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God's Upside-Down Kingdom of Joy


We are entering the third week of Advent where the invitation is to joy! From the angel’s words to Zechariah about his coming son, “He will be a joy and delight to you,” (a double dose of joy—joy and exuberant joy!) all the way through the gospel accounts to the disciples’ joy when Jesus appeared to them after the resurrection, the gospels, especially Luke and John, are full of occasions of joy and rejoicing.


We are made for joy. What does that look like in your life? How can we allow joy and rejoicing to become a constant part of our daily lives?

 

Maybe, like me, you have been sick, head and body aching…where is joy in those moments? I moaned to my husband, “I have to write about joy this week…” Nothing felt very joyful! And then God, in His whimsical way, showed up.


It began with a story I read in my daily devotion:  A young woman was waiting in an airport for her flight when an announcement came on, asking for anyone who spoke Arabic to come to a certain gate—which was hers, and she did a little, so she went to find out how she could help. An elderly Palestinian woman had heard an announcement of her flight’s delay, had thought it was canceled, and had collapsed in fear. This young woman was able to reassure her in her faulting Arabic and then went on to help the elderly lady contact her son…so the story went on. As they talked, a friendship grew; the elderly lady pulled out homemade cookies to share with everyone, the airline offered juice; the whole atmosphere changed from the usual frustration of a delayed flight to comradery.


And that reminded me of my story: Recently I was involved in providing gifts for the children we host during our foster parent night out community. I had chosen to get a gift for an 8-year-old boy who, among other requests, had asked for Legos. I know how much kids love Legos, so I bought and carefully wrapped a Lego kit. The kids had to hold their gifts till everyone had received theirs. I watched him sitting waiting. He shook his package, and his face lit up—Legos have that special sound! And then when he opened it, his joy was complete! But so was mine. The act of giving brought me so much joy.


There is a verse I have always thought was talking about joy: “…pressed down, shaken together and running over will be poured into your lap”. I looked it up (Luke 6:38) and found Jesus was talking about giving! So, joy arises as we give; truly those moments can feel like having joy running over being poured into us! This surely is God’s more abundant life.


 

Our world is such a troubled place, so many are suffering. Can I…can you…in our small way change any of that for anyone? Either we allow despair to cripple us, or we reach deep within to what is most real and authentic about us, pay attention to our little world, and find ways to make a difference to others.


Jesus told the disciples when they returned from preaching the gospel and healing the sick— “do not rejoice that the spirits submit to you but rejoice that your names are written in heaven.” Can we accept that it begins not with what we do, but with who we are? Sounds like God’s upside-down kingdom again! Can I move from my despairing thoughts to my heart? Can I remember that the Holy Spirit dwells there? Can I hear His gentle whisper of love and respond with a smile, that opens me up to possibility?


Isn't this why we love to worship! Have you ever come to church feeling low and then been caught up in singing those amazing words that remind us of who God is and who we are because of Him? Do you leave refreshed and ready to touch your world differently?

 

We can offer ourselves through every act of loving kindness, every act of generosity.  My daughter and her friends used to take delight in “rad”—random acts of kindness-- to bless others. We can be agents for change in our world if we are alert for opportunities and open to step out of our comfort zone. I wonder if there are places in your world where you can bring joy into troubled places?

 

I wonder also if another facet of joy in God’s upside-down kingdom is this: so often joy follows suffering. Think of Zechariah and Elizabeth—years of hoping, yearning, disappointment and eventually giving up the dream of having a child—no wonder it was joy in double dose for them! Think of the disciples who had seen their master crucified and who had given up their dream of a new world!  Think of how many of Jesus’ parables were about things being lost and then found, followed by a time of great rejoicing! Think of James’ admonition, “Count it all joy when you suffer various trials…” Does the loss then giving way to the gift make the gift more precious? I think it does. So, if today finds you in a place where joy seems impossible, I invite you to rest in the knowledge of God’s love for you and His presence is with you.


Psalm 30:5 tells us, “Sorrow may last for a night, but joy comes in the morning.”

This morning at my home, the sky lit early with the most brilliant red light. From my window, I saw my neighbor’s lawn glistening with heavy frost. Such beauty, that takes your breath away. Such a reminder that God is present with us always. Allow yourself to be caught up in wonder and awe; allow joy to catch you unwares.




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