During Advent season, we recall the Israelites’ HOPE for a Messiah and we celebrate that the prophecy of Christ’s birth became a reality. Traditionally, during each of the four Sundays of Advent, candles are lit to symbolize first HOPE, followed by LOVE, JOY, and finally PEACE. This Sunday’s Advent theme of JOY landed on the same weekend that our nation experienced a devastating series of tornadoes across our heartland that destroyed many homes, businesses, and lives of precious family members. It seemed an almost impossible moment in time to bring a theme of JOY into the same emotional space as deep trauma and yet that is exactly what God has been asking us to do from the beginning.
When Zechariah shared a word from the Lord, saying, “REJOICE GREATLY, O Daughter of Zion! Shout, Daughter of Jerusalem! See, your king comes to you, righteous and having salvation, gentle and riding on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey,” (Zechariah 9:9) he was speaking directly to the downtrodden and discouraged Jews. Our pandemic looks like a stroll in the park next to their generations-long Babylonian captivity. The Jews were facing the ruins of their temple, like our storm survivors are facing the rubble that was their homes, desperate to know how to move forward. These Jews remind me of our frontline health care workers facing the COVID battle today. Past the point of exhaustion and suffering and weary of facing Babylonian enemies who wanted to kill and destroy them, they desperately needed to see beyond their circumstances. God was using Zechariah to invite JOY into the center ring of their challenges.
As we bring another semester to a close, the weariness the Jewish people experienced feels all too familiar. Our college students are really needing a break. They have faced COVID for the better part of two years. A record number of students across the country are facing mental health challenges. As parents of students returning home for the holidays, you may be inviting a troubled student home or welcoming your student back into some troubling family circumstances of your own. Many of you have seen the cost of the pandemic stacking up in family losses of all kinds. Even in a crisis-free home, the downtrodden and discouraged world around us leaves no question that we are still fighting against the enemy’s captivity. Even so, Christmas gives us an opportunity to refocus the spotlight on JOY.
Hundreds of years before Jesus was even born, Zechariah painted the prophetic picture of Jesus entering Jerusalem on a donkey amid cheers and shouts of joy. The Jews were encouraged even in just believing he was coming. We have been given the privilege of seeing that promise fulfilled.
May I challenge us to model for our students what it looks like to REJOICE GREATLY in the midst of the trials that we face this Christmas? Perhaps JOY is found in gathering around an Advent wreath of your own at home. For you and yours, JOY may come in serving others as a family this Christmas. Gathering up offers a chance for family devotions that focus on JOY, too. Maybe this year we can use Zechariah as an example of rejoicing in the face of adversity.
As we parent adult children, we don’t have to paint a picture-perfect Christmas for them as if our celebrations magically remain untainted by the rest of life’s experiences. Instead, we can admit when we are weary or discouraged and still intentionally draw attention to Jesus in the center ring of life’s realities. There, the HOPE, LOVE, JOY, and PEACE of Christmas become even more apparent in contrast to our challenges. Especially if this is not the Christmas you or your student imagined or hope for, we don’t need to pretend all is well in this moment. Instead, we can point to the hope of our eternal destiny, REJOICING GREATLY that his birth means all will be well in the end.