (John 7:16-19; John 8:25-27; John 12:44-50).

And get this– we hear clear echoes of the prophecy from God Himself on the mountain of transfiguration, in the presence of Moses and Elijah – This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased; listen to him.(Matthew 17:5)  As the Israelites did with Moses at Mount Sinai, the apostles Peter, James and John fell on their faces in terror when they heard the voice of God. As Moses did to Israel, Jesus told the three not to be afraid (Matthew 17:7).After the resurrection and ascension of Christ, Peter explained on the Day of Pentecost that Jesus Himself was the Prophet who, like Moses, came from Israel, that He was One to whom mankind would be required to listen (Acts 3:18-24).

A number of differences, however, overshadow all of these similarities of Christ to other biblical prophets; those differences are game-changers – joyous game-changers – in the lives of His followers. Jesus is the unique Word of God Incarnate (John 1:1). Although God chose to speak to man at many times and in many ways … by the prophets, He now chooses to speak to you and me through His Son (Hebrews 1:1-2).

But the most joyous game-changer of all? Through the virgin birth and His ability to remain consistently obedient to His Father – in other words, sinless – Christ stands as a unique and unmatched Prophet who not only convicts His followers of their sin through the Holy Spirit (John 16:8), but Himself provides the one method of salvation from that sin to create a Bridge between them and their Heavenly Father (Philippians 3:4-11; Hebrews 7:25).

Have you been through – or are you going through – a Christmas when joy was hard to find? I certainly have: grief, loneliness, heartache, health concerns, facing an uncertain future not unlike the Israelites in today’s passage.

So the latter game-changer struck me anew a few weeks ago when I was browsing online and came across the following reasons for choosing to be joyful even when I don’t feeljoyful during Christmas – or any other season, for that matter. They moved me so deeply that I’m sharing them here with you as a direct quote.

[J]oy is the fruit or consequence of knowing God is near. At Christmas we celebrate the Word [Whom] became flesh and dwelt among us (John 1:14). God has visited his people and promised us that we are never alone. In our midst, he offers the people he loves the fullness of joy for which we were made. When we accept the friendship of God, we experience joy: O God you are to my heart a richer joy than all (Psalm 4:7); Shout for joy, rejoice, exult with all your heart…the Lord is in your midst (Zephaniah 3:17); Rejoice so highly favored. The Lord is with you (Luke 1:28).

Part of the reason why many of us struggle to find joy at Christmas is because we confuse joy with feeling good. In the world of advertising which peaks at times like Christmas, we are encouraged to feel good all the time and to get whatever it takes to make our lives happier. The truth is that no amount of material things, stimulants, or comforts can compensate for a lack of joy that many experience in the depths of their soul. The source of our joy is not in what we have. It lies in “Emmanuel,” the name which means “God is with us” (cf. Matthew 1:23).

…[J]oy … comes about through God’s saving work. God’s presence among his people is not static. When his people experience his salvation, joy flows in abundance. We see this with people like Hannah who exults in Yahweh…for I rejoice in your deliverance (1 Samuel 2:1) and with Mary whose spirit rejoices in God my Savior…for the Almighty has done great things for me (Luke 1:47-49). We see it in the three great parables of mercy in Luke 15 where the stories of the lost sheep, the lost coin, and the prodigal son all end in a rejoicing that flows from restoration, healing, and forgiveness.

What this teaches us is that joy is produced from God’s action in our lives that always moves us towards harmony and right order. God’s spirit is always leading us into deeper communion with each other and with him. His spirit moves us from slavery to freedom, from darkness to light, from turmoil to harmony. God is always forming us to become more perfect in love. When God’s saving action brings this about, joy is the result.

…[J]oy is not just rooted in God but in the ways of God. These are the ways of God that we must embrace if joy is to be ours. For example, joy will be impossible if we act unjustly or ignore truth. [In his discourse Republic] Plato argued that justice is always happifying, and St. Augustine insisted [in his essay, Confessions] that “the happy life is joy based on the truth. This is joy grounded in you, O God, who are the truth.” Likewise, St. Thomas argued [in his treatise, Summa Theologiae] that all the prescriptions and prohibitions [laws and commands] of the Gospel are ordered to [create] our joy. Here is the invitation to order our lives along the domains of justice, truth, peace, and love. It is the way of the Beatitudeswhere Jesus teaches us how to be blessed (Matthew 5:1-12). When we are blessed, joy ensues. Feelings come and go, but the fruit of a well-ordered life is blessedness, which leads to lasting joy.

– Copyright 2018, Carole Anne Hallyburton. All Rights Reserved.

Moments of Reflection:

Have you ever considered prophecy to be an aspect of Christ’s earthly ministry? Why or why not?

Does the Scripture associated with today’s post in any way shape or reshape your perceived identity of joy as you wait expectantly for His second coming?

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4 Comment

  1. Lovely article with lots of great scripture references. Thank you for the encouraging words. Joy has been a bit hard to come by this Christmas season but I know that our hope lies in Christ. Have a blessed advent!

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