Santa Claus is Coming to Town!

I didn’t grow with Santa Claus.

Both my parents were raised with a fundamentalist suspicion of Santa. He was a distraction from the true meaning of Christmas and evidence of the secularization and over-commercialism of the season. They didn’t stop me from standing in line to see Santa at the mall or from watching Christmas movies on TV, but they made certain I knew that the presents under the tree and all the holiday fun was their doing, not Santa’s.

In my 20s, I remember conversations with friends who said they stopped believing in God when they stopped believing in Santa Claus. I concluded that perhaps my parents were right, and it was best not to lie to your kids.

So when I became a dad, my wife and I never really pushed the Santa myth on our kids. We were as generous as we were able each Christmas, filling the floor under the tree with gifts. We talked with our oldest daughter a few times on how Santa is a fun story, but that was it (though she wasn’t supposed to spoil the fun of other families).

I didn’t think my kids were really missing out on anything, until our second child, at the tender age of five asked us one evening, “Why does Santa not come to our house?” Her childhood wonder was intact, but she felt excluded. So that year, for the first time we let Santa into our home. And we’ve been doing it since.

Sometimes Santa brings a present for each kid but he always fills the stockings. Our kids are disappointed if Santa forgets to give them toothpaste and an orange, though not all of Santa’s offerings are so practical. Mostly, Santa gives our kids the same made-in-China crap our kids see at the Dollar Tree. Clearly, with more 7 billion people on the planet, Santa’s workshop has had to do its fair share of outsourcing.

20171217_115255.jpgFor just over a year now, Santa has attended our church in Medford, First United Methodist Church (the Church of the Rogue). He came in full Christmas regalia this past Sunday, and after the service, kids and families took photos with him. It was a joy to see how excited our two-year-old was to see him. At the same age, his brother and sisters were as frightened of Santa as they would be of any bearded man at the mall who wanted them to sit on his lap. But our two-year-old smiled and shook, he excitedly squealed and in a little song voice chanted, “It’s Santa, It’s Santa. . .” Santa has also carved out time to come to church this coming Sunday as well. Even though it’s Christmas Eve and a busy day for him! Our pastor will interview him during her sermon (service at 10:30 if you’re in town for Christmas).

I had an out-of-season conversation with Santa a while back (AKA Don). He’s been doing the Santa gig for years and carries a Chris Kringle ID in his wallet. Even in the Summer, he is never totally out of character. He is the real deal.

I remember him telling me how he regards the Santa mantle as a ministry and he told me about times when kids asked for stuff that couldn’t be wrapped in pretty paper with a bow and placed under the tree. Broken families, terminal diagnoses, tension at home, Santa sees. Santa knows. When a child asks him for something which he can’t deliver on (e.g., “Santa, can you bring my dad back?”), he prays with children and points them to Jesus. Santa can’t always do anything about the things kids face, but he knows the power of Christ’s presence and isn’t afraid to tell them of the true meaning of Christmas.

 

My friend Leroy is also Santa this year. He is the perfect choice to play the part. He has an authentic and hearty laugh. And he’s a big guy, just tall and round enough to fill Santa’s suit and boots.  Yet Leroy is also a different kind of Santa from the many we see around.
Leroy Barber is an African American minister and activist living in Portland.  He serves on the boards of the Christian Community Development Association (CCDA), The Simple Way and EEN, the Evangelical Environmental Network and He and his wife Donna have been active in mission and ministry for decades. Together they founded The Voices Project, an organization that promotes and trains leaders of color.
25299334_10156201567834467_4525382477829976548_nWhen Leroy shared pictures of himself in Santa garb on social media, he got some clap back for not conforming to the dominant cultural image of St. Nick. Here was Leroy’s response:

