The ribbons and other items in our wreath remind us of the joy promised and given to us for our journey through life. It has been said that joy is different from happiness. Happiness seems to come from outside influences, such as times of success, good fortune, or ideal situations. Joy can come even during the most trying times; a gift from God bubbling up from within our souls. You might like to add something unexpected to the joy layer in your wreath- a surprising color or item- to remind you of the unexpected joy in which God astounds us.
As the Israelites were instructed to find joy in the Word of God, we too, can find joy in following God’s commands- but also in the humility and forgiveness we mercifully receive when we fail to follow them. God’s Word is a guide for our life’s path and we find joy when we travel well. But God’s Word also brings us joy when we stray from the path and are lovingly guided back to continue our journey.
We recall Isaiah’s image of the desert becoming lush, and all of creation rejoicing. Throughout life we will have times of emptiness and times of fullness. We have experienced the ups and downs, the deaths and resurrections of this earthly journey. Through each of them, we grow to trust God’s promise of abundant life, and we learn to rejoice, no matter what our situation may be. Our joy comes from within and bursts forth when we remove any obstructing attitudes or expectations.
Psalm 100 is a beautiful “thank you note” to God for all of God’s blessings. Our hearts and souls become “thank you notes” of joy when we gratefully recognize and appreciate our many God-given blessings.
The wreath is becoming lush, full and joyful, isn’t it? We are coming ever closer to revealing-receiving God’s greatest gift, Jesus Christ. This is the best reason for joy in our hearts! We will always have joy in the journey, for we have the constant love, companionship, guidance and salvation given through Jesus.
The third candle surrounded by colorful, unexpected items then becomes our symbol of joy.
Light the third candle.
Read Luke 1:46-56
“My spirit rejoices in God my Savior” (Luke 1:47 NRSV)
Here is Mary’s beautiful Magnificat, an outpouring of her praise and joy to God! Her life had changed completely, but she found joy within, a gift from God: “My spirit rejoices in God my Savior!” Many of her words are similar to Hannah’s heartfelt prayer of thanks and praise as she dedicated her son, Samuel, to God. We know that Mary will also surrender her son, Jesus, to live as God’s precious son.
Traditionally we hold Mary in high esteem; as the mother of Jesus, we believe she had to be nearly perfect. But Mary was human. In Mary’s words of praise, she acknowledged her humble lowliness. Perhaps the only perfect quality God needed in Mary was that she be totally open to and accepting of God’s plan for her life. This is a good lesson for us. Perhaps the only perfect quality God hopes for each of us is that we will be open to and accepting of the abundant life God created us to live.
We are all given opportunities to birth new life, aren’t we? We can birth new life by offering help and hope to others; we can birth new ideas of love and acceptance; we can birth new life in ourselves by listening for God’s invitations and directions. May all of our “births” be a result of our obedience and humility before God. Like Mary and Hannah, may we dedicate our lives and any new God-given “births” entirely to God. The joy of the Lord- our joy IN the Lord- will come bubbling forth in all of life’s experiences.
This week of Advent, may we be aware of our shortcomings and sinfulness. But may we rediscover joy in knowing that our loving God is sending us a guiding savior for the trials and victories of each day. Like Mary, may we be mindful of our many blessings and joyfully thank God for all of the ups and downs of this abundant life. May our one perfect quality be a total readiness to live God’s plan for us, watching for even unexpected opportunities to birth new life in ourselves or others.
Focus for the rest of this week:
As you creatively bake, wrap, decorate or celebrate, consider what God may creatively be planning for YOU. Pray for readiness and acceptance of any new God-given birth opportunity; for in doing so, we find our joy.
For the next layer, gather any symbols of love for you: photos of loved ones, cards received, hearts, red items, Valentines, etc.