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  • Writer's pictureKelsey Hency

Great Expectation: An Advent Devotional 2023 | JOY

Advent Devotional Week 3: Joy

This stunning illustration is by Kate Lab. You can find it and purchase it for yourself here. 

Scripture Reading 1: Isaiah 61:1-11

Is. 61:1 The Spirit of the Sovereign LORD is upon me,

for the LORD has anointed me

to bring good news to the poor.

He has sent me to comfort the brokenhearted

and to proclaim that captives will be released

and prisoners will be freed.a

2  He has sent me to tell those who mourn

that the time of the LORD’s favor has come,a

and with it, the day of God’s anger against their enemies.

3  To all who mourn in Israel,a

he will give a crown of beauty for ashes,

a joyous blessing instead of mourning,

festive praise instead of despair.

In their righteousness, they will be like great oaks

that the LORD has planted for his own glory.

4 They will rebuild the ancient ruins,

repairing cities destroyed long ago.

They will revive them,

though they have been deserted for many generations.

5  Foreigners will be your servants.

They will feed your flocks

and plow your fields

and tend your vineyards.

6  You will be called priests of the LORD,

ministers of our God.

You will feed on the treasures of the nations

and boast in their riches.

7  Instead of shame and dishonor,

you will enjoy a double share of honor.

You will possess a double portion of prosperity in your land,

and everlasting joy will be yours.

Is. 61:8 “For I, the LORD, love justice.

I hate robbery and wrongdoing.

I will faithfully reward my people for their suffering

and make an everlasting covenant with them.

9  Their descendants will be recognized

and honored among the nations.

Everyone will realize that they are a people

the LORD has blessed.”

10 I am overwhelmed with joy in the LORD my God!

For he has dressed me with the clothing of salvation

and draped me in a robe of righteousness.

I am like a bridegroom dressed for his wedding

or a bride with her jewels.

11  The Sovereign LORD will show his justice to the nations of the world.

Everyone will praise him!

His righteousness will be like a garden in early spring,

with plants springing up everywhere.

Joy to the World

The first two weeks of readings in the Advent lectionary tend to carry more somber tones: lament, distance from God, grief, confession, penitence, repentance. Every year, we begin Advent by stepping into the darkness of a world before the Christ. Starting with week three, there is a clear turn in the journey where light begins to shine, the Christmas star starts twinkling in the sky, you might say. It hasn’t moved to stand over the manger yet, but it begins to dispel the darkness.

We begin with Isaiah, the Fifth Gospel, one of the OT books that is cited frequently throughout the whole New Testament, and our passage for today is uttered by none other than Jesus himself (Luke 4:18-19). Isaiah prophetically speaks in first person about some future prophet or herald who arrives to pronounce and in some way enact God’s deliverance. Notice, this anointed messenger is not proclaiming salvation for some ethereal heaven. What is heralded is more like heaven on earth. Here is a quick summary:

  • Good news for the poor 

  • Comfort for the discouraged

  • Freedom for prisoners (locked up without good cause)

  • Encouragement for those who mourn the state of the world

  • God’s judgment on the wicked

  • Beautiful things in place of ashes and destruction 

  • Parties instead of funerals

  • Sturdy and strong lives of justice and righteousness, not scandals and cover-ups

  • Renovation of devastated buildings and communities

In the major downtown area nearby where I live, some of the roads are pretty worn out, lots of bumps and potholes. What a dream it would be to not only have potholes fixed, but everything made new and beautiful and good and right! It seems too good to be true, but Advent and Christmas are all about believing in the God who likes to do the impossible! When Jesus begins his ministry, it becomes clear to some that Jesus is the figure that Isaiah was prophesying about. The Spirit has empowered Jesus to accomplish all of these world-changing events, to make everything in the world right again. But 2000 years after Jesus came, can we say all the things on Jesus’ list were accomplished? Definitely not. Jesus started the revolution, He will see it through to the end, but we, the Church, are called to realize this vision in the meantime. The Church is empowered now by the Spirit to be the body of Christ and enact the utopian vision Isaiah and Jesus preached, making right what went wrong in the world. So, rejoice!, because Jesus enacted the fulfillment of Isaiah’s prophecy; but the work is not done yet, we get to continue to work it out!

Questions and Exercises for Personal Reflection and Group Conversation

  1. What is something broken around your house that needs to be fixed but you just haven’t had the time, expertise, or energy to do it? What’s something you fixed or replaced recently, and it has been wonderful to have it working again? 