Ok I will answer publicly the behind the scenes criticism of #blacksanta

My wife and I are in the vocation of youth and leadership development. This can start when kids of color are young. The images that children of color see are overwhelmingly white when it comes to heroes. This is a big problem and it starts young kids of color to doubt themselves and their significance in the world and puts negative images of themselves in their minds. Check out doll test if you don’t believe me. Taking an image like Santa Claus and changing it to a black man does more than make for a good picture outwardly it forms a good image in the soul even if it’s fairy tale. Fairy tales helps us dream of ourselves and be inspired in positive ways. I took pictures with adults yesterday who came alone because they to need to dream of themselves differently in a world that is crushing down on them. We also had many white parents of black children who want their children to see these images, and so many families of color. I was changed as I represented the man who brings gifts and I was black. The gifting was mutual. #blackrolemodels

I hope that helps my critics to chill a bit.

Leroy as Santa subverts the dominant narrative of white supremacy and showsAfrican American children and communities of color that their skin and bodies matter too. That despite dominant cultural images which tells them they don’t matter, they do.They are children of God and yes, Santa comes for them. This is a picture of Jesus.

I still sometimes say curmudgeonly slogans to my kids like, “If you re-arrange the letters in Santa it spells SATAN,” or “Santa Claus is Satan’s Cause!” But I don’t believe it for a second. Leroy and Don are both Santa’s which bring the Presence of Christ with them. They give Jesus to people.

I think sometimes about the people I’ve met who’ve stopped believing in God when they stopped believing in Santa. Maybe the image of God they held in their mind was as cultural and casual as our images of Santa. Maybe faith was just another family tradition. I am committed to showing my kids Jesus, and I have discovered that Santa is not the adversary I once imagined him to be.

It is Advent. Jesus is coming. And he isn’t the only one.

Happy, Happy, Joy, Joy

My cross I bear is this: I remember sermons.

No, not just the alliteration, funny stories and heartwarming illustrations. And not just the pithy quotes that preachers once found in books but now find through internet memes. I actually remember the points of the sermon.

There is one sermon I remember well. I’ve heard it more than once. I don’t remember the Bible text— no doubt punched down, pulled stretched, rolled out and shaped to say exactly what the preacher was trying to say. But I  remember the thesis:

Jesus didn’t come to make you happy. He came to give you joy. 

The preacher would say this and pause, as though he just revealed some deep insight before moving on to articulate the technical, lexical distinction between happiness and joy:

Happiness is circumstantial and fleeting. It is a feeling based on whatever good may be happening at that moment. It is entirely external. Joy is much deeper, sustaining us through seasons of grief and suffering. It is our comfort even through anxious seasons. Joy, unlike happiness, is not based on external circumstance, but is an inner contement experienced by those who have the Grace of God, a byproduct of life lived in Him. 

That is quite the distinction and boy, does that preach! There were some good things in that sermon. We do need a thick experience of joy to sustain us in the hurley burley of life. But on the alleged distinction between happiness and joy, I call balderdash! Hogwash! Malarkey, even! When the preacher preaches the dictionary, may the congregation beware!

In reality, joy, and happiness are not all that different. In everyday speech, we use the two terms interchangeably. And while there are shallow ways to experience happiness and joy there are a great many people reaching thicker versions of both.  For example, Gretchen Rubin’s The Happiness Project chronicled her year-long exploration on how to live a happy, more fulfilling life. And of course, people are exploring what on earth makes Denmark happier than the rest of the world when they are most famous for marzipan pigs, and that cranky philosopher whose name you always misspell. The Danes refer to happiness as hygge (pronounced something like Hoo-gah) denoting some like total well-being and living a fulfilled life. However you get there, you need lots of candles and cozy nooks.

The biblical authors also use happiness and joy interchangeably. The Psalmist exhorts us to “shout for joy,” a happy acclamation of ejaculatory praise (Psalm 95:1; 98:4). Happy is used to describe those who avoid wickedness, sin, and mocking, but delight in the Lord’s law both day and night (Psalm 1). Happy were those whose lifestyles marked by godly obedience to Torah (Psalm 119:1-2). That isn’t all that different than Jesus’ promise that our obedience to Him would bring us the fullness of joy (John 15:10-11).

