1 Thessalonians 5:16–24; John 1:6–8, 19–28
Has my joy been shaken? As the year comes to an end, this might be a question we could all ask ourselves whether our joys and hopes have been compromised during trying times in the year 2020. It is true that everyone of us has been touched by this adamant virus. The virus has brought fear, uncertainty, and confusion. It seems there is no end to this dreadful time. Many of us are asking when we could see better times again.
Year 2020 has been a different year and has brought on us overriding challenges. The question, now, is whether we still have confidence in God's protection and believe his deliverance? Do we see God's gift of hope? Are we certain that God would restore us again?
In the last three Sundays of Advent, scriptures have been talking about the anticipation of Jesus' return at the end of the ages not as an infant on Christmas. We expect Advent to offer something uplifting and promising. However, these past Sundays have been about Jesus return to judge and condemn, even today while we are praying and anticipating Joy.
As Paul comes to the conclusion of his first letter of Thessalonians, he took a greater interest to emphasize on the most important aspects of a Christian life. He needed the Thessalonians to be anchored on the foundation of Jesus Christ and maintain a faithful Christian living. Paul urged them to live lives filled with joy; encouraged by prayer and inspirited by thankfulness.
As Thessalonian believers expected an imminent return of Christ, Paul reminds them how "they are faced with a new kind of discernment as they are forced to determine the particularity of the will of God in the challenges of their everyday lives." Charles B. Cousar.
Paul describes God’s will for the Thessalonians with continued phrases; that they should Rejoice always, pray without ceasing despite their circumstance and often be thankful. Paul suggests life of service that is “characterized by delight, by gratitude and by confidence" (Charles B. Cousar). It is life marked with discovering joy in the mist of circumstances.
The word "joy" has been an important term from the announcement of the “Good News" to Mary until the ascension of Christ to the heavenly throne. The angel encouraged Mary to not be afraid “for you have found favor with God!" (Luke 1:30). "You will have great joy and gladness, and many will rejoice at his birth," the angels announced to Zechariah (Luke 1:13-14). Then Elizabeth's baby "leaped for joy" to the greeting from Mary (Luke 1:44). The wise men "filled with joy" after the star had stopped where the baby was born (Matthew 2:10). The women were "filled with great joy" after they learned the resurrection of Jesus (Matthew 28:8). Also, disciples were "filled with joy and wonder" after Jesus was lifted from their eyes and ascended to his Father (Luke 24:41).
As we can see from these incidents, Joy has the character of awakening. Joy comes as sudden; it surprises in nature and it is arising to the fullness. No wonder the psalms says, “Weeping may tarry for the night, but joy comes with the morning (Psalm 30:5).” Troubles and trials may linger, but God has promised a surprising joy. Tomorrow isn’t always the next day; tomorrow is a mystery and rests in the salvific correlation of God grace.
Take Israel for example after 70 years of exile. They remembered their experience and said, “It was like a dream come true when you freed us from our bondage and brought us back to Zion!” (Psalm 126). They could not believe their dark days have been expelled and the light of hope and the joy has prevailed. Therefore, joy comes on God’s own timing and not our own.
Paul encouraged Thessalonians to “Rejoice in the Lord always" (5:16). But you may ask whether someone can rejoice when they are engulfed in life circumstances, and can they rejoice always? Can we rejoice when our medical results return with surprising findings? Can we rejoice when we live in fear and the virus is lurking around? What about when we lose our loved ones? Can we rejoice when we are in the hospital beds? Can we rejoice when a health condition persists?
Paul seems to affirm his statement. That, yes, we can find hope and still rejoice. That we should not be mortified, confounded, and subdued by circumstance in our lives. Yet, let us not take Paul wrong and misunderstand his point. Paul does not suggest that we should be joyful, and thankful FOR our hardships and troubles. However, he encourages us, that IN ANY CIRCUMSTANCES, we remain confident in God’s promise. For Paul, our joy does not depend on the changes of the weather, or in the absence of troubles, or on our best wishes, our gain or wants.
Our joy is grounded on Christ, the giver and sustainer of our life. "Christians have grounds for joy in both their experience of salvation and their hope of what will do in the future, but they need to express that joy; there is a right and proper place for the expression of joyful emotion." (Howard Marshall)
Jesus prayed that the disciples “may have [his] joy made complete in themselves" (John 17:13). Also, Joy is one of Jesus' beatitudes. He encouraged the disciples to rejoice when enduring circumstance for righteousness. "Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven" (Matthew 5:11-12).
Therefore, in any situation, “Let joy be your continual feast. Make your life a prayer. And in the midst of everything, be always giving thanks, for this is God’s perfect plan for you in Christ Jesus.” God’s will for you and I is to have confidence in his promise, deliverance, and gift of a savior. We are called to the life of discernment as we walk by faith and guided by the power of the Holy Spirit. With this determination we are able "to hold fast to what is good", what is encouraging and sustaining (1 Thess. 5:19-22).
John the Baptist gave a great testimony and helped his audience to look toward Jesus as the promised lamb of God, the Messiah, the light sent to expel darkness in every life. He proclaimed and said, “For the Light of Truth was about to come into the world and shine upon everyone.” The NIV translates this verse in a present perfect conditional tense. This means the incident has present effect and we see the result as we speak. "The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it" (John 1:5). The event of the light has taken place and the effect is seen in the present real life.
As we observe the season of joy and anticipating the birth of the infant Jesus, John the Baptist calls us to know Jesus as the gift of God for our darkness. With Jesus' coming, we will find purpose of life in him. We will not sit in our own darkness and will not carry our own burdens. Christ will heal us and carry our worries as we welcome him into our hearts. Like the people of Zebulun and those of Naphtali, we have been sitting for too long in hopelessness. Yet on Christmas and through the birth of Jesus, we will see and receive the light of hope and death will be no more after Jesus defeated death on Easter morning (Matthew 4:14-16).
God will finally bring forth his promise to remain in and with us. "The Word became flesh and lived among us, and we have seen his glory, the glory as of a father’s only son, full of grace and truth.” John 1:14 ቃልም ሥጋ ሆነ ጽጋንና እዉነትንም ተሞልቶ በእኛ አደረ... Christians, even now as we speak, feel the presence of this word as the indwelling power of the Holy Spirit. The word teaches, guides, and exhorts us in our Christian living. He is our hope and brings our joy to its fullness.
Therefore, let your joy remain stable and always; remember each other in our prayers and be thankful to God for the gift of love to the world. Remember each and every one in your prayers so that your joy remains stable. Paul did not see himself higher over the Thessalonians, but he too, asked his followers to pray for him. As William Barclay said, “It is a wonderful thing that the greatest saint of them all should feel that he was strengthened by the prayer of the humblest Christians.”
After she was told by the angel that her cousin Elizabeth was in her 6th month of pregnancy, Mary did not deny her need to go visit her. Elizabeth had passed through the impossible and Mary saw the need to go talk to her and learn from her. Remember that there is always a friend, a relative, a church member or a neighbor who has gone through your pain and valley of your life. This encourages us that we should talk to and pray with others.
Most importantly, let us remember to spread joy, to make him known and proclaim that God has given the greatest gift to the world. Soon this baby of Bethlehem will challenge the world order, disperse religious egos, and proclaim God's salvation that is obtained only by faith and reconcile us to God.
Therefore, rejoice, pray, and give thanks always, knowing that it is the outpouring will of God for us as Christians. God will maintain your joy in trials until the appearing of our Lord Jesus. Remember that, "the one who calls you by name is trustworthy and will thoroughly complete his work in you"(1 Thessalonians 5:24). Amen!