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(Art by Karley RH)


“We cannot and must not soften the blow; we cannot and must not pretend that evil isn't that bad after all.” N.T. Wright, Evil and the Justice of God

This week's Advent theme is Joy.

Good grief.

If you've paid any attention to anything at all in the last 48 hours you know that joy is not necessarily the theme of our world right now. Especially for my home state of Kentucky. So how in the actual are we supposed to sing a song like, "Joy To The World"?? It's Christmas time after all and if people aren't searching for loved ones under rubble, picking up the splinters of their homes that were completely demolished by rare December tornadoes, waiting for loved ones to die from COVID in the hospital, or just trying to survive the crippling anxiety and depression that weighs them down all day, they're facing a culture that is forcing a message that this time of year is supposed to be magical and fix everything that could ever go wrong and give us a happy ending. Now, I love Christmas, but right now I really don't feel very holly jolly.

This brings me back to "Joy To The World" written by Isaac Watts who was a nonconformist, logician, minister, and hymn writer. He was no stranger to pain. He didn't live a life of suffering perse, but as a nonconformist, he certainly understood social ridicule and he also struggled with health issues (a man after my own heart). So he was not under some crazy delusion that this world is a joyful and wonderful place. However, he still wrote these lyrics...

"Joy to the world! the Lord is come; Let Earth receive her King; Let every heart prepare Him room, And heaven and nature sing, And heaven and nature sing, And heaven, and heaven, and nature sing."

"Let heaven and nature sing" is sung three times. Well, I don't know about heaven, but nature certainly sang on Friday night/Saturday morning in the Midwest. It sang a horrifyingly wicked tune as it ripped through families in four different states leaving catastrophe in its wake. Now if you read last week's entry on REST & FAITH you know I do not believe that the song nature sang this past weekend is somehow God's beautiful plan to bring joy to the masses. However, I do believe that God steps into these horrors and invites us to come alongside him and fight these wicked songs with our own.

We live in a reality (seen and unseen) where we are at war with forces and systems that actively live in rebellion to a peaceful and joyful order that God established at the foundation of creation. Through the rebellion of personalities (seen and unseen) our world is NOT what it was originally intended to be. We see that message echoed in a further verse of the song in which we are discussing...

"No more let sins and sorrows grow, Nor thorns infest the ground; He comes to make His blessings flow Far as the curse is found, Far as the curse is found, Far as, far as, the curse is found."

Watts is reminding us here that there are sins and sorrows that need to be fought against. Disasters in nature, apathy, greed, lust, all need to be fought with vigor and passion. But how?

How in the world are we supposed to fight unseen forces? How in the world are we supposed to fight tornadoes in the night? Should we just walk around throwing holy water on random things and people and shout Latin in the air? On rare occasions, maybe. But what does the everyday battle look like? Jesus gave us a pretty good answer to this question.


Love your neighbor. Love God.

What a LOADED command put in such a simple way. There are great articles about loving your neighbor and loving God and all the ways that can and should be done. And if you don't jive with these, then there are some really solid ones just one google search away. But the real focus of this entry is that we need to be diligent in our actions in this fight. You can't fight with an apathetic and unloving heart. And in today's world, it can be so easy to become apathetic, right? I know I struggle with it all the time these days. But the one weapon I have against apathy and joy.

What a minute. How can one have joy when everything around them seems to be crumbling (literally and/or metaphorically)? I think, a lot of times, we mistake joy for happiness and pleasure. The phrase, "Are you happy?" is used far too often to check up on someone or justify actions. Happiness and pleasure can be taken away in an instant. Just ask those who were victims of the tornadoes this past weekend. There's absolutely nothing happy about what happened to them. But joy is something different.

C.S. Lewis (my favorite dead guy) said, " (Joy) must be sharply distinguished both from Happiness and Pleasure. Joy (in my sense) has indeed one characteristic, and one only, in common with them; the fact that anyone who has experienced it will want it again … I doubt whether anyone who has tasted it would ever, if both were in his power, exchange it for all the pleasures in the world. But then Joy is never in our power and Pleasure often is.”

Lewis states here, not only that Joy is distinctly different from Happiness and Pleasure, but that it is something otherworldly and therefore "never in our power". You see, joy doesn't come from us. It doesn't come from material things. Joy, as stated by the Chicago Tribune, when discussing Lewis' thoughts on the topic, is "the kind of happiness that survives when things go wrong." Biblically speaking, Joy is the product of setting your minds on heavenly things instead of earthly things. It's the product of having your foundation be your hope in Jesus instead of things and people around you. Joy is what makes real love possible.

Now, this absolutely doesn't mean you should just be apathetic about things and people that are lost. On the contrary, joy sometimes means you will feel that loss even more because you are aware of how weighty it actually is from a spiritual perspective. Being full of joy can bring a heavy lament at the fallen nature of the world around you. But joy is truth. Joy is walking in the light. Joy is knowing that even in a fallen world where tornadoes ravage the land and disease creeps around every corner, there will be a day when all that will be gone and things will be set right as they were originally intended to be.

And THAT is what the enemy of our souls does not want. The darkness that would have us feel absolutely hopeless wants us to remain in that place of despair. It does not want us to awaken to the truth that this world is not how things should be. It wants us to believe that this is all there is and if you are to survive in this god-forsaken land, you will live by the fallen nature of survival of the fittest. You will do your best to take care of your own and leave the rest in the dust. Because that's how the world works.

Joy says that's how the world works in rebellion and joy calls us to be something more than that. Joy calls us to proclaim the Kingdom of God into this rebellious existence and reclaim the order He originally established. Joy, my friends, is the most powerful weapon we have against this dark and terrible enemy. Joy is what we use to sing light into darkness. Joy is what we use to take an evil and awful act or circumstance and use it for good. Joy is what we are called into. And only through the joy that Jesus brings in conquering death and darkness can we truly fight the darkness that is still around us. Through Him, it will now lose. And through us having joy in Christ will it continue to understand that no matter what it throws at us, we can boldly stand and say, "Death, where is your sting?" until the day comes when Death is completely defeated. Let us find hope and joy in knowing that day is coming.

Until Next Time. Grace & Peace, Brian


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