This year will be my 7th year running. Running is now so very much a part of me that is hard to picture myself that there was a time when I was not running. But actually I was that way for the first 55 years of my life. It all started at a running club at my place of employment. I kept saying no, but finally one day I said I would try. But just this once. And the rest is all history. The experience of the running club was just what I needed to keep me motivated, particularly that first year. Stereotypes were broken, goals were shared, boundaries were pushed and conversation helped the miles pass without notice. I worked in the warehouse at my employment, and it was really nice getting to know many of the office workers who were runners a bit better.
My goal that first year of running was to complete a half marathon at the Scotiabank Toronto Waterfront Marathon in October 2013. So many days in my training during that 1st year I felt like I was so over my head. It was overwhelming. I was never going to finish. My race day was tough. But I kept pushing one step at a time until I crossed that finish tine. It was sheer euphoria.
The last 3 or so years at my work the running club sort of petered out, with more emphasis being devoted to the dragon boat team. But I was set as a runner. My running over the next few years evolved to running ultras. When I am training for an ultra, a half marathon distance would actually end up being a training run. I no longer belong to an organized running group, but instead have a lot in interaction with the running community on Twitter. I love the Twitter running community.
Every Sunday evening there is a virtual interactive “gettogether” on Twitter called #RunChat. I usually only join in a handful of times a year. It starts off with introducing ourselves. Then every 8 minutes or so they pose a new (usually) running related question. A few weeks ago during #Runchat, I found the first question very interesting. It was “How do you define the word Joy.” As a lay pastor, often I will share with my congregation the acronym “Jesus, Others and Yourself”. But with all the “keyboard warriors” on the internet who are ready to pick a fight (even in the running community), I decided to refrain from using that there. Found the variety of answers extremely interesting though. Many of the definitions of joy had to do with everyday external happenings and circumstances. An effortless run. A new pair of shoes. Donuts. A hot cup of coffee. A cold pint of beer. And the answers went on. My thoughts were that “Once the pint of beer is finished, would there no longer be joy?” So what did I write as an answer? I wrote “Joy comes from within. It is an inner contentment not changed by outer circumstances or happenings. It is the knowledge that we have an important place in this world through the roles we play, and our contributions made to family, friends and community.”
I love how Jack Wellman, Pastor of the Mulvane Brethren church in Mulvane, Kansas describes joy, “Joy isn’t like happiness which is based upon happenings or whether things are going well or not. No, joy remains even amidst the suffering. Joy is not happiness. Joy is an emotion that’s acquired by the anticipation, acquisition or even the expectation of something great or wonderful. It could be described as exhilaration, delight, sheer gladness, and can result from a great success or a very beautiful or wonderful experience like a wedding or graduation but the definition of joy that the world holds is not nearly as amazing as biblical joy. That joy is a gift. Biblical Joy means being content with what we have and where we’re at in life. Joy is about internally having a trust in God that He is in control, that we don’t need to stress over not being able to fix or take charge of everything. Real joy is everlasting, continuous, permanent, and not dependent on circumstances. True joy is being content in our faith”.
When I read Pastor Jack Willman’s answer, I knew my description was only partially correct. There would not be a better example of joy than what is found in the Christmas story. Something wonderful and great did indeed happen. We’re well into that special time of the year when our focus turns to the celebration of Jesus’ birth. We are in our third Sunday of Advent, and the word for the third Sunday is JOY. It is so fascinating the shepherds were the first to be notified of Jesus’ birth and are an important part of the nativity story. The full Christmas story involving the shepherds comes from Luke 2:8-20. When an angel appeared to the shepherds they were really afraid. The angel calmed the shepherds with these words in verse 10, “Fear not, behold I bring you good news of great joy”.
Shepherding comes from the words sheep herding. It would have been one of the most mundane, unglamorous of occupations. Wikipedia mentions that shepherds also lived apart from society, being largely nomadic. Most often they were the younger sons of farming peasants who did not inherit any land. It also mentions shepherds would normally work in groups either looking after one large flock, or each bringing their own and merging their responsibilities. Shepherds would have been dirty, unkempt and filthy not having a bath since who knows when. It was not to royalty, but to these simple, unkempt men of the fields that God’s message first came. We don’t know who they were by name, nor how many there were. But it’s clear that God saw them as extremely important. So much so, they were the first to hear of this good news of great joy.Once you get past Jesus’ birth in Bethlehem, however, and press on into the record of His ministry years, the gospel accounts make it clear that there is much more than the shepherds and the angels and the nativity scene. Jesus knew He was born to die. Even with that knowledge he often spoke of joy. One verse which blows me away is Luke 15:11, which reads, “These things I have spoken to you so that My joy may be in you, and that your joy may be full”.
Sometimes I find myself asking, Why? Why did Jesus have to die, and at the young age of 33? Couldn’t He have accomplished so much more if He had lived a few more decades and died of natural causes? Imagine all of the diseases and physical impairments Jesus could have healed! Picture the mind-boggling miracles He could have performed. Think of the additional teachings He could have provided and the problems in the world He could have righted if He hadn’t been struck down in the “prime” of His life.
But it wasn’t to be. God had something more in mind. Jesus died when He did so that we wouldn’t have to. He needed to die so that He could rise from the dead and defeat death. He willingly gave His life so that we could have true joy. A joy that is so much deeper than a hot cup of coffee, a new pair of running shoes, or an amazing half marathon finish. Hebrews 12:2 reads “Fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith. For the joy set before him he endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God”.
As we celebrate and remember the miracle of Jesus’ birth, we are in week number three in Advent, which is the word JOY. Let’s also remember why Jesus was born to die. We desperately needed Jesus to give His life so that we could live. And with Christ’s joy within us now we have the opportunity to bring that same joy to others, regardless of circumstances. Thank you for taking the time to read. With COVID still raging on it is a time when many of us are very anxious and we are afraid. The same God through an angel calmed the shepherds fears speaks to us through His Word. Romans 15:13 says, “May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace, as you trust in Him”. God bless you this Christmas.