joy in the midst of sorrow
Advent is a season of joy. The theme of joy is found in many of our Advent and Christmas hymns: "Joy to the world the lord is come...." "Good Christian friends rejoice..." "Oh come all ye faithful, joyful and triumphant." The list goes on and on. On the third Sunday of Advent we light the candle of Joy on our Advent wreath. In some ways there is an expectation that even those who are "down in the dumps" will have their hearts filled with joy during the seasons of Advent and Christmas. But even though this is a season of joy, for many this is also a season that is filled with sorrow and grief...
There are many who strive to find the joy of the Advent season but they struggle to do so because in the midst of this season of joy they are aware of significant separations and loss. There are some who have lost loved ones (some recently and some years ago) and that sense of "absence" is painfully felt during this season. For some it's not the pain of death but the awareness that a loved one cannot be with them during this season (deployments, travel bans, financial set-backs, care facility restraints, and shear distance all play a part). So there are many who are experiencing what some now refer to as a Blue Christmas. In light of this we had a special time of prayer this past Sunday (and lit candles) for those who are searching for "joy in the midst of sorrow."
We titled our prayer time, "a ceremony of remembrance." During this time we remembered: mothers, fathers guardians, and grandparents; sisters, brothers, aunts, uncles, and cousins; children, grandchildren, and those who leaped within the womb; husbands, wives, dearest loves, friends and neighbors; and the people of God of every time and place. In short, anyone for whom we now have a sense of loss was recognized and remembered.
In light of this I would simply share three throughs from Jeremiah 33:14-16, which was one of the lectionary texts for the First Sunday of Advent. The text reads as follows:
"The days are coming," declares the Lord,
"when I will fulfill the good promise I made to the house of Israel and to the house of Judah.
'In those days and at that time
I will make a righteous Brach sprout from David's line;
He will do what is just and right in the land.
In those days Judah will be saved and Jerusalem will live in safety.
This is the name by which it will be called:
The Lord Our Righteous Savior."
A New Day Dawns: "The days are coming, declares the Lord..."
Hope always looks forward. For Christians we always look forward because we know that days of sorrow and loss will one day give way to eternal fellowship with God and our family and friends who have gone before us. One of the great sources of joy, during this Advent season, is the announcement that "a new day is dawning" and the realization that better (more joyful) days lie ahead.
Promises Are Fulfilled: "When I will fulfill the good promise I made to the house of Israel and to the house of Judah."
Our hope is not based on wishful thinking. We sometimes wish for things that are fanciful or fantastic, and most of these wishes have no (or little) chance of ever become a reality. Our joy, however, is based on the promises of God which He has faithfully fulfilled throughout history and through our lives. It is appropriate and fine, at times, for us to be sad and blue, but we need to remember that the promises of God are not for "everyone else," they are intended for me and for you.
A Messiah Is Born: "I will make a righteous Branch sprout from David's line.. This is the name by which it will be called - The Lord Our Righteous Savior"
Our hope is not in people, powers, circumstances, or events; our hope is in the Child of Bethlehem. So if there is loss, illness, strife, anxiety, financial set back, or uncertainty about our future; remember the Jesus is Immanuel - God With Us. God, in the person of Jesus, entered this world to be with us in both times of joy, and in our darkest hours.
Sorrow is natural when loved ones, for whatever reason, cannot be with us at Christmas. But please know, God has not abandoned you. He loves you. He is with you. He understands your deepest needs. He wants, in the midst of sorrow and pain, to fill your heart with joy. Truly Advent is a time when, in the midst of sorrow, His joy can be found.
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Dr. Allen Schneider is a United Methodist pastor and a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist presently serving the Sapulpa and greater Tulsa communities.