Hi! This is James Bishop. I’ve been attending River City for about a year and a half – and I have to say, before I start into this third week of Advent – what a blessing this small community of Jesus-believing, Christ-followers is to me, my wife, Ashley, and our children, Syddie, Jonah and Lincoln. I’ve served in ministry since 2004 and currently work at the Union Gospel Mission as their Digital Media Producer. God planted us in Hillyard in 2013, where, a year later Kerr and his family would move next door and prove that God’s providential hand is really in everything.
I love this season leading up to Thanksgiving and onto Christmas. I often grad hold of a renewed sense of thanks and gratefulness – and I always need it. I want to thank you, River City, for being such good friends and brothers and sisters in Christ. Christ said that the world around us would know that we are Christians by our love for one another. Truly, they should know that this community is living for Jesus.
Well, We’re in the third week of Advent – waiting and hoping, preparing for Jesus. Reminding ourselves that He is our reason for being. This third week is marked by the word gaudete, which, in latin, translates as rejoice. Wow. rejoice… When Mary heard the news that she would bear the child of God, she rejoiced. She said, “yes”. She accepted Christ in her life. And she, for nine months, prepared for her savior. We don’t have nine months, but we are preparing, like in pregnancy, for the revealing of a whole new life with Christ. We can rejoice, because we know it’s true – He is coming again.
“Rejoice in the Lord always, I’m gonna say it again: Rejoice! Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near.”
This scripture in Philippians 4 is most closely related to the third week, and the word gaudete.
Matthew Henry says of this passage:
“Seeing our conversation is in Heaven, and we look for the savior to come and claim us, therefore let us stand fast. The believing hope and prospect of eternal life should engage us to be steady, even, and constant, in our Christian course.”
I’ve often been boggled by the idea of eternity, Christ’s second coming, this whole immortal salvation in Heaven. Several years back, I mentioned my frustrations to a friend. My friend said this, “when an infant, in their mother’s womb, perceives (with their limited abilities) the world around them – it’s very familiar, very safe, and it’s all they know. They have no idea, no ability to perceive just how vast, how large, how beautiful, the world is on the outside. That is us. We haven’t been born into heaven yet. We are still waiting, with very little clue as to how amazing our lives will be with Christ on the other side.” But we do know it’s going to be amazing, and He is why we rejoice.
I love my savior sooo much. I cannot imagine a life without Him – I really don’t want to try. This third week, we get to rejoice in Jesus! We get to celebrate, like finding out we’re having our first child, that Jesus is coming back! I love what Thomas had to say last week, about him and Rachel waiting for their first-born son, Titus. For me, the months leading up to Ashley (my wife) and I having our first child, was like a kid waiting for Christmas morning. I could barely contain myself. And that day, when my first-born came, was unlike any other experience I’d ever had. It was amazing!!! Jesus is coming! clean the room, paint the walls, buy all the clothes, because we’re expecting, it’s a man, and his name is Jesus!
Now, there’s a lot that can get in the way of rejoicing in our savior. Depending on your individual season, to rejoice may seem extremely disingenuous. And why not, life is not where you want it, it may be a broken life, with too many pieces to count. I think of several people from Scripture, David, who was cast out by a man he swore to protect, who he’d risked his life for, who was his father-in-law. During that season, David said this:
“Why, my soul, are you downcast? Why so disturbed within me? Put your hope in God, for I will yet praise him, my Savior and my God.”
Or how about the prodigal son, who after squandering everything his father had given him, came home, hoping to become a servant. Instead, his father ran to him, rejoicing at his presence, and threw a rockin’ party to celebrate his return.
Even at Christ’s birth, great tragedy struck, with Herod slaughtering all children two and younger, looking to kill his competition for the throne of Israel. It’s no small thing to be in despair, trauma, tragedy, brokenness. Truly at Christ’s coming, the greater reality for most of Israel was that of great mourning.
My wife and I have recently come out of probably the hardest season we’ve ever been through. Now we’ve still got a ways to go – but we’ve come a long way already, too. During that time, I wasn’t sure that my family would make it. My wife was in an addiction recovery center, my kids were gone 5 days a week, and every Sunday night, I had to let them go for another week, and would go back to an empty home. It was rough.
Something amazing happened, God, cut through the fog, and gave me strength to say in that season – “You are good, I praise your name, I choose to follow you.” Life still sucked, and I hated how every week was so painful. But God grabbed hold of me and rejoiced in me so I could in turn rejoice in Him.
The Scriptures say,
“The Lord your God is with you, the mighty warrior who saves. He will take great delight in you; in his love he will no longer rebuke you, but will rejoice over you with singing.”
“…as a bridegroom rejoices over the bride, so your God will rejoice over you.”
Many times in scripture, God rejoices over us. For me, until I was able to receive this as truth, I had a hard time rejoicing in God. Don’t hear me wrong, God doesn’t want us to fake it till we make it. He wants us to offer what we have, as little as it may be, to him. Even offering our emptiness, this is precious to him. Look at the Song of Songs:
You have stolen my heart, my sister, my bride; you have stolen my heart with one glance of your eyes, with one jewel of your necklace. How delightful is your love, my sister, my bride.
With just a small movement in his direction, God is filled with the delight of our love. With a simple glance of our heart longing for him, he eats it up! He is so in love with us! And this is why I rejoice. Because my savior is not one that man can understand. He is not uncaring, unconcerned, dismissive, or cruel. He is beautiful. He is so wonderful it’s overwhelming.
In scripture, when the angels cry “Holy, Holy, Holy.” That was a statement. It wasn’t an accident that they said that three times. Saying holy three times in attribution to God was saying that God is ultimate holiness. He is the ultimate in love with us. The ultimate in purity. The ultimate in understanding. This is the God w rejoice in. In his “ultimateness”, he chose to come to our speck called earth and enter in to humanity. This is not something that anyone would guess an infinite, ultimate, God of all the universe, would do – but he did. Why? Because he is in love with you. He is in love with me! If God wiped out all creation, he would be just in doing so. Our sin, our depravity, goes so much deeper than we are willing to admit or even know, and yet, like in the Song of Songs, he says about us, “though I am dark, I am lovely.”
Everyone! Rejoice, this God is coming again! Rejoice in the Lord! Gaudete in Domino semper! Rejoice in the Lord always! Remember what he’s done. Remember what he’s doing! Remember what he’s going to do! Celebrate with me, whether you feel him close, or he’s seemed far away for far too long. Let him help you rejoice!
I’d like to end with this scripture of our Christ,
The people walking in darkness have seen a great light;
on those living in the land of deep darkness a light has dawned.
You have enlarged the nation and increased their joy;
they rejoice before you as people rejoice at the harvest,
as warriors rejoice when dividing the plunder.
For as in the day of Midianʼs defeat, you have shattered the yoke that burdens them, the bar across their shoulders, the rod of their oppressor.
Every warriorʼs boot used in battle and every garment rolled in blood
will be destined for burning, will be fuel for the fire.
For to us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government will be on his shoulders. And he will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.Of the greatness of his government and peace there will be no end. He will reign on Davidʼs throne and over his kingdom,
establishing and upholding it with justice and righteousness from that time on and forever. (Isaiah 9:2-7)
River City, God bless, Merry Christmas, God is with us! Rejoice!