So Joy and happiness are near synonyms. Why it matters is this:

Jesus came to make you happy.

Jesus first Advent was not about an inner state of serene joy. It was a real-world, circumstantial, happening. It changed the world, If you were there and sensed what God was doing, a smile would spread across your face. The way we know Mary who really did know, smiled happily as she sang her song.

When Jesus comes again and all sorrow and terror cease, it will be a real-world, circumstantial ‘happening.’ When suffering reaches its end and only Shalom, wholeness and life remain, we will be happy.  The Christian joy (or happiness) we experience in this moment, exists between these two happenings. The incarnation opened up a new way for us. And we now live in happy anticipation of New Heavens and New Earth.

And yes there is grief and pain and there is real evil in the world still. There are times we are heartbroken and hurt. We lose loved ones and feel like we’ve lost our sense of self. We feel discouraged and worried, and full of doubt. Happily, this too, shall pass. All shall be well, and all shall be well and all manner of thing shall be well.

 

 

 

 

Joy Comes in the Morning

When I was in college, my friend Eric and I came up with a worship leader comedy routine. Eric would stand with his guitar. I’d pick up my Bible and turn to the page I had bookmarked so I could read the way worship leader’s sometimes read Bible passages between songs. Eric would tilt his chin upward, eyes closed, a pious smile on his face.

I would inhale and in one breath read:

ThewordoftheLordthatcametoZephaniahsonofCushi-thesonofGedaliahthesonofAmariah-
thesonofHezekiahduringthereignofJosiah
-sonofAmonkingofJudah:

Eric would nod and smile,  and occasionally he’d interject with a yes Lord or an Amen as I continued to read, only slower now, pausing for emphasis:

“I will sweep away everything
    from the face of the earth,”
declares the Lord.
 “I will sweep away both man and beast;
    I will sweep away the birds in the sky
    and the fish in the sea—
    and the idols that cause the wicked to stumble.”

“When I destroy all mankind
    on the face of the earth,”
declares the Lord,
 “I will stretch out my hand against Judah
    and against all who live in Jerusalem.
I will destroy every remnant of Baal worship in this place,
    the very names of the idolatrous priests—
 those who bow down on the roofs
    to worship the starry host,
those who bow down and swear by the Lord
    and who also swear by Molek,
 those who turn back from following the Lord
    and neither seek the Lord nor inquire of him.

 

Then I would close my Bible and bow my head in silence. After about 10 or 15 seconds Eric would launch into song, ” ♪ ♫ There is joy in the Lord, there is love in His Spirit, there is hope in the knowledge of Him . . .”

 

I don’t think we ever finished the song. The juxtaposition of one of the judgiest Bible passages (Zephaniah 1) with happy-clappy, contemporary worship made us laugh. We enjoyed the joke more anyone else did.  Everyone thought we were irreverent.

The joke was better than Eric and I realized. The Joy of the Lord came as a happy surprise to those who only heard words of judgment and destruction. As goofy and impious as we were, we managed to touch on and demonstrate something of the joy that came with Jesus.

Christ’s Advent was the start of a great reversal. Though the world dwelt in darkness, full of wounded and dying people, living fragmented life, the promise of Christ opened up new possibilities: hope, shalom, wholeness, well-being, healing, deliverance, salvation.  Though “weeping may stay for the night, but rejoicing comes in the morning” (Psalm 30:5).

J.R.R. Tolkien, author of The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings Trilogy coined a word to describe this sort of reversal, eucatastrophe. In his essay, On Fairy Storieshe described a cataclysmic shift in a story where certain destruction is averted by a joyful sudden turn of events—the consolation of a happy ending:

The consolation of fairy-stories, the joy of the happy ending: or more correctly of the good catastrophe, the sudden joyous “turn” (for there is no true end to any fairy-tale): this joy, which is one of the things which fairy-stories can produce supremely well, is not essentially “escapist,” nor “fugitive.” In its fairy-tale—or otherworld—setting, it is a sudden and miraculous grace: never to be counted on to recur. It does not deny the existence of dyscatastrophe, of sorrow and failure: the possibility of these is necessary to the joy of deliverance; it denies (in the face of much evidence, if you will) universal final defeat and in so far is evangelium, giving a fleeting glimpse of Joy, Joy beyond the walls of the world, poignant as grief.

Anyone who has read the Lord of Rings knows these eucatastrophic turnarounds (think Gandalf’s return or the eagles). But of course, eucatastrophe is not just an element in fairy stories. We see it Romantic Comedies where the despised jerks (Mr. Darcy!) turn out, in the end, to be truly quite wonderful. Good jokes, too, have this kind of joyful surprise. The eucatastrophe is written into the fabric of reality:

[I]n the “eucatastrophe” we see in a brief vision that the answer may be greater—it may be a far-off gleam or echo of evangelium in the real world. The use of this word gives a hint of my epilogue. It is a serious and dangerous matter. It is presumptuous of me to touch upon such a theme; but if by grace what I say has in any respect any validity, it is, of course, only one facet of a truth incalculably rich: finite only because the capacity of Man for whom this was done is finite

So, the gospel of Jesus Christ is eucatastrophe!  Tolkien called the “Birth of Christ is the eucatastrophe of Man’s history (and the Resurrection of Christ the eucatastrophe of the Incarnation). Jesus’ return and the New Heaven and Earth will be the eucatastrophe for which all creation groans (Romans 8:22).

So here we are, the third week of Advent. The world is still dark and days short (in the Northern hemisphere). Suffering, struggle, and sorrow is what we know. Our only experience of peace is a tenuous armistice of mutually-assured-destruction. We await eucatastrophic turnaround. Though weeping may last through the night, Joy comes in the morning.

Waiting: Joy (Advent Week 3)

Gaudete in Domino semper: iterum dico, Gaudete¹

I.

“Rejoice! Again, I say rejoice!”
These words penned
in prison—
written by
an old man,
in a cell
on death row.
He was almost
blind but
still hoped
he’d taste
His release.

II.

“Rejoice! Again, I say rejoice!”
Though the
The dark
is long and dusk
devours days,
Behold, a
light shines

the Sun’s rays—
a joyful rage,
against the
dying of
the night.

III.

“Rejoice! Again, I say rejoice!”
The Theotokos
aching and sore,
her hips hurt.
And back.
She’s so tired now,
she lowers herself down
on the couch,
rests her hand
on her belly,
she smiles and asks:
How Long, O Lord?

IV.

One day soon:
kings will topple
from their thrones,
the poor will rise,
the hungry feast,
and broken mend;
whole and healthy,
the lame leap,
blind see,
and every
prisoner will
be free.
“Rejoice! Again, I say rejoice!”


[1] The Introit to the Latin Mass for the Third Week in Advent, Gaudete Sunday,  is the Latin translation of Philippians 4:4, “Rejoice in the Lord Always, I will say it again: Rejoice!”  This week is all about joy, the rose candle a joyful reprieve to the season’s penitential purple.

A Happy Church for Grumpy Gus: a book review

Joy is an essential characteristic of the Christian life. However happy Christians are in short supply. Author and pastor Tim McConnell wrote Happy Church to call Christians to reclaim happiness as our birth right. This happiness is not dependent on ‘happenings.’ McConnell has in mind a “thicker happy than the superficial sentimentality of the moment”  (20).  The happiness he is talking about is rooted in the joy of the Lord and being glad in Christ.

9780830844562McConnell describes the radical joy available to us as the people of God. This means the joy found in Christian community, in being satisfied by the Word,  entering into worship and praise of God, having a joyful prayer life, knowing the role of laughter in the life of faith, being filled with ‘limitless hope’, participating in the mission of joy among the suffering, and anticipating the future feast that awaits us (and we taste some now!).  The theological realities that McConnell describes (i.e. our access to God in prayer and praise, our sharing in God’s life and mission, our hope amd confidence in God’s Word) are all causes for deep wells of gladness. God has given us Life abundantly and we share it with Him forever!

