Advent Reflections: Joy 5

Daily Office texts: Zechariah 7:8-8:8; Revelation 5:6-14; Matthew 25:14-30.

And the word of the LORD came again to Zechariah: “This is what the LORD Almighty said: Administer true justice; show mercy and compassion to one another. Do not oppress the widow or the fatherless, the foreigner or the poor. Do not plot evil against each other. But they refused to pay attention; stubbornly they turned their backs and covered their ears. They made their hearts as hard as flint and would not listen to the law or to the words that the LORD Almighty had sent by his Spirit through the earlier prophets. So the LORD Almighty was very angry. When I called, they did not listen; so when they called, I would not listen,” says the LORD Almighty. “I scattered them with a whirlwind among all the nations, where they were strangers. The land they left behind them was so desolate that no one traveled through it. This is how they made the pleasant land desolate.”

—Zechariah 8:1-14 (TNIV)

Yesterday we looked at the relationship between sorrow and joy. Today, we conclude this week’s reflections on Christian joy by looking at how joy is manifested through service to others. We find joy in service to others because it is the consistent biblical warrant that we do so. Christ himself made it a defining characteristic of anyone who would follow him and call themselves “Christian” (see, e.g., Matthew 20:26-28; Mark 9:33-35; Luke 22:26-27). In the passage above from Zechariah, we see that Israel’s failure to serve God by serving others led, in part, to their sorrow of exile. Through the prophet, God reminds his people that they had had a chance to keep their pleasant land pleasant. They could have done so by obeying his consistent commands to work for justice, to show mercy and compassion, and to care for the least and the most helpless in society. This was God’s consistent expectation for his people and when they obeyed his commandments, they could expect God to bless them with joy. Instead, they experienced sorrow because of their hard hearts and disobedience.

I have found this to be true in my own life. I have spent the last two weeks ministering to my dying father-in-law and to his grieving family. I cannot say I enjoyed that experience, but I can tell you I found joy in it because I was serving God, in this case as a husband, family member, and priest. In this particular instance, I know that my ministry (service) was able to help my family because they told me it did. Yet there have been other times when I was not sure whether my service to others was all that helpful. Nevertheless, I still found joy in serving because it was based on obeying Jesus rather than producing some hoped for outcome. On the other hand, I typically experience great sorrow when I fail to obey the Lord who loves me and has claimed me, when I fail to serve because I get selfish and self-centered.

Service is a key ingredient to experiencing joy in your life. Are you finding joy in your service? Share your experiences with us.

Prayer: We ask you, almighty God, let our souls enjoy this their desire, to be enkindled by your Spirit, that being filled as lamps by your divine gift, we may shine like burning lights before the presence of your Son Christ at his coming; through the same Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

—The Gelasian Sacramentary

This Sunday, we will light the fourth candle on the Advent wreath, the candle that signifies love. Next Monday-Wednesday we will explore that Christian virtue. This series will conclude on Wednesday, December 23, 2009.