During 2016 Jesus graciously led me to focus on receiving from Him, resting, and pursuing joy. It was a year like no other before it. It was a year of surrendering my striving and discovering He is my friend, not just my teacher. Like a paint-by-number, He walked me dot-to-dot until I saw that the destination of this life I walk is JOY.
It is his JOY to be with us! What says “I love you” more than wanting to be with someone? Jesus, Emmanuel, God-With-Us, came to earth for a short time and suffered death for the JOY of having us be with him. The anticipation of this complete joy is what motivated and guided His every action while on earth. As we receive Him, so it becomes our anticipation of this very same joy that motivates and guides our actions every day.
Thanksgiving and Christmas are tangible, temporal expressions of the joy that awaits us in eternity. All the delights of these celebrations: family, fun, and food, beckon to us as we plan and prepare. The joy of it all gives us patience, perseverance and purpose as we deal with the governing lists of preparation details these days.
If you are one whose holiday gatherings are a joy, then the burden of preparation is light. Each task, however mundane or bothersome, is infused with a bit of the joy ahead through the anticipation of it. For you my prayer is that you follow the thread of joy throughout your days and let it lead you to our destination: Joy!
However, if you are one whose holidays are bothersome at best, painful and wounding at worst, then preparation becomes almost a mockery. Each task is drudgery, a press of sharp flint into a scarred and painful place. Your hope is simply that it speed by as quickly and painlessly as possible. For you my prayer is that even in the pain and burden of it all, you bravely expect Jesus. He has no fear of the dark places and wants to meet you there. Joy and suffering do mix. Paradoxically, it was His great joy to suffer death. He went before you in the darkness and will lead you out of it. Joy Himself stood in the tomb.
Jesus says in verse 11 of John 15: “I have told you this so that my joy may be in you and your joy may be complete.” What was the “this” he told His disciples so that they could live in joy now? It was to remain in Him. The verses before are peppered with his repetitive “Remain!” Rabbis of the time used repetition to teach important points, much like parents and teachers today. In the span of these eleven verses He says “Remain” eleven times! This is how you prepare for joy – remain with Him wherever you are.
As eternal guests at the table of joy, we need to be well-practiced at receiving. If a guest is uncomfortable receiving hospitality, the joy of the giver is incomplete. Think of the guest who self-deprecatingly turns down every offer. Or the guest who jumps up to help with everything because they are uncomfortable receiving hospitality. As host, you may feel disappointment or even irritability because your gift is being negated. Likewise, we, in our proud, broken ways we sit not with our Host, but constantly say “That’s ok, I don’t need that” or jump up to help Him. Jesus’s joy, nor ours, is complete then. So fellow guests, practice well your reception. Receive with gratitude what the Lord has for you today. When we receive well, we remain more comfortably with the Giver.
Jesus honored Mary’s choice to remain with Him. He urged Martha to do the same. The great Host told his host that it was better to receive from Him than strive to make a perfect place for him.
As you prepare for the holidays ahead, let their promise and joy color your plans. Let them remind you of our destination: JOY. Practice being a guest by focusing on your Host and receiving from Him. May your season of celebrations and all the preparations they entail bring JOY to life in your soul this year.