I was reading my morning devotions. The outside world was decorated by a layer of snow that had fallen in the night, and the birds were at the feeder just by the kitchen window. I'd love to say that the inside of my house is also decorated, that the tree is up and the stockings are hung, that the rooms are adorned with green and red and all that's beautiful. But that part wouldn't be true, at least not yet. I do have out all my Christmas books, though, and that's really how it begins for me.
Back to my devotions. I was reading a passage in the book of Acts, about the early church and the council at Jerusalem. It wasn't part of a seasonal reading, or any sort of Advent narrative. It was simply what came next in the schedule I've been following.
Paul and Barnabas were dealing with a serious doctrinal dispute, concerning the very basis of salvation. They were sent by the church to bring correction to the problem, and on their way, the Bible says, "They passed through Phoenicia and Samaria, describing the conversion of the Gentiles; and they caused great joy to all the brethren."
I am sure I have read this verse before. In fact, given my past read-throughs, I have no doubt read it several times. But there was no note, no underscore, no emphasis to indicate it had any prior impact. I didn't recall reading it, there was no familiarity to the words. This time, though, I was stopped by them.
"They caused great joy to all the brethren."
So many do the opposite. So many people cause anguish, discouragement, and defeat wherever they go. But not these two - they caused great joy. And that's what I want to do - to bring great joy.
That's a wonderful thought and a worthy objective, but it's quite a bit of pressure, too.
But the next verse says, "And they reported all things that God had done with them." That's a simple task I can understand - I'm to be a storyteller of God's work in my life, to relate God's wonders and His miracles, and His amazing grace to me. And in that telling is my own "Joy to the world," my own caroling song. "Let every heart prepare Him room," Watts writes, and because that has taken place, others can see another incarnation: Christ living in me.
It's a sounding joy, to be repeated. The decorations, the concerts, the parties, the books, the ornaments, the gifts under the tree, so many of these things are traditions - a repeat of the joy, an encore of the anthem. I didn't expect to find Christmas in Acts 15. Yet my very celebration of the Son of God taking on human flesh and beginning that thirty-three year journey to the cross is a testimony to the reverberating and replaying of joy, to the truth that the Lord is come.
Repeat, repeat, the sounding joy - great joy, to all the brethren.