So this is a good book; however when I see the title ‘Happy Church,’ it makes me feel like a grumpy Gus. I have been in too many churches where in the name of Christian joy a happy face was painted on circumstances that weren’t too chipper. I say yes to joy,  but I worry about how an emphasis on happiness obscures authenticity and our willingness to enter into the pain of others; I say yes to gladness, but I also think we need to name grief and provide space for lament. I say yes to happiness and contentment if it doesn’t hide anger at injustice and a holy discontent with a world where hope is too often deferred.

Thankfully I think McConnell’s call to happiness is not a call to painted smileys and emotional dishonesty. The happiness he describes is rooted in a deep confidence in God, his word, and the hope of Christ’s coming kingdom but he never pretends pain isn’t real. In these pages he describes the experience of joy in the midst of difficult circumstances. McConnell writes:

To celebrate happiness is not to discount sadness. To take up the mission of joy is not to dismiss the reality of suffering. We need to talk about the happiness that mourns. We need to talk about the smiles and the laughter at the bedside of the dying. WE need to know the happiness we are seeking and finding in Christ doesn’t burn off like a mist when hardships come. There is a kind of happiness that mourns, but at the very same time it has the power to overcome mourning (133).

So there is no need to be a grumpy Gus. Though sorrow may last for a night, joy comes in the morning (Ps. 30:5)! I recommend this book for anyone that needs to remind their face that the gospel is good news all the way through and that Jesus desired that our joy would be complete (John 15:11). I give this four stars.

Note: I received this book from InterVarsity Press in exchange for my honest review.

Anglo-Catholic Evangelical Ethics: a ★★★★★ book review

In seminary I read about deontological, consequentialist and virtue ethics; however, I didn’t read much in the way of Catholic moral teaching. Aquinas was mentioned and footnoted, but not engaged with in any substantial way. My understanding of virtue ethics was mostly meted out to me by Hauerwas. Daniel Westberg’s Renewing Moral Theology: Christian Ethics as Action, Character and Grace delves deeply into the moral heritage of the Catholic and Anglican tradition exploring the nature of character formation, practical reason and ethical living.

9780830824601Westberg wrote this book as an attempt “to breath new life into [the] Anglican tradition, with the immediate aim of providing a systematic presentation of Christian ethics that builds on the Thomistic foundation with Catholic moral theology” (9). His wider, and more inclusive, purpose is to “provide  for the general Christian public a blending of the strengths of the Catholic tradition with evangelical emphases and convictions” (10). This combination of Catholic and evangelical insights, is designed to help readers from both traditions, to see the strengths offered by each (28). Westberg explores Thomist ethics in an evangelical key, sighting scripture and attending to the nature of conversion. His book divides into two parts. In part one Westberg describes and advances the components for a renewed moral theology. Part two looks in-depth at the seven classic virtues.

Part 1.

In chapter one, he argues for renewal of moral theology with a: (1) renewed biblical basis, (2) a sound moral psychology, (3) an understanding of the proper place for law in ethics, and (4) and thoughtfulness about the spirituality of virtue/character formation (25-26). In chapter two, Westberg discusses the relationship between purpose, reason and action and describes the ‘Thomistic Practical Syllogism.’ It is composed of an operating principle (‘Do this’ or ‘avoid this’), a minor premise evaluating a proposed action, and a conclusion (a commitment to do or not do something) (39-44).

