The Shepherd's Candle of Joy
Joy to the world. The Lord has come. Do you feel it?
Christmas is one of those mountain top experiences. It’s the warm and fuzzy time of year. As an adult, I’ve learned that creating that magic and wonder takes hard work and careful preparation. The joy we expect to naturally be a part of the season doesn’t always come naturally.
Maybe it’s because joy is not merely an emotion, but a gift from God. “The joy of the Lord is my strength” (Nehemiah 8:10). “The fruit of the Spirit is love, JOY, peace…” (Galatians 5:22). “You fill me with joy in your presence…” (Psalm 16:11).
On the third Sunday of Advent, we light the Shepherd’s Candle of Joy, the pink candle on the wreath. Luke tells their story in chapter two of his gospel, and the evidence of the text suggests that these shepherds were pretty ordinary guys living their pretty ordinary lives. Until the angel of the Lord showed up with a heavenly chorus to announce that Immanuel - the hope and fulfillment of the nation, was born and nearby. Talk about a mountain top experience!
In verse twenty we read that the shepherds returned. Their external circumstances did not change that night in Bethlehem. At least, we don’t have any evidence to suggest that it did. They went back to their fields and their sheep and their ordinary lives. They didn’t watch Jesus grow up or participate in his ministry. They experienced the newborn Christ child, but then, what? What did the next day, the next week, the next thirty-three years look like for the first people to hear the gospel message? We humans have very short memories. I can’t help but wonder, when did the amazement of the angel’s visit wear off and what were the shepherds left with?
This season of parenting that I am in is hard and remarkably similar to shepherding. My days are full of repetitive, tedious, vital responsibilities. My nights are often spent “watching” over my little flock. Four times my life was irrevocably changed by the introduction of a new human in our family. A new character for our story. The wonder and amazement of each of those miracles have dimmed over time but the joy of their presence and what they have added to the world, and specifically my life, remains.
Joy is not a feeling. It is a foundation. My pastor said it is deeper than happiness, more expressive than peace. It is not a byproduct of the season. It is the gift.