We are halfway through Advent as we light the third candle, Joy.
In preparation for this devotional on joy I spent days pouring over verse after verse on joy. I was amazed how often joy was used to describe something so difficult. I began to think about my greatest teachers of joy this year, my friends who are currently incarcerated. You see they graciously accept me and my friend and our simple church set up with warmth and enthusiasm. They cheer their fellow sisters on when one is getting released and the love and cheer is so beautifully genuine. They respond with a joy in the midst of their deep longing for their own release. They exemplify true joy to me, their joy is tangible and contagious.
I think joy is really the deep understanding of morning coming, of night ending, and of knowing the sun is going to rise. It’s the quiet trust of knowing sorrow and intense loss, yet pursuing Jesus and placing that despair at his feet. It’s a conviction that sorrow may last for a night but joy really will come and when it does, it floods our hearts with light.
Joy is our flashlight in the darkness that shines a light on our faith. It’s a compass pointing to a true north. I love that peace comes before joy in the Advent celebration because joy is not an emotion and it’s not really a choice. It’s a quiet secret, a truth buried deep down in your soul that keeps you going. And it rides on the coat tails of the peace Jesus gifted us.
It was on day seven of my trip to Jordan that I found myself alone at the top of a place called Mukawir, a fortress belonging to Herod Antipas where John the Baptist was imprisoned and then killed. I had come to Jordan to help in the filming of a short piece on the Biblical sites of the country. Every day held some new adventure and it was the most I had ever been in the front of the camera. However, day seven proved to be the most memorable of adventures. Just me, on top of the ruins of a fortress and a drone filming me overhead. Somehow we had managed to choose a time in which there were no other tourists. Mukawir held an incredible view of the Dead Sea and on a clear day, the towers of Jerusalem.
I had time to worship and be with Jesus after filming my scene. I stood looking out into the sea and down the hillside to the various caves that John the Baptist was believed to have been held.
A cave wouldn’t have been unfamiliar to this man as he had been known to call a cave his home. Jesus called him, “the greatest of men.” A simple life he led and yet supposedly some scholars argue that he was treated well in captivity as Herod Antipas carried some fear/respect for John. But the thing I wondered most is not found in any document or Bible verse. What were John’s final thoughts before his life was taken? It was so quiet on top of that mountain. Just the wind was all that I could hear. As I reflected on the famous life taken at the very spot I stood, I was humbled. John lived and died for a cause greater than himself. I can imagine he suspected he would die and that he felt his cause and message worth the cost.
John the Baptist was a man who had been given the job of preparing the way for Jesus. This job had required consistent preparation, waiting, hoping and trusting. Finally, the day comes and Jesus walks down the hill and is baptized by John. Then shortly after this event, John is arrested and placed in prison (Machareus/Mukawir).
Once again, he is waiting and hoping and trusting. At one point, he even sends his disciples to check that Jesus is in fact the Messiah.
In reflecting on this man’s life and important role in preparing people for one of the greatest gifts the world would ever receive, I was humbled. To be standing in the place where this man breathed his last breath made me realize how easy it is to become disappointed or disillusioned when waiting and hoping seem to stretch out longer than we anticipated. To trust as deeply as John did, to the point that he dedicated his whole life to the mission of preparing the way for Jesus, required sacrifice and absolute surrender to God. And maybe his final thoughts were on the deep joy he carried of a greater understanding of things yet to come.
“….we who have taken refuge may have powerful encouragement to hold fast to the hope set before us, which we have like an anchor of the soul, both firm and steadfast, and entering into the inside of the curtain, where Jesus, the forerunner for us, entered, because He became a high priest forever….”Hebrews 6:18-20
God, help us to cling to the promise of your joy and may our hearts truly be flooded with light. Thank you for the gift of your son and thank you that He will return. We place our hope in your unfailing love and may our lives shine bright this advent season.
I chose not to list as many verses on Joy because I would love to just hang on a few this week.