Comfort and Joy: Timely Advent Devotions

by Julie Yarbrough

Advent is the period in the Christian calendar that culminates in the celebration of the birth of Christ on the day we call Christmas. During this holy season of waiting, we reflect, meditate, and prepare our hearts for the coming of the promised Messiah into the world.

For many, Advent is charged with memories permanently engraved on our hearts—some of joyful celebrations, others of bygone seasons fraught with pain from the past which recall the darkness of grief, disappointment, or sadness.

As the holidays near, many attempt to deflect the emotions of Advent and Christmas by assuming an attitude of spiritual indifference. Whether we approach the season with anticipation or with apprehension, at this affective time of the year, we long for that which seems most elusive in the troubled world in which we live—light, comfort, love, and joy. These are the eternal qualities of God that cannot be bought, borrowed, or appropriated from another person, whether that person is alive and well, or is now among those we name as the saints of our life.

Whatever our understanding or expectation of Christmas, Advent is a time to look within and listen for the voice of God. In a Christmas sermon from 1928, Dietrich Bonhoeffer observed, "The celebration of Advent is possible only to those who are troubled in soul, who know themselves to be poor and imperfect, and who look forward to something greater to come."

At Advent we set ourselves the task of searching for something deeper, something richer that adds meaning and breadth to our understanding of God and of ourselves, "His divine power has given us everything needed for life and
godliness, through the knowledge of him who called us by his own glory and excellence…For this very reason, you must make every effort to support your faith with excellence, and excellence with knowledge, and knowledge with self-control, and self-control with endurance, and endurance with godliness, and godliness with mutual affection, and mutual affection with love" (2 Peter 1:3, 5-7).

Each year I look for a new Advent devotional book, confident that by reading it faithfully, there will be some new revelation that enlightens my soul in preparation for a personal encounter with Christ. Seldom is this the case. Rather
than a sacred feast, usually the content offers little more than easily digestible Christmas tidbits, a menu of light fare for spiritual sustenance during a passing season. Rather than an Advent appetizer, I long for a soul-stirring square meal, something to assimilate and absorb each day during the sacred season of preparation for the coming of the Messiah into the world.

My heart longs to discover within the pages of an Advent devotional book an unfamiliar scripture, a suggestion for thought, an inspired spiritual perspective that I have never before considered. I want to go deeper, to learn something I do not already know, something that ignites my soul with new passion, something that excites a deep yearning for a closer, more intimate relationship with God through Christ.

What if we were to transform our journey toward the manger from an exhausting daily slog through the traditions and secular rituals of the Christmas season into an active quest for the experience of Christmas? Far beyond mere
searching and seeking, what if we were to find in Christ the divine answer to the prayers of humankind for a Savior, for the Messiah through whom "the hopes and fears of all the years" are once and for all time resolved and at last stilled?

What is a quest? As translated from the medieval Latin, a quest is "a thing sought out, a question." Questing is active. At Advent we quest for that which teaches us more about the nature of God, the giver of the love and light in the person of Christ. We quest for that which floods our soul with the joy of Christ. We quest for that which grows our faith in Christ. We quest for signs and sights that renew us in the certainty that God is present to us in the world and in our life through Christ.

The questions of Advent are many, as varied as each and every human being, "Have you not known? Have you not heard? Has it not been told you from the beginning?" (Isaiah 40:21). What answer do we expect when we question,
"What does this mean?" (Acts 2:12). As our Advent quest leads us each day toward the celebration of Christmas, what do we hope to find when we at last arrive at the manger? How do we know when our quest is complete, when we are finally "there?"

The questions of Advent are those we have yet to imagine. We will not know the answers until our quest leads us into the heart and very being of Christ. There we can do nothing more and nothing less than silence our soul and kneel at
the manger in reverence, awe, and wonder.

This is the quest within the pages of Comfort and Joy Daily Advent Devotions. To guide your devotional meditation during these days of preparation and waiting, there is a daily thought, a prayer suggestion, a study scripture, and a question for personal reflection to spark your spiritual imagination and encourage your heart. Throughout the book there are reflections and illustrations that offer perspective for the quest.

In Comfort and Joy Daily Advent Devotions the gifts of Light, Comfort, Love, and Joy are illustrated through the wisdom and insight of Scripture. Comfort and Joy speaks to the heart of those who long for hope at a time when the world seems overwhelmed by challenges that defy our yearning for peace. Comfort and Joy speaks to the heart of those who grieve, especially at Christmas. Comfort and Joy speaks to the heart of those who joy in the sacred celebration of Christ at Christmas.

The hope is that as you read the devotional for each day, you will feel the presence of God in Christ enfolding you in the love that holds you close at Christmas and always.