Truly He taught us to love one another;
His law is love and His gospel is peace.
Chains shall He break for the slave is our brother;
And in His name all oppression shall cease.
Sweet hymns of joy in grateful chorus raise we,
Let all within us praise His holy name.
Won by Love
Though I grew up in a Christian home, I did not become an official follower of Jesus until I was in middle school. Sure, I had begged Jesus many times to come into my heart to save me from Hell, but that fear-based decision wasn’t a conversion at all.
It wasn’t until I was an anxious, lonely, insecure middle schooler that I heard the call to follow. I had been at summer camp, and been processing what it mean to have the God of all creation love me. I remember the speaker had knelt on the ground by the evening campfire, telling us that when God created man, He knelt in the dust and formed Adam with his very hands, breathing the breath of life into his nostrils; that God was intimately interested in and invested in us, that God sent Christ to redeem us because He loved us.
While the rest of the group was singing, I was having a conversation with God. I was arguing with Him, telling Him that I was unworthy of His love, that I couldn’t understand why He would love me, let alone die on my behalf. I literally heard the voice of God in my head, saying: “Kristin, you don’t need to understand it. You just need to accept it.”
And, with many tears, I chose to accept it.
Immediately following, two emotions emerged in my soul, two emotions that were usually strangers to me: joy and peace. I remember actually feeling different, and knowing without a doubt that the presence of the Holy Spirit was with me.
Though my faith journey has indeed been a journey of highs and lows, I know that without my relationship with Christ, all would be in vain. I have suffered, but He has suffered with me. I have rejoiced, and He has rejoiced with me. It is in my relationship with Him that life has meaning.
The third week of Advent is meant to commemorate joy. We move on from repenting to celebrating. And what better way to inspire our joy than to reflect on the fact that our Savior came not to condemn or criticize, not to burden us with an unattainable code of behaviors, but to lavish love upon us; that because of God’s love for us, Christ was sent to die on our behalf, and because of this beautiful narrative of redemption, there is peace for our souls. How great our joy!
Good News of Great Joy
And in the same region there were shepherds out in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night. And an angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were filled with great fear. And the angel said to them, “Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. And this will be a sign for you: you will find a baby wrapped in swaddling cloths and lying in a manger.” And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying,
“Glory to God in the highest,
and on earth peace among those with whom he is pleased!”
When the angels went away from them into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, “Let us go over to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has made known to us.” And they went with haste and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby lying in a manger. And when they saw it, they made known the saying that had been told them concerning this child. And all who heard it wondered at what the shepherds told them.
Luke 2:8-18, ESV
“Do not be afraid.” This is the command that appears multiple times in Christmas story; to Mary, Joseph, the shepherds. In the face of uncertainty, fear is a go-to emotion. Fear is a deceiving emotion, one that certainly drives our decision making.
What if Mary had given into fear? If Joseph had decided not to marry his pregnant fiance? If the shepherds cowered instead of seeking out the Christ child?
The antidote, we know, for fear is love: “There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear. For fear has to do with punishment, and whoever fears has not been perfected in love,” (I John 4:18, ESV). Surely, love was part of what moved these individuals to embrace the situation at hand.
In fact, the Good News of Great Joy that the angels proclaimed is rooted in God’s astounding love for us; because of His love, Christ came to redeem us. And, there is the promise of peace. For all people.
Truly, He Taught us to Love One Another
I am so grateful for the inclusive nature of God; that He has not considered one more valuable than another based off of ethnicity, gender, status, ability, age, or health. In this world that we live in, one in which it is easy to fear, judge, or hate those different than us, it is especially important for me to reflect on this truth.
The verse of O Holy Night at the beginning of this post has always been profound to me: “Truly, He taught us to love one another…and in His name, all oppression shall cease.” Throughout Christ’s life, we see the reoccurring theme that no one is greater than another. All of us come to Jesus in the same situation; sinners, in need of His love and grace. When we become recipients of that love and grace, we, in turn, ought to be practicing it with others.
If we are looking to Christ as our model, love for our neighbor should become paramount in how we live out our lives. We are his ambassadors, and it is His love that we are to share. If we are truly living with Jesus as Lord, then His law of love and gospel of peace should be prevalent in our interaction with others.
The Weary World Rejoices
Joy is contagious. In a weary world, joy shines like a beacon.
When we are joyful, others will see and observe, perhaps will be drawn to the same Savior in whom we have found our hope. Just as the shepherds spread the news of the Christ child’s birth with rejoicing, so we ought to share the Good News of Great Joy with all people.
If we are struggling to find joy ourselves, however, let us learn from the shepherds. Let us cast aside our fear, run to the feet of Jesus, and fall on our knees. Let us take in his glorious splendor and receive his great love and forgiveness.
Then, when we are reminded of the gift we have received, rejoicing may come.
Reflect on your own experience upon hearing the news of salvation. What emotions or memories characterized that time for you? How did your conversion change you, your life?
Are you experiencing the joy of Christ? If so, share it. Are you feeling weary and joyless? Confess it. Christ is able and willing to share your burdens.
Family Time Application
Here are some suggestions for how you could celebrate the Joy of Christmas as a family, whether it’s just you and your spouse or includes your children or grandchildren.
- Read John 3:16-17 and 1 John 4:7-19. Discuss how we see God’s love as demonstrated through the birth of Christ and how the love of God inspires us to love others.
- Share as a family the ways you’ve felt or experienced God’s love in your life. Share, too, how you’ve experienced God’s love through the love of others.
- Together, generate a list of things which bring joy in your life. Give thanks to God for these blessings. Then, generate a list of ways in which your family can share the love of God and bring joy to others in the coming week. Hang it somewhere so it can be seen throughout the week.
- With little kids: listen to a joyful song, like Sidewalk Prophet’s Oh What a Glorious Night, and have a dance party.
- Sing or listen to O Holy Night (I enjoy this version by Josh Groban).
- O Holy Night
- O holy night! The stars are brightly shining,
- It is the night of our dear Saviour’s birth.
- Long lay the world in sin and error pining,
- Till He appear’d and the soul felt its worth.
- A thrill of hope, the weary world rejoices,
- For yonder breaks a new and glorious morn.
- Fall on your knees! O hear the angel voices!
- O night divine, O night when Christ was born;
- O night divine, O night, O night Divine.
- Led by the light of Faith serenely beaming,
- With glowing hearts by His cradle we stand.
- So led by light of a star sweetly gleaming,
- Here come the wise men from the Orient land.
- The King of Kings lay thus in lowly manger;
- In all our trials born to be our friend.
- He knows our need, to our weaknesses no stranger,
- Behold your King! Before Him lowly bend!
- Behold your King, Before Him lowly bend!
- Truly He taught us to love one another;
- His law is love and His gospel is peace.
- Chains shall He break for the slave is our brother;
- And in His name all oppression shall cease.
- Sweet hymns of joy in grateful chorus raise we,
- Let all within us praise His holy name.
- Christ is the Lord! O praise His Name forever,
- His power and glory evermore proclaim.
- His power and glory evermore proclaim.
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Read about why and how to celebrate advent here.
Here are two other Advent Readings:
“Let Every Heart Prepare Him Room”
“Amid the Cold of Winter, When Half Spent Was the Night”