Advent, Part 3: Joy
By Gavin Bennett, Joy Schlichter, & Bethany Allen
Candle Lighting & Communion (2 minutes)
In the Advent season, lighting a candle is used to symbolize Jesus being the Light of the World who comes into our darkness. So grab any candle from somewhere in your house, dim the lights, light the candle, and take communion as one person reads the following prayer out loud:
God of Joy,
Your Son, Jesus, is your greatest gift to us.
He is a sign of our joy,
Of your light coming into our darkness.
Help us to walk in that hope during the weeks of Advent.
May we celebrate the first coming of Jesus,
even as we await his return.
We pray all this in the name of Jesus, our Savior.
Read This Overview (5 min)
While anticipation can produce anxiety or fear, in Advent we remember that God’s original plan was that it cultivate joy and connect us to love himself. The perfect expression of love is God embodied, Jesus, and joy is the fruit or byproduct of knowing that God is near to us.
Christmas is a mixed bag of both joy and sadness for many. We each come to the holidays with some combination of disappointment, nostalgia, pain, and excitement. When it comes to joy, though, the truth is that many of us often confuse it with simply a good feeling or sentimentality. But it is so much more than that.
If joy as the culture sells it can only leave us numb, where does true joy come from? As we look in the Scriptures, true joy is ultimately born of and from salvation. And salvation is God stepping into and changing our reality, breathing life into the things we thought dead.
For the apprentice of Jesus, our salvation, our rescue from sin and its effects on our world, is not static. It is something that has happened and keeps happening. In the Scriptures, joy is rooted both in God and in the ways of God, or living life as God intended it. Through Jesus, God is showing us the best way to be human, to live a life filled with joy. In Advent, we watch as joy comes to earth and we wait for the fullness of it to come again.
Scripture Reading (5 min)
Each week of Advent, we want to read aloud a portion of the birth story of Jesus that helps us look deeper at each of the four themes of Advent (hope, peace, love, and joy).
And there were shepherds living out in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks at night. An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. But the angel said to them, “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. This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.”
Suddenly a great company of the heavenly host appeared with the angel, praising God and saying,
“Glory to God in the highest heaven,
and on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests.”
When the angels had left them and gone into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, “Let’s go to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has told us about.”
Reflection Questions (30 min)
Spend some time working through the following questions:
- Where did I experience joy this last week?
- Where do I need to experience joy or remember the joy of my salvation this coming week?
- How and to whom can I embody and reflect God’s joy this week?
Practice For the Week Ahead (5 minutes)
Jesus came for everyone — adults and children alike — so this year our Advent practices will be inclusive of children! That said, there will be two sections in each Advent practice: one for families with children to work through and one for individuals without children to work through. The practices are essentially the same, just with more interactive elements in the children’s one. So whether you live by yourself in an apartment or with a house full of kiddos, there’s something this season for everyone.
Advent Practice for Families
If you haven’t discussed Advent with your child before, start with a moment to define the practice. (Keep in mind that the following is written at the Kindergarten level — feel free to change as you see fit for your child.)
Advent is a special time before Christmas where we remember the birth of Jesus. A long time ago, God promised he would send a Rescuer to fix everything in the world that was broken and make things whole again. God’s people waited a very long time for that Rescuer. Finally, after waiting for what felt like forever, the great rescuer came! He came in a way people wouldn’t expect: as a baby. Jesus is that Great Rescuer. During Advent, we remember how God’s people waited for Jesus for a long time. We light four candles to help us remember four very important things that Jesus brings us: Hope, Peace, Joy, and Love.
Next, grab a candle (any kind will do!). Invite your child to sit with you and to quiet their mind and their body. Once you’re ready you can read and do the following:
On the third week of Advent, we remember joy. [Light the candle or help your child light the candle] Joy is happiness we feel deep down in our hearts. Sometimes, you can’t help but smile and laugh when you feel joy. You might feel joy when you get to eat your favorite food or play with your best friend. Or you may feel joy at the end of a really fun day. The Bible tells us that news of Jesus’ birth will bring people joy! During Advent, we remember that we can have joy because our Great Rescuer has come.
Ask your child to share about a time they experienced joy. They may remember a time they laughed so hard it made their belly hurt. Or they may remember a night they went to bed with a happy heart after a really good day. Take time to listen and engage with their ideas. Share a time where you experienced joy from God. We see in the Scriptures that a natural response to experiencing joy is singing. Cue up your favorite family song. Preferably a worship song or a Christmas carol, but if the Trolls soundtrack has been on repeat in your home, that’s absolutely fine too. Spend a few minutes dancing and singing to the song as a family. Be as silly or as fervent as you see fit. If an expression like this is new for your family, be the first to jump in. If your family is in a season that feels void of joy, consider honestly discussing that before playing a song, knowing that we can praise God and enjoy Him, even in difficult seasons.
To close, pray a blessing over your child:
May you experience joy in the coming of Jesus this Christmas. When you laugh, dance, and sing, would you know that God is present with you in your joy. May you look to Him as the greatest source of joy.
Advent Practice for Individuals
Grab a candle (any kind will do!). Quiet your mind and body. Once you’re ready you can light the candle, remembering that on the third week of Advent, we remember joy. Joy is a deep, profound happiness, the fruit or byproduct of knowing that God is near to us.
As you sit there, ask yourself where you have experienced God’s joy — whether in the short visit of blue skies during a rainy day, in a friend visiting from out of town, in early morning prayer, in a conversation with a roommate, the options are endless!
Next, we see in the Scriptures that a natural response to experiencing joy is singing. So cue up a favorite worship song and spend a few minutes singing and dancing before the Lord. If you are in a season that feels void of joy, consider honestly discussing that with God before playing a song, knowing that we can praise God and enjoy Him, even in difficult seasons. Remember that sometimes joy overflows into singing and/or dancing, but sometimes joy is the byproduct of worshipping by singing and/or dancing.
Before ending your time, take some time to reflect on the truth that there is a deep joy in the first coming of Jesus and there will be a deep joy upon his return. Ask for God to help you look to Him as the greatest source of joy.