“T HE JOY OF THE LORD is my strength” is the focus verse of our reading.
After the children of Israel return to Jerusalem from exile, they listen to the law being read and weep. Ezra and his helpers are on a platform, and they read from the Law of Moses. The whole city is there to hear.
The sound of Scripture being read fills the air from early morning until lunch time. The people hear God’s word, perhaps for the first time. As the Law of Moses is read, God touches them. They cry. The leaders shout, “Do not cry. This is a great day. Go have a party … for the joy of the Lord is your strength.”
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WHAT DO THEY HEAR that brings this joy?
►Joy comes from knowing we are loved by God.
What do you think they hear from the Scripture reading? They hear that God loves them. Yes, God punished them; God sent them into captivity for seventy years, but God brought them back. They hear the good news that they belong to God. They might be insignificant in geopolitics, but they are significant in God’s eyes. And all around them there are tokens of God’s love for them, his care for them. Strength comes from knowing that we are loved by God. God has not forsaken us. God has not abandoned his covenant.
►Joy comes from an awareness that the best is yet to be.
Perhaps, as the Book of the Law of Moses is read, they reflect on the history of their people down through the exodus, down through the ancient history of Israel and Judah, right down to this very moment as they stand in the city outside the new Temple. Did they hear God’s plan to send a Messiah, a Savior, a Redeemer? Perhaps it dawns on them that God brought them back to Jerusalem for this reason: that through them Messiah would come.
At the heart of Christmas is the astoundingly good news that Jesus Christ was born as a Savior into this world. From beginning to end the Christmas story is punctuated with various outbursts and moments of joy, and they all center around the birth of Christ.
■ Old Elizabeth and Zechariah are told by an angel they will have a child named John, will bring joy to the parents and many will rejoice because of his birth.
■ Mary, on learning she is to have a child, visits her relative Elizabeth. As soon as Mary speaks to Elizabeth, the baby in Elizabeth’s womb leaps for joy.
■ Mary breaks into song, “My soul glorifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior.”
■ Sometime later, Mary and Joseph travel to Bethlehem. While they are there, Jesus is born. Angels announce the good news to shepherds. “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people.”
Yes, from beginning to end, the Christmas story is punctuated with various outbursts and moments of joy, and they all center around the birth of Christ.
Joy comes in knowing that the best is yet to be, because when Jesus comes, we’ll sing joy to the world! The Lord has come! Let earth receive her King.
►Jesus is coming again.
But you know, that’s not the end of it. Because the joy for us is not just in looking back; the joy for us is not remembering that Jesus came to Bethlehem; the joy is that he’s coming again. He’s coming again! He’s coming in a Second Advent. He’s coming as the King of Kings and Lord of Lords. He’s coming in splendor and glory. He’s coming to bring into realization the new heavens and the new earth.
Joy comes from the assurance that we are loved.
Joy comes by knowing that the best is yet to be.
Joy comes from knowing Christ will come again.
You know, when you have that assurance, it’s powerful. The joy of the Lord is your strength, my friend. Be strong in the Lord.