My favorite verse – my “life verse” right now is found in our readings this week. The word of the Lord that came to Zephaniah, the prophet, included these words: “The Lord your God is with you, he is mighty to save. He will take great delight in you, he will quiet you with his love, he will rejoice over you with singing.”
This weekend has been somber, a reminder that we live in a fallen world. Our pastor this morning preached from the first few verses Romans 5 illustrating for us our past, present and future grace. We have been justified by faith … a moment in time, a past grace, an unimaginable gift! We have access to God by that same faith “into this grace in which we now stand” … a present grace, access to the power and presence of God. We have a future grace … a completion of the work that God has begun. But in the midst of these celebratory words, there is this thought – not only do we rejoice in the hope of the glory of God, but we also rejoice in our sufferings. On any other Sunday, these words might not have been so potent. But with the event of Friday the words stung. It seemed almost disrespectful to consider rejoicing at this time.
But I was reminded that my joy is in the hope of salvation … not in the circumstances of life. Joy is an internal contentment that is best experienced because of the hope we have in God. The joy of the Lord is my strength! The scriptures say: “we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope. And hope does not disappoint us, because God has poured out his love into our hearts by the Holy Spirit, whom he has given us.”
We should expect trouble and trials. Job said, “Yet man is born to trouble as surely as sparks fly upward.” Jesus said, “In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.” Peter wrote, “Dear friends, do not be surprised at the painful trial you are suffering, as though something strange were happening to you.” James admonished us, “Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds.” While we are at peace with God, and have abundant life, we still live in a fallen world. Our “best life” is yet to come.
The prophet Isaiah wrote,
Surely God is my salvation;
I will trust and not be afraid.
The Lord, the Lord, is my strength and my song;
he has become my salvation.
With joy you will draw water
from the wells of salvation.
Give thanks to the Lord, call on his name;
make known among the nations what he has done,
and proclaim that his name is exalted.
Sing to the Lord, for he has done glorious things;
let this be known to all the world.
Today we light the Advent Candle of Joy and raise our voices in song … Joy to the World! The Lord is come!