[ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Stewart McMillan works as a chiropractor in Brandon, MB and is passionate about helping people restore their health to the way God created them. He is extremely honoured to be married to Taralee, who is the best for him and is about as pretty as they come, and to have been blessed with three beautiful daughters. He is also passionate about collecting hymn books, acoustic guitars, leading worship, and extremely disappointed that he just got his butt kicked in the first round of NFL fantasy football playoffs.]
When I was a kid my dad would always very boisterously sing this song at VBS and camp and wherever else he could called “J-O-Y.” Many of you reading this can probably picture him in his Duck Dynasty beard, before Duck Dynasty beards were awesome, singing the words, “J-O-Y, J-O-Y, surely this must mean: Jesus first, yourself last, and others in between.” I can’t remember if there was more to the song or not, and I guess I’ve learned the value of serving Jesus and others, but the concept of joy never really stuck.
Then I got older and decided I wanted to make art and be aloof like every struggling musician. So I tried to be cool and mysterious and thought good art only came out of life experiences that were hard, so songs about broken hearts and shattered dreams and tough times were the only ones that would do so I tried to live that life, but it didn’t really work. In fact, I think I was a jerk to one of my girlfriends just so she would dump me so I would have life experience that a song might grow out of. Joy was not really something I even wanted back then, I think.
Then I got married and life became awesome. Not “Duck Dynasty beard awesome,” but still awesome. I finally started to understand songwriters that wrote about how great God is and how blessed that they were. After three kids and being able to go to a job every day that I absolutely love and that I feel God has blessed me to do, I think I’m starting to come to understand joy a little bit.
Christmas, by all outward appearances, seems like a really happy and joyful time for most of us. We get to have several days off work and spend time with family and the idea of Christmas usually conjures up images of laughing and games and eating sugar and opening presents and doing all the things that make us happy. The images could probably be described as joyful.
But the reality for most of us is that we’re wondering how we’re going to pay off the visa bill for the plane ticket that got us home to family. Maybe both Mom and Dad are working right up until Christmas eve and they’re wondering how they are going to find the time to buy all the presents they need for all the extended family gatherings in the midst of work and Christmas recitals and office Christmas parties. Maybe you’re just wondering how you’re going to afford to buy all the groceries to make the Christmas meal. Or maybe this is the first Christmas since your spouse has passed away and most of your kids aren’t coming home and you’re feeling more lonely than you have in a few years. You could also be a family in Connecticut wondering how in the world you’re going to make it through this season and what you are going to do with little Noah’s gifts that are already under the tree.
The reality of Christmas is that it is an incredibly hard time for many people; financially, socially, or emotionally. It’s a time of sorrow for a lot of us. Maybe even a time of silence from God as we get lost in the commercialism of the whole season. It’s out of this silence, 400 years of silence, that God first speaks to the shepherds through the angels and his message to his people is this: “I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people…Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among those with whom he is pleased.”
God wants us to know that there is joy beyond the sorrow. A time for lamentation (which the church has not done enough of publicly in song), but then a realization of the resurrection splendor. The kind of joy that lasts for the eternal year. Advent is a time of waiting, a time of expectation, and this day, this year we, the church, need to wait on God more than ever for that eternal year of joy, especially in light of events in Connecticut.
I must give credit to the hymnwriter Horatius Bonar, probably most famous for his hymn “I Heard the Voice of Jesus Say” and also for “Blessing and Honour and Glory and Power”. He also wrote a hymn called “Until The Daybreak” that my good friends at Indelible Grace have rewritten a tune for. The third verse of this hymn helps us look beyond the sorrow to the joy that awaits when we start to live like we’re in the kingdom, even though it will not be fully realized until the eternal year of joy. I think the song can be “previewed” here:
“For the light beyond the darkness,
When the reign of sin is done.
When the storm has ceased its raging,
And the haven has been won.
For the joy beyond the sorrow,
Joy of the eternal year.
For the resurrection splendor,
She [the church] is waiting, waiting here!
Morn of morns, it comes at last,
All the gloom of ages past.
For the day of days the brightest,
She is waiting, waiting here!”