Chapter three looks in more detail at Aquinas’s view of practical reasoning. Whereas the traditional reading of Aquinas identifies  a twleve stages in the process of human action, alternating between reason and will, Westberg sees the intellect and volition working in concert, and describes Aquinas’s reasoning as a four stage process comprised of: (1) Intention  → (2) Deliberation(if required) → (3)Decision → (4) Execution (51).  This model  describes the components of reasoning that birth  to an action; however a person’s intentions are shaped by  a person’s desires and history. “One simply has desire sand attitudes that have been adopted, shaped and instilled by past experience. One deliberates about and decides on the actions that are judged as means to the purposes one already has” (54). This means a persons formation determines where her reasoning takes her. Chapter four discusses how to evaluate good and bad actions based on their object, their end, and the circumstance (62-65). This ethical framework takes into account the situations in which ethical actions occur without capitulating to relativism (68). Westberg also observes the role of consequences in Aquinas’ theology. (69)

Chapter five describes  the relationship  between actions, disposition and character. Developing our capacity toward virtuous living involves moderating emotions, coordinating reason and will, and developing a habitus which imparts the skill and disposition that enable the virtuous life (80). This involves intentional practice, “We develop self control by understanding the reasons for it, desiring it and actually making decisions that incorporate moderation and self control in, for example, eating or sexual pleasure” (84).  Yet Westberg  argues that within this schema, faith, hope, and love are theological virtues gifted to us by the Spirit. We are unable to develop them by ourselves. The final three chapters of part one, explore the reality of sin (chapter six), the nature of conversion to Christ(chapter seven), and the role of the Law in Christian formation (chapter eight).

Part 2

Part two begins with an overview of the virtues, discussing their interrelationship and the central role of prudence. In chapter ten, Westberg walks through the seven classic virtues assigning a chapter to each of them. The four cardinal virtues discussed are ‘wisdom in action’ (prudence or practical wisdom); justice, fortitude, and self control (or temperance)(discussed in chaptets ten through thirteen). The theological virtues are faith, love and hope (chapters fourteen through sixteen).

Westberg’s treatment of the cardinal virtues offers practical insight for character development. In discussing practical wisdom (prudence) he observes the intellectual character of this virtue and discusses its relationship with other virtues, “The moral virtues depend on practical wisdom, but practical wisdom cannot be developed without the simultaneous development of the other moral virtues” (175). The virtue of justice has to do with how we relate to other persons (i.e. righting wrongs, restitution, gratitude to others, truth telling, etc). Fortitude is moral courage and commitment. Temperance is the ‘one virtue directed purely toward oneself'(209). It involves mastering appetites and living in moderation. Each of these virtues are shared by Christians and non-Christians alike, and Westberg correlates the exercise of virtues in Christian and secular settings (i.e.  the virtue of justice based in the dignity of human beings created in the image of God is in some sense related  to contemporary secular discussions of human rights).

The theological virtues have God as its source and focus (221). Westberg treat faith as an intellectual virtue, our belief in the God of the gospel. Love and hope are virtues of ‘the will. Westberg describes love as friendship with God—unselfish love (239-240). “Hope perfects the will by directing our desire to what God offers in the age to come” (259). Westberg takes on the notion that agape love is purely non-preferential. He show the biblical evidence doesn’t warrant the strong a divide between phileo and agape often argued by evangelicals influenced by the Lutheran tradition (238-40). Instead he views God’s love as inherently unselfish (instead of selfless, self sacrifice).  The telos of new creation gives us Hope and enables us to work for justice with fortitude. The content of of our hope helps us avoid both a liberal activism or an escapist quietism (270).


 

Virtue Ethics is sometimes criticized for an overemphasis on character—’being’ is seen as  more significant than ‘doing’  or ‘decision-making’ Because Westberg roots his exploration in Thomas Aquinas’s moral theology, he gives significant space to both virtue formation and moral decision-making. In fact, his discussion of practical reason, precedes his exploration of the virtues (though he hints at their strong relationship to one another). This means Westberg (or Thomas) is not guilty of some of the reductionisms that virtue ethicists are accused of (neither are many virtue ethicists). Action and character both come into sharp focus.

