By Snr Ps Beh Soo Yeong
“Oh no, not again!” This is probably the response of many when we read or hear about the emergence of Omicron, yet another COVID-19 variant that can potentially set us back (again)! Anguish, agony, anger, annoyance would probably mark our moods or emotions, certainly not joy. However, at this weekend’s Advent services, we are marking the theme of joy. How do we find joy, really, in such troubled times?
While joy is often experienced as happiness, biblical joy is deeper than a mere emotion. This means that we can still have joy even when we cannot be happy! True joy is predicated not on our temporal circumstances, but on the eternal reality of God and his work.
In Isaiah 61.10-11, Isaiah, perhaps personifying Judah, says, “I delight greatly in the Lord, for he has clothed me with garments of salvation and arrayed me in a robe of righteousness, as a bridegroom adorns his head like a priest, and as a bride adorns herself with her jewels.” God’s people are celebrating because he has given them salvation and righteousness, like jewels and clothes the bride and groom would wear. They are celebrating, their joy is bubbling over!
Then, using another imagery, Isaiah says, “As the soil makes the sprout come up, and a garden causes the seed to grow, so the Sovereign LORD will make righteousness and praise spring up before all nations.” Notice that the seed does nothing. The work is all done by the soil or the garden. Likewise, we can do nothing, but God is the One who causes righteousness to grow in us. Righteousness and praise are springing up because salvation comes from the Lord!
Celebration and rejoicing may seem natural when all is well, but not when we realise that at the time of writing, the northern kingdom of Israel had already fallen. Judah were under the threat of the Babylonians, and Isaiah had already prophesied that they would soon be exiled. Yet Isaiah had joy! Even though they were in dire straits, it did not matter. There was light at the end of the tunnel, and their joy was bubbling over!
Similarly, Mary, in this weekend’s sermon text says, “My soul glorifies the Lord and my spirit rejoices in God my Saviour” (Luke 1.46). Mary rejoices because the Lord is going to bring salvation to the world through the child who would be supernaturally born through her, and she would be called blessed. It may seem natural to rejoice, but not when we realise that this was a teenage girl carrying a child, conceived out of wedlock. What would people think? How would her family react? How will Joseph feel? How would she bring up the baby? Is there joy in such troubling uncertainties?
Joy, even in times of gloom and doom. Joy, amidst troubling insecurities and future. How is such joy possible? Only when we focus on the Lord and his work. Isaiah and Mary had the right focus – not on their prevailing predicament, but on their eternal destiny. It calls for faith. It calls for us to be anchored and fixated on Christ, the author and perfector of our faith. One good way to do that is to practice spiritual habits, such as those introduced in the Growing Deeper Initiatives during the year (e.g., prayer, Bible reading, Scripture memory etc). It is often through these habits that Christ is formed in us through the Holy Spirit, cultivating hope, peace, joy and love even in adversities. Many of us have experienced growth in a trusted community through these habits this year. Others have found peace and strength for the journey. You do not have to stop these habits even though the year is ending. Keep spending time with God, find rest in him and focus on him.
Whether it is Delta, Omicron, Rho or Sigma, keep in mind that Jesus is our Alpha and Omega (Rev 1.8), the beginning and the end, and everything in between. This Advent, we remember that Christ has come the first time, and he will return, soon and very soon. Therefore, consider it pure joy when we face trials of many kinds (cf. James 1.2)!