The Second Week of Advent
Lord Jesus, Master of both the light and the darkness,
send your Holy Spirit upon our preparations for Christmas.
We who have so much to do seek quiet spaces to hear Your voice each day.
We who are anxious over many things look forward to Your coming among us.
We who are blessed in so many ways long for the complete joy of your kingdom.
We whose hearts are heavy seek the joy of Your presence.
We are Your people, walking in darkness, yet seeking the light.
To You we say, ‘Come Lord Jesus!’Amen. (Henri Nouwen
Scripture Reading from the Old Testament:
The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; those who dwelt in a land of deep darkness, on them has light shone. You have multiplied the nation; you have increased its joy;
they rejoice before you as with joy at the harvest, as they are glad when they divide the spoil.
The theme of this week, our second week of Advent, is Joy. Like last week’s theme of Hope, the concept of Joy has been diluted by today’s culture and mistaken for brief bursts of emotion or bouts of happiness.
Even more confusing is the way that some Christians talk about Joy, making it sound like something that we must generate out of our own being. If we aren’t careful, Joy can quickly lose its potency when it is mistaken for a feeling we should summon or a choice we make, especially when we are facing trials or the spiritual dryness. Although our intentions may be good, encouraging someone to “choose Joy” can lead to more frustration and pain in their lives, leaving them to wonder how they can be filled with Joy while at the same time not ignoring the struggle that comes from existing in this world.
The biggest mistake people make when it comes to experiencing true Joy comes from a dire misunderstanding of the source of Joy itself. Joy isn’t something we humans generate, it’s a supernatural attribute of God. The beautiful thing about this is that God has made the experience of his Joy available in the context of a relationship him. Even more mindnumbingly awesome is the promise that we can actively participate in His work through the relational presence of the Holy Spirit in our lives. (Gal. 5:22-26)
Rather than Joy being something we manufacture within ourselves, its source is found in the active relational presence of the Holy Spirit in our lives. And, as the story of Elizabeth shows, the way to access this supernatural Joy is through dependence on God when we are at our weakest.
As we celebrate the Advent season, we will continue to see that recalling God’s past faithfulness, recognizing his present work, and anticipating his future action on our behalf makes up an essential rhythm for growing our dependence on God and experiencing his Joy.
At first glance, it is easy to overlook Elizabeth and the important role she played in the birth narrative of Jesus. We do know that she and her husband, Zechariah (the main character of last week’s Advent focus on Hope) were faithful followers of God in the time of political oppression and spiritual darkness. We also know that they struggled with infertility and were “advanced in years”. In a culture that considered infertility to be a sign of God’s displeasure, Elizabeth would be carrying the weight of people’s judgment and the shame of not being able to continue her family line.
Instead of giving way to bitterness, Elizabeth’s life is indelibly marked by Joy. Her response to the miraculous conception of her son is filled with language that recognizes God’s relational presence in her life as he acts on her behalf.
“Thus the Lord has done for me in the days when he looked on me, to take away my reproach among people.” (Luke 1:25, ESV)
In addition to this, when her cousin Mary (who was pregnant with Jesus) came to visit, Elizabeth’s reliance on the Holy Spirit skyrocketed to the forefront of her story as she spoke a simple but profoundly important blessing over Mary.
Read Luke 1:41–45.
While scripture only records a few brief glimpses into Elizabeth’s life, this experience (an experience she shared with her yet to be born son) identifies her as a person who understood and participated in the supernatural Joy available through relationship with the present and active God.
It’s clear that Elizabeth strongly depended on the promise of redemption that the faithful God made to her people long ago. She also understood that her son would play a vital role in God’s present action as he would be the Announcer of the coming Messiah (Luke 1:67-79). This Messiah, Jesus, would fulfill the promises spoken to Mary and show mercy to their people (Luke 1:46-55).
Despite her circumstances (infertility, advanced age, political oppression, etc.) she recognized that God had been faithful in the past, was actively working in the present, and anticipated his work in the future.
Questions for Discussion:
- To what degree, over the course of your life, have you experienced the supernatural Joy available in your relationship with God?
Recalling the Past:
- Considering Elizabeth’s circumstances, what biblical stories of women who were facing similar issues (infertility, political and spiritual oppression, etc.) could she have held close to her heart, inspiring her dependence on God?
- How does Elizabeth’s story inspire your own dependence on God?
- When you recall your past, when were the times where his supernatural Joy has been evident in your life?
Recognizing the Present:
- What three blessings did Elizabeth declare over Mary and what was the significance of each of these blessings? (Luke 1:39-45; Hint: Think about the Holy Spirit’s role in these blessings.)
- How are you, in your life today, benefitting from these blessings?
- Take a few moments of silence (5-7 min) and think through the following: Over the past week, how have you seen God actively at work in your own life? Jot down a list.
Share with your family, Life Group, or friends about these times. Give them the opportunity to speak into this and help you see how God might be using you to participate in helping others experience his Joy this Advent season.
Anticipating the Future:
- What are you anticipating will result from this celebration of Advent?
- How will your life be different this coming year? Name one area in your life in which God is actively calling you to experience the supernatural Joy available in his presence? (Think of areas where you: live, work, and/or play)
Prayer and Response with Optional Advent Candle Lighting: (*Leader reads- People Respond🙂
*We have waited long for You.
Deep has been the darkness.
*We long for You to shine
right here among us where we are.
*We will not fear the shadows that surround us
if only You will come among us!
*We await the sound of a cry in the night, the joy that follows pain,
the coming of hope.
(Lighting of the Hope Candle)
* This is the path that the prophets marked
who heard the voice of the Lord, ‘Whom shall I send?’,
and they responded, ‘Here am I, send me!’
* These prophets declared the Lord’s simple requirements for his people
to act justly, love mercy, and walk humbly with Him.
* One prophet said that a young woman would conceive, give birth to a son,
and name him ‘Emmanuel’, God with us!
* Emmanuel would come and preach good news to the poor
and bind up the broken-hearted,
* These same prophets rejoiced saying, ‘A Child is born to us, a Son is given to us!
He will be called Wonderful Counselor, Prince of Peace.“
(Optional Advent Candle Lighting)
*Today, the second week of Advent, we light two candles,
the First candle represents the Hope we have in Christ,
The second candle represents the Joy found in the good news his advent.
(Lighting of the Joy Candle)
A Song of Praise: Joy to The World
Joy to the world, the Lord is come!
Let earth receive her King;
Let every heart prepare Him room,
And heaven and nature sing.
Joy to the earth, the Savior reigns!
Let men their songs employ;
While fields and floods, rocks, hills, and plains
Repeat the sounding joy.
No more let sins and sorrows grow,
Nor thorns infest the ground;
He comes to make His blessings flow
Far as the curse is found.
He rules the world with truth and grace,
And makes the nations prove
The glories of His righteousness,
And wonders of His love.
May God bless you and keep you this week
May you continue to be refreshed by the Joy available in the relational presence of the Holy Spirit
May the light of Jesus Christ shine bright in your life, as you draw others to Him.
In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit