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Advent Joy: Finding Joy

I find myself in Target at least once a week, as it is the closest grocery store to our house.

My visits during this season are different, though. I find my mind and my focus wandering to all the items I “need.” It’s something about the purposeful displays and the attractive packaging.

Suddenly, I am convinced that our dinner table needs to look exactly like the display I just walked by even if it is completely impractical for a family with an 11-year-old, 8-year-old and 3-year-old.

Perhaps it’s because I have seen these displays since the week after Halloween that my resolve is wearing thin, or perhaps it’s because I, too, fall prey to the cultural pressures to make sure my children have just as many presents if not more than their classmates.

Once I emerge from the sights and smells of Target, I find myself reorienting and remembering that there is very little our family “needs.”

We have a warm house, warm clothes and warm food in a season when so many don’t have those basic needs.

We have the luxury and privilege of enjoying time away from school and work during this season with more time to huddle next to the fire sharing cups of hot chocolate.

We also are all together without rushing back to school and extracurricular activities – something that is difficult in a blended family.

In these moments, I find my heart and soul filled with Mary’s joyful song found in Luke 1:49: “[T]he Mighty One has done great things for me, holy is his name.”

To be sure, parts of this season are filled with grief and hurt: Remembering loved ones who have passed away, recognizing that so many are still hungry and need safe places to live, and knowing that still so much division and hatred lives among us.

And yet, there is something magical about this season that has nothing to do with a jolly man in a red suit. A deep joy that comes in the form of the promise of the Christ Child, the Messiah.

Mary does not truly understand what is about to take place and, to be honest, neither do we, even though we have walked through this season of hope and expectation many times before.

It is in the uncertainty that the Divine mystery waits to be revealed. The Divine mystery that invites us into a deep, soul-filled joy.

A joy that is present even amid suffering and grief. A joy that promises that all things, yes, even our society and indeed ourselves, can be made new.

A joy that permeates the very depths of who we are until our voices can’t help but sing with Mary: “[T]he Mighty One has done great things for me, holy is his name.”

Editor’s note: This article is part of an Advent 2018 series focused on the traditional themes of hope, peace, joy and love. Reflections on love will appear next week. The previous articles in the series are:

Advent Hope: When All Appears Bleak, God’s Grace Abounds by Guy Sayles

The Preacher’s “Peace” at Advent by Bill Tillman

Merianna Harrelson

Merianna Harrelson is pastor of New Hope Christian Fellowship in West Columbia, South Carolina, editor-in-chief of Harrelson Press Publishing, and an EthicsDaily.com / Baptist Center for Ethics board member.