By Asst Ps Patrick Chan Yin
On the third Sunday (for our church’s context, its “week-end”) of Advent, many churches will light the third candle, along with the first two candles. Traditionally, the third candle is pink in color, as it symbolises joy. Believers will read and reflect on scriptures from the Old and New Testaments about the joy of our salvation in Jesus Christ. In fact, in many traditions, the third Sunday of Advent is often called “Joyful Sunday.” But what exactly is biblical joy? Let’s look more closely at the meaning behind our “Joyful Sunday.”
Israel’s Joyful Expectation
As Christmas draws near, we joyfully look forward to our celebration of Jesus’ birth. We look back at the blessed event and rejoice in a promise fulfilled: a Savior born. But in the years and centuries before Christ’s birth, God’s people waited in joyful expectation, for a Savior promised, but One who had not yet come. Their joy was not based on the knowledge of what God had already done through His Son Jesus Christ, but their joy was an outpouring of their faith in what God WOULD do.
Throughout the Old Testament, God calls His people to joyfulness. In the teaching about tithing and offering to God in Deuteronomy, it says that after giving an offering, “you (and the Levites and the foreigners residing among you) shall rejoice in all the good things the Lord your God has given to you and your household” (Deut. 26:11). This verse is a command from God to rejoice, but it is also a recognition of the cause-and-effect relationship between orientation toward God, and joy. When we take time to reflect on what God has done for us and offer Him our very best (our time, effort, skills and gifts), the inevitable response of our souls is joy.
Biblical joy is different than what most people think of as joy. It is not just a happy emotion that we either feel or don’t feel, it is a state of being that finds its source in God. The Bible is clear that joy comes from the LORD (Neh. 8:9-10), and our joy is a product of what God has done and continues to do. It is gladness and contentedness flowing out of the well-spring of God’s faithfulness and mercy, quite independent of our circumstances. The Psalmist writes, “Let the heavens rejoice, let the earth be glad; let the sea resound, and all that is in it.... Let all creation rejoice before the LORD, for he comes, he comes to judge the earth. He will judge the world in righteousness and the peoples in his faithfulness” (Psa. 96:11-13). Isaiah declares, “Shout for joy, you heavens; rejoice, you earth! Burst into song, you mountains! For the LORD comforts his people and will have compassion on his afflicted ones” (Isa. 49:13).
God’s people had joy because they anticipated a time when the promised Messiah would come and “Those the LORD has rescued will return. They will enter Zion with singing, everlasting joy will crown their heads. Gladness and joy will overtake them, and sorrow and sighing will flee away.” (Isa. 35:10). Their faith in God’s promise meant that even in sorrow and despair, “though the fig tree does not bud and there are no grapes on the vines, though the olive crop fails and the fields produce no food, though there are no sheep in the pen and no cattle in the stalls, yet I will rejoice in the Lord, I will be joyful in God my Savior” (Hab. 3:17-18).
Our Joyful Response
Today, our joy is anchored in the knowledge that God fulfilled His promise. In the midst of Advent, our joyful anticipation of Christmas is coming to a climax soon. It is easy to be full of rejoicing when we replay the angel’s words, “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news that will cause GREAT JOY for all the people. Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord” (Luke 2:10-11). But, it is important to remember that the joy we have in Christ is not seasonal or situational. Like the joy of the ancient Israelites, our joy is a response to what God has already done and continues to do.
When Christ came and dwelt among His people, He was their rabbi or teacher. He taught them about God’s love and urged them to remain in Him, saying “I have told you this so that my joy may be in you and that your joy may be complete” (John 15:11). Paul encouraged the Colossians saying, “give joyful thanks to the Father, who has qualified you to share in the inheritance of his holy people in the kingdom of light” (Col. 1:12). It is this kind of joy, grounded in thankfulness for the first Advent of Jesus Christ and looking forward toward His second coming, that marks faithful believers.
So whether we are in the midst of cheerful Christmas anticipation or struggling with the worries and uncertainties of this life, will you still respond to have the true biblical joy that is only found in Jesus, our promised fulfilled Savior (Messiah and Lord), who has come and will come again?