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CHRISTIAN LIFE IN LONDON | SPRING 2024 EDITION
DECEMBER PRAYER PROMPT
Christmas Joy

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Photo credit: Myriam Zilles on Unsplash

Provided by CCNL (Christian Churches Network of London)

The word JOY The word JOY is liberally everywhere at this time of year – in advertisements for just about anything, in the songs we sing, emblazoned on Christmas cards and decorations. But real joy is a great big theological concept way beyond cultural Christmas seasonal celebrations inviting us to imagine something far bigger than ordinary happiness or fleeting pleasures – joy opens our hearts to knowing a deep well-being in our souls, secure with and in God. Overwhelming gladness.

In Luke’s gospel, the birth of Jesus was announced “Suddenly, an angel of the Lord appeared among them, and the radiance of the Lord’s glory surrounded them. They were terrified, but the angel reassured them. “Don’t be afraid!” he said. “I bring you good news that will bring great joy to all people. The Savior—yes, the Messiah, the Lord—has been born today in Bethlehem, the city of David!”

The Greek word for joy is chairo. Chairo according to the ancient Greeks was the “culmination of being” or the “good mood of the soul.” Joy can equally be sudden, unexpected, intense, momentary and/or enduring, comforting, imprinted on our very hearts. It is characterized by a connection with others, with God, with creation. Joy expands our thinking, filling us with an inner sense of freedom and abandon. The Greeks said the opposite of chairo was not sadness, rather it was fear. Interesting to think about that more! No wonder that the angel told both Mary and those those terrified shepherds not to be afraid. Good news of great joy was on the way.

It seems so appropriate to pray for more joy right now, as fear seems to be lurking around the edges of much happening in our world. We live in dark times. Many growing anxious about finances with rising costs of daily food, transportation, housing, education - all cause fears. Parents deeply concerned for children’s health as colds, respiratory viruses and ongoing COVID swamp our healthcare systems. Shortages in medications creating greater anxiety for both young and old especially those who have vulnerable immune systems. Polarization of views in society and in political, pastoral, or any leadership positions make ripe territory for increasingly angry words to be spoken. Both nearby and global conflicts threaten our safety, stir up increased violence and incite hatred. Local news recently has been too full of stabbings and more gun violence. Actively discovering what gives joy can be a simple but significant defense to keep joy alive this December to address these fears.

We pray these things together as a community of faith in London:

Father God, teach us more joy in loving others: Father God, teach us more joy in loving others: Jesus’ words in John 15 (MSG) speak of this: “I’ve loved you the way my Father has loved me. Make yourselves at home in my love. If you keep my commands, you’ll remain intimately at home in my love. That’s what I’ve done—kept my Father’s commands and made myself at home in his love. I’ve told you these things for a purpose: that my joy might be your joy, and your joy wholly mature. This is my command: Love one another the way I loved you.” Make it an intent of our hearts to love generously, love constantly. Love graciously those different from us. Love courageously those we have given up on. Love those older, younger, richer, poorer, pleasant and not so pleasant, enemies and friends alike. Grow our capacity to love more like you Jesus and find abundant joy in doing so.

Lord, help us find joy in trials 1 Peter 1:6-8 (NLT) says this “So be truly glad. There is wonderful joy ahead, even though you must endure many trials for a little while. These trials will show that your faith is genuine. It is being tested as fire tests and purifies gold - though your faith is far more precious than mere gold. So when your faith remains strong through many trials, it will bring you much praise and glory and honor on the day when Jesus Christ is revealed to the whole world. You love him even though you have never seen him. Though you do not see him now, you trust him; and you rejoice with a glorious, inexpressible joy”.

We pray for those going through hard times. It may be us or people we know or those we will never meet. Sickness. Death. Precarious employment. Debt. Depression. Broken relationships. Financial stresses. Addictions. Oppression. Even bloodshed. Surround each one with your protection and your presence God. May each hear words of hope; experience kindnesses; remember life-giving moments; put aside self-judgement and shame; find places of peace and safety to rest body and soul. Heavenly Father, may each somehow be surprised with inexpressible, incomprehensible joy in some small ways… glimpses of your great love in difficult, truly painful moments. Let this prayer of our hearts not sound trivial or dismissive to any who are hurting and afraid. May we actually believe it is possible to find joy even in the worst of times.

We pray that we find joy in thoughtfulness: Philippians 4:4 “Always be full of joy in the Lord. I say it again—rejoice! Let everyone see that you are considerate in all you do.” Honestly, we confess we can all be self- focused, grumpy, even cranky at times. Yet however we express joy in our personalities and in our practices, we can be joyful daily because of Jesus. May that be apparent in our interactions, on our faces, in the tone of our voices, in our prayers, in our service, in our giving, in our listening. Remind us God to think about what the word ‘considerate’ looks like in our worlds. Kind. Caring. Respectful. Attentive. Actions and attitudes matter but it takes work.

