“Oh, tidings of comfort and joy, comfort and joy, ooooh tidings of comfort and joy.” No wonder those gentleman in the Christmas carol were so merry; comfort and joy sounds pretty good to me.
Desiring comfort and joy, and peace are some pretty universal desires and the Lord does in fact promise us two of them. I’ll give you a guess which one He doesn’t mention (hint: He does mention joy and peace).
It’s tempting to equate joy with comfort. After all, holiday commercials and modern culture in general emphasize that with enough Christmas cheer, good food and drink, friends and family, as well as a new IPhone or gadget for good measure, you can consider your life pretty complete.
The truth is a little harder to swallow.
As I was working through an Advent journal recently I came upon this promise of the Lord’s: “Yes, in joy you shall go forth, in peace you shall be brought home” (Isaiah 55:12). That’s a proclamation that, at first glance, I could get behind. I recently had our fourth child and after three prior difficult labors, I had some anxiety about the impending labor and birth. I was not shy about asking for prayers far and wide for a “peaceful birth”.
Of course, I knew that peaceful didn’t necessarily mean without pain. But I was pinning my hopes on, for once, a labor that wasn’t full of complications, difficult decisions, and angst.
Sure enough, my generous friends, family and co-workers prayed and God answered their prayers. Our little Edith was born, and it was an event full of the peace and joy that the Scriptures talk about, but nothing like the peaceful birth (read: somewhat comfortable and simple) that I was desperately hoping for.
In the beginning of Advent, I was diagnosed with hypertension and we started an induced labor. Despite laboring all day, the baby wasn’t going anywhere. So we started Day 2 on St. Nicholas Day and I labored all day all over again, this time moving towards what I thought would be a hard-earned “regular” birth. But after many, many hours and several difficult twists and turns, our baby’s heart rate was dropping and there was no real option: she needed to be born by c-section. I’ll tell you: none of this was comfortable, and the circumstances were the opposite of what I was praying for.
But as the supportive nurses stretched out my numb arms on either side of me to prepare for surgery, I was powerfully reminded of the Cross. Knowing that I would be meeting my daughter for the first time in a matter of minutes, shivering from the anesthesia and exhausted by this several day ordeal, I realized that peace and joy are independent from the circumstances.
In that same chapter of Isaiah, the inspired author brings all of us — in the midst of our very real struggles and challenges — this message from God “For my thoughts are not your thoughts” (Isaiah 55:10). In other words, God knows better than we do what will actually bring us joy and peace.
Peace and joy are fruits of the Holy Spirit. With them we have the knowledge that we are safe within the arms of our Heavenly Father, regardless of suffering, challenges, or hardships, because He is the Lord of the Universe. This is the gift that He gave us when He sent His only Son to the world on Christmas. Because Christ came to us a little child, we are redeemed. Heaven is now possible – eternal happiness, forever joy.
And when I met my little Edith, I immediately experienced that overwhelming joy – a gift from a Lord Who loves us so much. I was reminded that while this birth was, once again, complicated and difficult, it was also imbued with many graces: friends who prayed for me and comforted me, the most incredible nursing and midwifery staff, a husband who truly entered into this life-bearing time with me.
When we left the hospital a few days later, our little Edith Joy ensconced in the back seat, I was able to genuinely affirm those words, perhaps for the first time: “Yes, in joy you shall go forth, in peace you shall be brought home.”