Through the years, I’ve heard numerous pastors and church leaders proclaim “There is Joy in the Journey!” Sometimes this phrase might seem cliche or overused – but I think there is deep truth in these words. My own Pastor proclaimed just this past week that Joy, unlike simple happiness, is an awareness of God’s grace within brokenness. Joy is knowing God’s presence as we maneuver down this winding path we call life!
Pondering this “Joy in the Journey” is especially important as we prepare to celebrate Christmas. This season is supposed to be a time when followers of Christ remember and celebrate Joy through the gift of Jesus. God chose to be present with us – Immanuel – in the form of a baby in a stable! So simple, such humility!
Yet real life gets in the way as we try to experience joy through this celebration. This journey often comes with deep confusion, chaos and pain.
Our family spent a recent Saturday afternoon on a journey of sorts. We roamed town purchasing gifts for the various people and organizations we had adopted for the season. (See Thinking About What Others Need.) Our time was limited – that day’s schedule far too busy. We drove to multiple stores looking for a diabetic cookbook, a specific item someone had asked for. No luck. I was frustrated as we fought the crowds and lost precious time in the car, battling heavy traffic. I desperately wanted to escape and find solitude in the comfort of my own home.
Despite my annoyance, I noticed the bored looks from my kids in the backseat and understood my negative attitude was destroying the purpose of our journey. My inability to experience Joy by finding God’s presence amidst the small annoyances of life was damaging to myself and my family!
I began to think about the people you see standing around our nativity scenes – Mary, Joseph, the shepherds and even those wise men. (Let’s ignore for now that those wise men actually came years later to a young Jesus… the analogy holds true regardless.) The nativity scene is an image of peace, calm and quiet joy for those blessed to be in the presence of God as Jesus, baby in a manger. But what chaos and frustration did they face as they all made their way towards this stable? We know Mary and Joseph made an uncomfortable journey on a donkey. The shepherds sat alone in a field, uncertain of where life would lead and unaware of their role in history.
The wise men journeyed far on the backs of animals, searching for primitive camping along the way. I imagine there were numerous frustrations and delays. It would be easy to forget the purpose of this unusual journey and just head back home in a state of frustration! Whatever hardships they faced, they managed to continue forward; they met the young Jesus and found Joy through the presence of the King.
We continue this today. We will encounter chaos in our journey; sometimes very minor, like a frustrating trip to a store – and at other times quite extreme, like the unexpected death of someone we love. No matter the human circumstance, we must remember to experience Joy through the presence of a God who chose to humble himself for us.
With one week to go before Christmas, we step forward in anticipation of the complete presence of God through Christ Jesus! And no matter the circumstance, we proclaim this Joy – this good news of God’s love!