I read that line recently in an Advent devotional and it set me to thinking (yes, I know the mind can be dangerous when imagination takes over). Fear, doubt, and despair have a way of dominating our narratives, don’t they? It is easier to believe in destruction rather than life; annihilation rather than hope; condemnation rather than salvation. Bad news seems to be especially bad this time of year.
When I was a teenager I remember attending an evangelistic meeting where the speaker worked the crowd over sowing seeds of doubt in our young, impressionable minds that perhaps our baptism wasn’t good enough; our confessions were not truthful enough; our salvation not sure enough. “Should I walk down this aisle, again?” Thanks be to God for both a solid heritage of biblical teaching and steadfast mentors who walked alongside me to keep me rooted in God’s eternal good news.
Once saved barely saved? Hmph. God’s good news is deep and abiding and there is nothing tenacious about it. When the angels announced “Glory to God in the highest,” they earlier claimed, “I am bringing you good news of great joy for all the people.” (Luke 2:10) The messengers of God proclaimed a great Gift and the response of those shepherds was not to fearfully berate others into receiving God’s generosity. The Gospel of Luke tells us that the Shepherd’s responded: “glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen…” (Luke 2:20)
We know about bad news. We know about despair. It is an easy thing to believe in fear. We live it, see it and experience it most every day. Advent is a reminder that this is not the only news and neither is it the last news. God has a good word to you and me and when we hear it and believe it the natural response is to celebrate, not run and hide. God is bigger than we think and our fears and failures have no limiting jurisdiction.
Centuries ago the Puritans outlawed Christmas as a celebration. In fact, in New England Christmas Day was just another workday until the mid-nineteenth century. The over-indulgence that marked that day was suspect and it was feared that it would distract or dilute our piety. Of course over-indulgence still marks Christmas and there is no question that it is a season of distraction. Still it is a time, a holy opportunity, to laugh, to celebrate, and dare to believe that God wants for us to live fully as well as faithfully. To do one is to honor the other.
This Sunday we will light the third Advent Candle, known as “Joy.” When God comes upon our lives, whether in quiet whispers of acts of simplicity or in angelic dramas that leave us breathless, may our response be one of joy. It was, after all, the angels who said, “Do not be afraid.”
Let others see your joy. Light a candle; sing a carol, and share a good word – there is Good News for all the people. There is nothing barely about it.
Joyfully joining with you this Advent,