Westberg wrote this book as a seminary textbook and it is well suited for that purpose.Students will find  solid engagement with Catholic moral theology and theological ethics. But does it have any practical import outside the classroom? Put another way: is practical reasoning, practical? Yes it is. Pastors can utilize this framework to encourage ethical reasoning in congregants. The discussion of the seven classic virtues is fruitful for personal use, or for anyone responsible for Christian spiritual formation. Westberg is theologically rigorous, so the typical lay person may find it difficult to wade in, but certainly the framework Westberg presents is applicable more broadly in the lives of ordinary Christians. I recommend this for Christian leaders and educators concerned about spiritual formation. Westberg  doesn’t provide a ‘practical how-to,’ but a way of ‘thinking through’ moral decisions’ and actions. I give this five stars. ★★★★★

Note: I received this book from IVP Academic in exchange for my honest review

 

Joy in Waiting: Advent Week Three

The third candle of Advent is the “Joy Candle.” While the season is penitential purple as we prepare for the coming of the Lord, week three is different. In some Christian traditions it is called Gaudete Sunday, from the traditional Latin introit to the liturgy–Gaudete in Domino–Rejoice in the Lord! (Beth Bevis in God With Us, p 71). The penitential Purple is replaced for a week. There on the Advent Wreath stands a solo pink candle, a rapturous rose reminding us, our waiting for Christmas is nearly over.

adventcandlesjoyYesterday morning I attempted to pen a liturgically appropriate prayer reflecting the joy in this season. I failed because joy is a tough thing to wrap your heart around. I believe in the joy of the Lord. All of the Advent themes are experienced fully in the coming of  the Christ–our Hope, Peace and Joy and the embodiment of Love. I know the joy of the Lord but how do you speak of joy when everything remains so. . .so broken? Can you speak of joy without sounding Pollyanna and happy-clappy?

I didn’t post my prayer yesterday but I thought about Mary receiving an angelic visitation, learning of her pregnancy and wondering what it would cost her–a child conceived out of wedlock with questions about the real father abounding. I thought of how she almost lost her fiancé to the ‘secret affair’ and yet the child she carried would be revealed as the Savior to the whole world.

Joseph was heartbroken, feeling betrayed by this virginal conception. It didn’t make sense and you wouldn’t believe it either. He was rocked to the core. And then an angel in a dream declared despite appearances this was God’s plan to redeem his people. Contrary to evidence and common sense, Joseph held on to the dream and kept his betrothal, knowing God was in the details.

The Magi, still a long way off watching the western sky, knew enough to read the signs. But the way is made for walking. Through dust and heat of desert sand they came bearing gifts. They must of wondered while they wandered if it was all a waste of time. It is always a risk  to follow a star. For the joy set before them they journeyed, hoping to catch a glimpse of the newborn king.

It was hope which brought them joy in the midst of their various circumstances. It is this hope which brings me joy also. My life hasn’t been a steady march from victory to victory.  I suspect yours hasn’t either. But because we carry the hope of Christ, we have joy knowing that despite appearances God is working everything together for good for those who trust in Him. I have lived with Jesus long enough to know (usually in hindsight) that failed opportunities, disappointments, unexpected losses form the humus which God uses to grow something of unimaginable beauty. I see in part, but my joy is made full as I trust in the Lord.

The apostle Paul reflected in Romans how Christ’s coming fulfilled the hopes of patriarchs and prophets and  brought joy to his people:

 For I tell you that Christ has become a servant of the Jews on behalf of God’s truth, so that the promises made to the patriarchs might be confirmed and, moreover, that the Gentiles might glorify God for his mercy. As it is written:

“Therefore I will praise you among the Gentiles;
    I will sing the praises of your name.”

 Again, it says,

“Rejoice, you Gentiles, with his people.”

 And again,

“Praise the Lord, all you Gentiles;
    let all the peoples extol him.”[

 And again, Isaiah says,

“The Root of Jesse will spring up,
    one who will arise to rule over the nations;
    in him the Gentiles will hope.”

 May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit. (Romans 15: 8-13)

Rejoice in the Lord! The pain, the suffering, the unfulfilled longings will all meet their end. We have a Savior. He is coming. Rejoice.

We are full of joy and peace as we trust him so that we may overflow with hope by the power of the Spirit!