  2. In your own life, what are areas where you have seen the healing touch of Jesus? What are the broken places where you still need the work of Jesus? 

  3. What about in your community? What are the crooked things and places where you long to see justice, peace, or  renewal?

  4. Exercise: Here is your assignment for this week for Advent: have a party to celebrate the fulfillment of Isaiah’s prophecy! It doesn’t need to be a big bash, save your energy for Christmas week. It can be just raising your coffee mug with family or friends, or having a piece of cake to rejoice in the good news. It can be a small celebration, but now is the best time to let joy start to sink in


Scripture Reading 2: Psalm 126

Psa. 126:1    When the LORD brought back his exiles to Jerusalem,

it was like a dream!

2  We were filled with laughter,

and we sang for joy.

And the other nations said,

“What amazing things the LORD has done for them.”

3  Yes, the LORD has done amazing things for us!

What joy!

4    Restore our fortunes, LORD,

as streams renew the desert.

5  Those who plant in tears

will harvest with shouts of joy.

6  They weep as they go to plant their seed,

but they sing as they return with the harvest.

A People of Remembrance

The word “remember” is used over 200 times in the Bible, and it often appears as a command from God: remember what I’ve done for you! For Israel, memories of YHWH’s presence, rescue, and faithfulness are crucial for making it through the hard times. Psalm 126 is a call to remember. The setting is Israel’s return to their land from exile in Babylon. Earlier in an Advent reading, we read Psalm 85, where Israel rejoiced at God’s deliverance, but still felt the weight of divine judgment and rebuke. It was a bittersweet celebration. But in Psalm 126, one of the shortest psalms, it is nothing but joy, a dream come true. This psalm indicates that Israel knew this wasn’t the end of God’s saving works, but just the beginning, keep going! Perhaps Israel saw return from exile as “chapter one” of a new story of divine blessing and good news. It was a sign of hope that God’s promises made long ago would be fulfilled.

We desperately need Psalm 126 today. The daily news is often bleak—disease, war, political chaos, ecological devastation. But we are people of remembrance. Looking back with joy is a key to looking forward with hope. During advent, we can claim with Israel, “The LORD has done amazing things for us!” In the hustle and bustle of the holiday season, don’t forget to take some time in a quiet moment to remember the gospel past, so you can live into a gospel future.

Questions and Exercises for Personal Reflection and Group Conversation

  1. When was the last time you laughed so hard your stomach hurt, or your face was sore from smiling?

  2. What’s the best or fanciest party you’ve ever been to? What made it memorable? Food? Decorations? Entertainment? Setting? Outfits? People? Music? 

  3. Exercise: Take some time and jot down a few key moments where the presence or work of God in your life led to memorable joy and peace. Cherish these “remembrances” as “Psalm 126’s” of your life. Share about them with someone else, if you can.


Scripture Reading 3: 1 Thessalonians 5:16-24

1Th. 5:16 Always be joyful. 17 Never stop praying. 18 Be thankful in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you who belong to Christ Jesus.

19 Do not stifle the Holy Spirit. 20 Do not scoff at prophecies, 21 but test everything that is said. Hold on to what is good. 22 Stay away from every kind of evil.

23 Now may the God of peace make you holy in every way, and may your whole spirit and soul and body be kept blameless until our Lord Jesus Christ comes again. 24 God will make this happen, for he who calls you is faithful.

It’s the End of the World As We Know It…And I Feel JOY!

Fear of the future can be crippling sometimes. Wondering whether a sick relative or friend is going to recover. Or if another pandemic is going to happen sooner rather than later. Or the possible global devastation from cyberterrorism or nuclear warfare. Or what to do about rapid inflation and rising costs. And how do you faithfully navigate through all the little decisions you have to make each day? Today’s reading comes at the end of Paul’s letter to the Thessalonians, a letter of comfort to a stressed out church in ancient Macedonia (modern day Greece). Put simply, they were worried about the future, specifically the end of the world. They were obsessed with discerning God’s will for the future—what exactly do I need to do to be safe? 

Rather than give specific advice, Paul gives them general wisdom for living every single day. If you live every day with your life pointed in the right direction—the direction of Jesus—you can’t miss God’s will for your life. So, what’s Paul’s advice? Basically: don’t worry, be happy. Or, to use more traditional Christian language, be thankful, rejoice, and do good. If you look for things to be afraid of, you’ll find ‘em, plenty of ‘em. But if you look for things to be thankful for—family, friends, a roof over your head, food on your plate—you’ll see the gracious provision of God all around you. And that helps to dispel fear and bring joy. And in response to all that God has blessed you with, you are called to hold on to the good, and to do good in the world. 

