The third week of Advent is observed by the lighting of the pink Candle of Joy. And as I think about joy, I can’t help but think about the father in the Parable of the Prodigal Son.
If it’s been awhile since you have read the story you can find it in Luke 15:11-32.
The CliffsNotes version is that a narcissistic, spoiled ingrate demands his inheritance from his father. He then runs off on a wild adventure in a faraway place, only to end up scraping the bottom of the barrel. In desperation, he devises a plan to return and grovel at his father’s feet, asking for a position as a slave, in a bid to stay alive.
The father is so happy with the return of the son that he doesn’t even let the son finish his rehearsed statement of apology. He literally interrupts him halfway through and begins to bark party instructions. There is absolutely no hesitation on the part of the father. Nothing, but the joy of having his son back. Jesus couldn’t describe a happier person if He tried.
The Father’s joy is the central element of the story to which everything else in the story connects and relates. The son’s joy was in direct relation to the father’s joy.
In addition to the this, the entire household is happy. But the people aren’t necessarily happy because the son has returned, as much as they are happy that the Father is happy. They are rejoicing with those that rejoice.
Truth be told, they’re going to respond however the father does. If he was tense, they would all be tense. If he was angry, they all would be a bit agitated. If he was bitter, the whole place would turn toxic. It’s just the nature of group dynamics. Everyone is happy because the father is happy.
Well, not everyone.
The older brother is outside the house pouting. Conversely, but yet similar to the others, his reaction is related to the father’s joy as well. However, instead of being happy, he is angry. He is angry about his father’s happiness. He finds the whole thing unfair and bit excessive. He doesn’t pull any punches in sharing with the father what he thinks about his little brother and the father’s response.
But the party is going to go on. The Father’s joy is set. It’s established. It’s a done deal. The father’s joy is out there for all. His joy can be enjoyed by anyone. The family and the friends are still going to rejoice around the Father’s joy.
I’m not exactly sure where I fit into this story. I can certainly relate to the Prodigal Son in many ways. But I think I’m one of the people invited to the party. I’m like one of the people out on the highway and byways that has been invited to come to the party. I’ve been invited to participate in the Father’s joy.
Jesus came to offer us joy. His joy. It’s not so much that He is giving us joy as a possession, but rather pulling us into the joy He has as a result of His relationship with His Father. But I have to come into the Father’s presence by faith to participate in the joy. I can’t stand outside the house. I have to come inside and abide.
Jesus said that we need to abide in His love in order for His joy to be among us and for our joy to be complete. Jesus’ use of pronouns is plural in this text. By ‘you’, He means ‘y’all’ together. Jesus gets His joy from the Father’s joy. Which is why it is said that it was for the joy set before Him that He went to the Cross. Christ’s joy is because of God’s joy. Our joy is because of Christ’s joy. Joy is a group effort.
Nehemiah wrote the joy of the Lord is our strength. My strength comes from the fact that my God is joyful. We feed off of God’s joy. We feed off of each other’s joy, just like in the story. This is all because of Jesus.
This is the joy of the Gospel. The good news of Advent is that God is full of joy. And Christ’s creation of the new creation offers us the opportunity to enter into that joy forever.
The Psalmist wrote, in Your presence is the fullness of Joy and at Your right hand are pleasures forevermore. Then the author of Hebrews tells us that Jesus is seated at the right hand of the majesty on high.
Jesus is the joy and the forevermore pleasures at the right hand of God.
And for all intents and purposes, it starts, for us, with the Baby in the manger.
This is why the angels proclaimed: ‘behold I bring you good news of Great joy.’ The angel literally said; ‘I bring you the gospel of immense joy for all people.’
Why? Because God’s joy was laying in the manger that night.
We can be joyful because Jesus came the first time to open up access to the Father through faith. He is coming a second time to bring God’s presence back to us fully.
We can be joyful that we are not what we used to be. We can be joyful knowing that what we currently are is not what we are going to be.
We can be joyful that God finds joy in Himself. We can be joyful that God finds joy in Jesus. We can be joyful that God finds joy in us.
We can be joyful knowing that we are Sinners in the Hands of a Happy God.