We want to experience great joy in discipleship, God: In 1 John, the apostle John wrote: “Some of the traveling teachers recently returned and made me very happy by telling me about your faithfulness and that you are living according to the truth. I could have no greater joy than to hear that my children are following the truth.” In context, this was not just children in our natural families, but in our extended family of faith…those we teach, mentor, walk with alongside at many ages and stages of life. Those in whom we invest our very lives as they grow to know you. We pray that you will protect these ‘children’ from overwhelming doubt, from temptation to wander after self-satisfaction, from a weariness of religion’s flaws, from the daily challenges of following hard after you. Fill each with renewed joy, determination, and willingness to explore more about your powerful love for them. Remind us to pray for and encourage them often. We yearn to see each generation absolutely thrive in their faith, to pour ‘new wine into new wineskins’ in churches with fresh ideas, new energy. May we rejoice in the changes they’ll bring from you.

Help us seek joy in everyday moments: “But let all who take refuge in you rejoice; let them sing joyful praises forever. Spread your protection over them, that all who love your name may be filled with joy.” Psalm 5:11 (NLT) In the book “Defiant Joy” written about the larger-than-life G.K. Chesterton, the writer noted: “Chesterton said“Thanks are the highest form of thought,” and “Gratitude is happiness doubled by wonder.” He found joy in his faith daily, and joy in God’s creation, especially the most entertaining element of creation: people.” As we awaken to each new day, God help us to actively pursue joy in all endeavors, seeing your good hand even in very simple things. The squirrel on the bird feeder. A child’s constant inquisitive questions. Caring for an elderly parent. Making of a meal. The beauty of snow. The many unusual characters in our lives. Author Marilyn McEntyre suggests a habit of “making a list of what or who makes you joyful and glad of heart weekly or monthly, reflecting on what endures and what changes in the current of our lives – it is a way of stoking the fire of joy to burn more brightly.” In writing down what gives us joy, it can make us more mindful of what things and people spread joy. As we finish this prayer, let’s consider doing that as part of our prayer response back to God. Maybe even make a regular list of how and where you spread joy to others. Hmmm.

Cause us to look for joy by expressing more gratitude, God. Every writer on joy comments on how gratitude plays a significant role in how deeply we experience joyful moments. Giving thanks is an antidote to the downward spirals that we can easily experience, driving away fears. No great surprise that Philippians 4 tells us to think like this: “Summing it all up, friends, I’d say you’ll do best by filling your minds and meditating on things true, noble, reputable, authentic, compelling, gracious—the best, not the worst; the beautiful, not the ugly; things to praise, not things to curse. Put into practice what you learned from me, what you heard and saw and realized. Do that, and God, who makes everything work together, will work you into his most excellent harmonies”. God, help us make this a habit of our lives and model it in our families, in our workplaces, in our churches, in our conversations, in our neighbourhoods and on our social media interactions! We confess God that is not always so…sounds so good, yet much harder to do in daily practice.

Help us wrestle with the tension of experiencing joy in a broken world. Interesting that well-known author and researcher Brene Brown in “Atlas of the heart” talks about a common vulnerability (she labels it “foreboding joy”) that most experience at life’s most wonderful moments. In the midst of experiencing joy, we often find ourselves inwardly waiting for the proverbial other shoe to drop. Discomforted by those “too good to be true” feelings, holding back, terrified of being blindsided by the chance of pain or disappointment, hesitating. Instead, by consciously embracing and delighting in joy, it can motivate us to make way to join the Holy Spirit in building a world someday where all can experience joy without the ache of an empty belly or the fear of violence or war – a time when justice reigns and experience of how life is supposed to be. Brown says “When we push away joy, we squander the goodness that we need to build resilience, strength, and courage”. Joy opens us up to a deeper longing for a better world, while making us more aware of the suffering of our neighbours.

But most of all, let us lean into abundant joy found in you Jesus. Deep, abiding, overwhelming joy in the presence of Christ. We invite each to rest in prayer for a few moments and meditate on the one who quietly entered our world out of great love, choosing to become like us - so we could both know you and be known by you. As we think on joy this month, let these two responses of worship music fill our minds and souls with joy and gladness, gratitude and much rejoicing. They are beautiful. Just click on the link and listen.

When the busyness and anxiety of life crowds in on us this Christmas season, send us back to these words. When disappointments or differing expectations threaten to steal our joy, pause again and let the Spirit of God speak to us. When the cultural Christmas ‘stuff’ of families, gifts, wrapping, food and more food, decorations, events begin to overwhelm our days and thoughts, may we stop and center ourselves again on Jesus.

For it is in the powerful name of Jesus we pray.

AMEN.

We wish each of you a very joyful Christmas season. Thank you for the privilege of praying and serving together as the Body of Christ in London. The Christian Church Network of London appreciates your encouraging feedback and thoughtful insights.

Joy to you all!