Advent Meditations: Joy To The World

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Advent. It’s a season of more than just waiting for the Christ child. It is a season of cultivating our longing for his coming.

Wait…

Cultivating our longing? I generally want to satisfy my longings, not cultivate them!

{I begin to feel the deep rumblings of panic in my soul.}

If I cultivate a longing, what if it never comes to fruition? What if my longing never gets satisfied? Why cultivate a longing for something that I can’t control how, when, or if it ever gets fulfilled??

Let me tell you a story.

When I was 32 years old, a guy at church asked me out – a guy I’d had a crush on for quite some time. I really hadn’t dated much since college, and I’d generally been happy as a single woman. But the longing for marriage lay just barely under the surface of my heart for all those years. Once the possibility of marriage became a real option on the horizon, the hope of marriage pushed past all my walls and began uncomfortably invading my life. I’ll go ahead and tell you the end of the story, because this is a story about a very uncomfortable thing:  cultivating longing, which is another way of saying choosing to hope.

I married this guy!

However, due to painful life circumstances that I won’t go into here, we dated almost two years before he proposed to me. The last two months before he proposed, I really started getting panicky. The proverb “hope deferred makes the heart grow sick” was constantly on my mind. If this was hope, I wanted none of it. It only made my heart sick. I was an emotional wreck, consumed with my longing to marry him. Those last couple of months, I would have a meltdown every week or so as we continued to not be engaged, and he would assure me each time that he had a plan in place and asked me if I would trust him.

Circumstantially, our dating relationship had not been fun or easy or many of the things that dating is “supposed” to be. We had suffered together, this man and myself. And yet I longed to spend the rest of my life with him. The suffering really just cultivated my longing for the joy that I somehow knew was on the horizon.

We married shortly after I turned 35. Those first months after the wedding, my happiness often took me by surprise! I’ve always been a more melancholy personality type, and I had never experienced such a deep but giddy joy. All the suffering and waiting and longing was worth it. My hope was not misplaced. Many people say the first year of marriage is extremely hard. But for me, my joy far surpassed all the little growing pains of learning to live together.  

Life’s circumstances continue to be hard in many ways for us. Yet the joy of marrying this man has not gone away. It still surprises me, bubbling up even when life is terribly painful.

God cultivated a longing in me for my husband. He was peeling back my layers of self-sufficiency, pride, and independence to show me what I really wanted – love. He cultivated that longing through suffering and waiting, through unmet expectations and my inability to be in control. Those words are easy to write, but hell to walk through.

And yet, on the other side, joy abounds – a joy deeper than the suffering, more lasting than the longing, and more resilient than a happiness that is untested.

Marriage isn’t the only thing the human heart may long for. Perhaps you are longing for meaningful work. Perhaps you are longing for justice. Perhaps you are longing for children. The list could go on.

So it should not surprise us that God cultivates in us a longing for something even deeper and more lasting than marriage, vocation, parenthood, or justice.

The longing is there already. It’s part of how we are created – in the image of God. We know, in the recesses of our souls, what this world is supposed to look like: love, dignity, peace, enjoying the fruit of both our love and our work. But anyone can attest that life isn’t quite like that. We are created in the image of God, but fallen into the morass of our own self-centeredness. Sin and sorrow grow instead of love and joy. Thorns infest the ground, choking out the fruit and flowers.

Our hearts groan under the burden of it all. We long for the world to be made right. And no matter how hard we try, we can’t seem to do it ourselves. We can make small steps towards it, but we can’t control the whole world.

But we long for more than a right-side-up world. Really, we long for Him. We long for the One who will give us cause to sing about the wonders of His love. We long for Christ. And not just us, but the whole creation longs for Him. Just take a peek at Romans 8:18-27.

Advent calls us to hope, to a hope for something even more certain than the deepest love of humans. Advent cultivates our longing for the world to be made right, and it cultivates the longing for Christ to return and do it! These longings undergird all our other longings. Our hopes for marriage, children, etc. are not guaranteed to come to fruition, but our hope in the ultimate redemption brought by Christ is certain. Until he comes, we experience our longing with groans. But the greater the longing now, the greater the joy in its fulfillment.

When Christ came the first time, he established that he alone can redeem the world’s brokenness. What joy! When he comes again and fulfills that mission completely, our joy will be uncontainable. The waiting, the longing, the suffering will all be worth it.

So as we celebrate the first – and certain second – coming of the One who makes all things new, it is right and good that we sing Joy to the World! Even in the midst of our sin and sorrow this winter, we look toward the certain hope when the greatest joy we could possibly imagine will come to fruition!

Joy to the world, the Lord is come!
Let earth receive her King!
Let every heart prepare Him room,
And Heaven and nature sing,
And Heaven and nature sing,
And Heaven, 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,
Repeat the sounding joy,
Repeat, 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,
Far as the curse is found,
Far as, 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,
And wonders of His love,
And wonders, wonders, of His love.

This glorious song has been done by every genre of artist, all over the world, in every way, shape, and form.  Many artists leave out one of the verses, but here’s a fun sampling nonetheless.  Enjoy!

In the wake of the fires that have consumed the beautiful Smoky Mountains, I’ve been enjoying Dolly Parton’s version of this song of hope. 

Simple soul: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=w8MCAh-ol4M

Full of glory and grandeur:  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VDmIddF7DfQ

The warm vibes of the Latino world: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VBuiqvofi44   

Temple Praise Band – for an extended, full of joy, instrumental jam session version: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RihPNxg15IU

 

 

Becca Hermes earned her Master of Arts from the Atlanta campus of Reformed Theological Seminary, where she continues to work full-time. She is married to Nagib.

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