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Advent Week 3

Joy (the shepherd’s candle)

by

Steven P. Wickstrom

all Scriptures quoted from the ESV

“Joy cannot be purchased or forced. “No, it is a fruit of the Holy Spirit. The one who puts joy in our hearts is the Holy Spirit.” - Pope Francis

“If there is anything that ought to characterize the life of a Christian, it is joy!” - Henry Blackaby

“Joy comes from a living, vital relationship with God.” - Billy Graham

“Sing aloud, O daughter of Zion; shout, O Israel! Rejoice and exult with all your heart, O daughter of Jerusalem! The LORD has taken away the judgments against you; he has cleared away your enemies. The King of Israel, the LORD, is in your midst; you shall never again fear evil.” (Zephaniah 3:14-15)

The color of the 3rd week of Advent is pink or rose to represents joy and celebration. The candel is pink in color as well. The theme for the 3rd week of Advent, Joy (or rejoice), comes from Zephaniah 3:14-15. The prophet announced to Israel that the Messiah would redeem Israel, giving her a reason to rejoice. The Israelites lived in the hope that God’s promise of a Messiah would come to pass soon, clearing away all their enemies. It came as a complete surprise, though, that the enemies the Messiah would focus on were sin and spiritual death. They assumed that the enemy the Messiah would clear away would be the Roman empire. They completely missed the Old Testament concept that the Messiah would redeem and free them from sin.

In Luke 2:8-20, we find the story of the shepherds tending their sheep. After the angels gave their message, the shepherds immediately went to Bethlehem to see the newborn Messiah. Verse 20 tells us that after visiting the child in the manger, the shepherds returned to the fields rejoicing greatly for what they had seen and experienced. Joy (rejoicing) is a central theme of the Christmas story.

But what exactly is joy? How does the Bible define joy? Is joy simply another emotion we experience, or is it something much deeper than that? Is joy merely another word for happiness, or is it something else? Instead, Biblical joy is choosing to respond to external circumstances with inner contentment and satisfaction. We know that God will use these experiences to accomplish His work in and through our lives (see James 1:2-3).

There is a difference between joy and happiness. They are not the same thing. Joy comes from God and then springs up from within and is an internal experience. External circumstances or experiences cause happiness; it is something you feel. Joy is not a sensation (or a feeling), rather it is something that you do (action). Joy is more of an emotion than a feeling.

Joy in the Old Testament

Joy is so important in the Old Testament that 15 different words express the concept of joy. Hebrew is a very visual language, with each word painting a picture. Therefore, each term for joy presents another picture of joy. The main word, שׂמחה – simcha (Strong’s H8057), is one of the most prevalent words in the Old Testament. Together with its synonym, sason, it appears in scriptures over 400 times. The word denotes being glad or joyful with whole disposition as indicated by its association with the heart , soul, and mind.1

In the Old Testament, joy was a critical aspect of their religious life. Deuteronomy 28 articulates the importance of joy in a person’s spiritual life. The chapter contains a lengthy rebuke that describes the terrible calamities that will befall the Jewish people if they fail to heed the word of God. The passage begins by saying (v. 15), “And if you will not listen to the voice of Lord your God,” indicating that the reason for the destruction is disobedience. The continuation of the rebuke seems to present a very different and even startling reason (v. 47). It says, “Because you did not serve the LORD your God with joyfulness and gladness of heart, because of the abundance of all things.” The simple meaning of the verse is that the Jewish people earned destruction not due to their refusal to fulfill God’s laws but due to their failure to do so with joy (simcha).

In the Old Testament, joy, simcha, is not a solitary thing. It is not to be experienced alone. Emotions such as happiness, gladness, pleasure, and delight can be experienced alone, by yourself. Joy, by contrast, is not a private thing. Joy is something to be shared. There is no such thing as “feeling” joy alone. Moses stressed corporate joy quite often, as in Deuteronomy 12:12a, where it says, “and you shall rejoice before the Lord your God, you and your sons and your daughters.” Corporate rejoicing is a theme stressed many times in the Old Testament. The Israelites were not supposed to live in a “me first” society. Like a gift, we should share joy with others. Joy was a gift that was best when given away.

Joy in the New Testament

In the Greek New Testament, five words translate as “joy” or “rejoice.” The primary word for joy is “χαρά - chara” (Strong’s G5479). The term has a variety of meanings depending upon the context of the sentence. Chara (pronounced khar-ah') is interpreted as joy, cheerfulness, calm delight, or exultation.2 What is joy? Joy is not human-based happiness that comes and goes. Instead, true joy is divine in its origin. It is a Spirit-given expression that flourishes best in hard times. There is no fluctuation of feelings when it comes to joy.

“So also you have sorrow now, but I will see you again, and your hearts will rejoice, and no one will take your joy from you” (John 16:22). Jesus spoke these words to his disciples just before his crucifixion. In John 16:22, Jesus stated how no one could take away our joy. He seemingly talked about joy like an actual object, something of eternal value and everlasting ownership. This joy is rooted so deeply in our hearts that nothing can cause it to waver or go away. Joy comes from having a personal relationship with Jesus. Joy comes through salvation. The prophet Habakkuk said, “yet I will rejoice in the LORD; I will take joy in the God of my salvation” (Habakkuk 3:18). Jesus told his disciples, “Nevertheless, do not rejoice in this, that the spirits are subject to you, but rejoice that your names are written in heaven.” The fact that should give us the greatest joy is our assurance of spending eternity in heaven through salvation.

Joy in Advent

Sing aloud, O daughter of Zion; shout, O Israel! Rejoice and exult with all your heart, O daughter of Jerusalem! The LORD has taken away the judgments against you; he has cleared away your enemies. The King of Israel, the LORD, is in your midst; you shall never again fear evil. On that day it shall be said to Jerusalem: “Fear not, O Zion; let not your hands grow weak. The LORD your God is in your midst, a mighty one who will save; he will rejoice over you with gladness; he will quiet you by his love; he will exult over you with loud singing.” (Zephaniah 3:14–17). According to this verse, the Messiah expresses joy, rejoicing over his people, who are the fruit of his labors. He rejoices over the works that are the basis of our salvation. Now Jesus offers us his joy, but it will come to us in the same way it came to him. We must consider his works and what he has accomplished (and is yet accomplishing) through them.

We light the shepherd ’s candle to remind us of the shepherd’s joy at finding the Messiah. When the shepherds received the good news of the Messiah’s birth, they dropped what they were doing and rushed into town to see and experience the miracle for themselves. Their joy was so explosive that they told everyone they met about their experience. Philippians 4:4-5 states, Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, Rejoice. Let your reasonableness be known to everyone. The Lord is at hand.” Jesus is coming again, and we should be expressing the same joy as the shepherds. We should tell everyone we meet the good news of salvation through Jesus Christ. The shepherds had just met the Messiah, and they were not shy or bashful in letting everyone know. We should be the same way when Jesus resides in our hearts through the miracle of salvation.



References

[1] Bruce K. Waltke, Theological Wordbook of The Old Testament, ed. R. Laird Harris, Gleason L. Archer, and Bruce K. Waltke (Chicago, IL: Moody Press, 2004), 879.
[2] Spiros Zodhiates, The Complete Word Study Dictionary: New Testament (Iowa Falls, IA: World Bible Publishers, 1992), 1467.


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