An anonymous friend once left a gift for me on the church piano: An angel carrying a sign with just one word: “Rejoice!”
Each year at the end of the Christmas season, we pack up the lights and stow away the ornaments, take down the garland and remove the stockings. But this decoration remains.
It hangs on my kitchen wall all year long and as I shuffle around making lunches, cooking dinner, sweeping floors, cleaning out backpacks and more, I need only look up for a reminder to “Rejoice in the Lord always.”
And I need the reminder. Because some days rejoicing is something I forget. Some days, rejoicing is difficult and it is a discipline.
In our church Christmas cantata this year, we started off the whole program by singing one word, “joy,” and we repeated that often through the night as we sang about the “good news of great joy” that our Savior was born.
Back in November, though, we held our first choir practice in the sanctuary and sang all about joy.
Joy, joy, and more joy.
Then I went home and cried.
It was a deeply sad moment and I couldn’t quite root down to the reason for it, not for a whole day. But then I realized, I was missing a dear friend who had always sung in this choir with me, every single year, every single program. And now she wasn’t on the stage in her normal place. She was at home in the final stages of cancer.
I miss her.
This is how it goes on this planet, we bump right up against the reality that it is broken by sin, and there is illness, there is pain, there is evil and there is dying.
But I still stood on a sanctuary stage and directed a choir as we sang about a deep and abiding joy, rediscovering it myself perhaps in the message of Christmas.
We rejoice despite cancer and death, age and illness, financial stress and family worries, relational tension and past sorrows.
Our joy isn’t that life is easy; it’s that God came down.
We needed Him, this Savior. We could never reach up to God, no matter how much we tried or how many rules we followed. So He came down to us as a newborn baby, born to a teenage mother in a Bethlehem stable.
We need something else, though. We have these daily needs, the need for help, wholeness, healing, provision, strength, comfort.
God came down and offered us salvation, but He also came down and offered us something else: His presence.
He walks us through the hardest seasons, the toughest days, the everyday, and the mundane.
And we need hope in those moments when we ache deeply with longing for the eternal, knowing this world can never satisfy us with its trouble and sorrow.
Because God came down, He gave us this deep confidence and joyful hope for the day when “He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away” (Rev. 2:4 ESV).
This is why we rejoice.
Mary reminds me to choose worship, even when facing a costly obedience.
It was a beautiful gift, of course, to be the mother of the Messiah, chosen and favored by God. But it required much, and she had to be willing to lay it all down.
Her marriage to Joseph?
Her life itself?
All was at risk.
Still her response to the angel’s announcement and this unexpected pregnancy was to rejoice and to worship rather than to fear or to hide or to despair.
““Oh, how my soul praises the Lord. How my spirit rejoices in God my Savior!….He has done great things,” she sings in her song, The Magnificat (Luke 1:46, 49 NLT).
She worshiped because of the miracle and the glory. She rejoiced despite the difficulty.
This is our choice also.
When there is hard news or just a frustrating day, where there are long waits and an anxious tension, we can choose to look up and rejoice in this: God is with us.
He came to us. He remains in us. He prepares a place in heaven for us.
“My Spirit rejoices in God my Savior!”