Questions and Exercises for Personal Reflection and Group Conversation

  1. What are your personal phobias? Spiders? Snakes? Heights? Tight spaces? 

  2. What are the “big” things in the world that keep you up at night? 

  3. Write out a list of (20) things you are thankful for right now. I know it sounds like a lot, but once you get going, you will be encouraged by all the good things in life.

  4. Make a plan for “doing good” this advent season. It could be ringing bells for Salvation Army, or volunteering at a shelter or other charity. Or look for local opportunities to lend a helping hand where it’s needed. The idea is that when God fills us up with joy, we want to bring goodness and joy to others. 


Scripture Reading 4: John 1:6-8, 19-28

John 1:6 God sent a man, John the Baptist, 7 to tell about the light so that everyone might believe because of his testimony. 8 John himself was not the light; he was simply a witness to tell about the light. 9 The one who is the true light, who gives light to everyone, was coming into the world.

John 1:19    This was John’s testimony when the Jewish leaders sent priests and Temple assistants from Jerusalem to ask John, “Who are you?” 20 He came right out and said, “I am not the Messiah.”

21 “Well then, who are you?” they asked. “Are you Elijah?” 

“No,” he replied. 

“Are you the Prophet we are expecting?”a 


22 “Then who are you? We need an answer for those who sent us. What do you have to say about yourself?”

23 John replied in the words of the prophet Isaiah:

“I am a voice shouting in the wilderness,

‘Clear the way for the LORD’s coming!’”a

24 Then the Pharisees who had been sent 25 asked him, “If you aren’t the Messiah or Elijah or the Prophet, what right do you have to baptize?”

26  John told them, “I baptize with water, but right here in the crowd is someone you do not recognize. 27 Though his ministry follows mine, I’m not even worthy to be his slave and untie the straps of his sandal.”

28  This encounter took place in Bethany, an area east of the Jordan River, where John was baptizing.

Pointing to the Messiah

We know him as “John the Baptist,” but in the Greek Orthodox tradition he is also called “John the Forerunner,” because he came before Jesus to prepare Israel for the Messiah’s coming. You might say he was the “opening act.” There are a lot of similarities between John and Jesus. The Gospel of John says, in verse 6, “God sent a man.” That sounds a lot like the incarnation, but in this case it refers to John. John wanted people to confess their sins. He preached about the coming kingdom. He called for repentance. He preached with the boldness of one of Israel’s prophets of old. These are things that were also true of Jesus. So, it is no wonder that fellow Jews naturally assumed John was the Messiah. If he talks like a Messiah, and walks like a Messiah… 

God sent John, not to steal the Messiah’s thunder, but to be a human arrow pointing to Jesus. If he screwed it up, he could become an arrow pointing to himself, drawing attention away from the Messiah. But as we see in the encounter with the Jewish leaders, John was clear that he was not the Messiah, or Elijah, or another expected Prophet. He was the “Forerunner,” getting people ready to recognize the real Messiah. 

During Advent, it is easy to get caught up in the busy traditions of decorations, parties, shopping, hosting relatives, and cooking our favorite meals. All these things are good and fill our lives up with special memories we will cherish the rest of our lives. But there is the danger of fixating on these things and not looking for the Messiah. All of the merriment festivities of the season, for Christians, are meant to be pointers to the Messiah. John says to the leaders, the Messiah is right in front of you, do you recognize him (John 1:26)? Even today, and especially during busy holiday times, it is easy to “lose Jesus in the crowd.” But John was ready to point away from himself and any other distraction, and scan the busy crowd always on the lookout for Jesus. 

Questions and Exercises for Personal Reflection and Group Conversation

  1. This Scripture text is a bit of a case of mistaken identity. Who do you sometimes get mistaken for? Or who do people tell you that you look like? And who is your celebrity doppelganger? 

  2. What occupies your attention the most during the busy holiday season? What wears you out? 

  3. Exercise: There is always so much to do during the holidays, and healthy self-care and personal spiritual routines can get sidelined. I encourage you to establish a 10-20 minute time of solitude and spiritual reflection that you can commit to every day during the rest of December. It’s not only okay, but also good to give yourself that time to focus your attention on God and enjoy some peace and quiet. 

*Scripture quotations are taken from the Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright ©1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers, Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.


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