This third week of Advent, I am focused on JOY. Truly, most of us know that joy is very different from happiness, while it is certainly something we all hope for and look for in so many ways on earth.
The joy of the Christmas season, however, cannot be measured by expensive gifts, elegant parties or pricy vacations. In fact, joy seems to be perpetually elusive in our culture today. Like the stock market, our “joy meter” goes up one day and down the next. When all the wrappings are thrown away, all the new toys are broken, all the lights are dimmed, and all the candles are burned down to a nub, where is the joy? Is there any such a thing as “permanent joy?”
Glad you asked….
The Hebrew OT is full of what we translate into English as joy. Joy is mentioned 51 times in the Psalms: “The Lord has done great things for us, and we are filled with joy” (126:3). It appears 16 times in the Proverbs: “Deceit is in the hearts of those who plot evil; but those who promote peace have joy” (12:20). Joy is found 33 times in the book of Isaiah: “Those the Lord has rescued will return…everlasting joy will crown their heads. Gladness and joy will overtake them, and sorrow and sighing will flee away” (Isa 51:11). Obviously, humanity has been searching for lasting joy for thousands of years.
My favorite passages concerning joy in the NT are in the Gospel of John. The familiar passage of the “vine and the branches” appears in John 15. Jesus is urging his followers to “remain” (or “abide”) in him (15:5-8). A branch that is not securely connected to the vine is lifeless. A living union with Christ brings “fruitfulness” into a believer’s life, and the union also brings joy! Jesus promised, “As the Father has loved me [his Son!] so have I loved you [us!]. Now remain in my love” (15:9). If we remain in his love and obey his commands, the result is joy: “I have told you this so that my joy may be in you and that your joy may be complete” (15:11). So, it is not the joy of the world that gives us great joy, but the joy of Jesus! Our joy is only whole and permanent if we know and remain in his joy! Thus, we can see that real joy is rooted deeply in the love of God which is the nourishing soil that produces lasting joy in us (15:12).
In his Johannine discourses, Jesus mentioned sustaining joy again in John 16:22, 24 and 17:13. At that last supper, his followers had no idea what was ahead of Jesus (betrayal and crucifixion), nor did they have any idea what was ahead of them (16:17-20). Yet, twice he promised that their “grief will turn to joy” (16:20, 22). He promised that, “I will see you again and you will rejoice, and no one will take away your joy” (16:22).
Jesus prayed for his immediate followers, and then he prayed for us (“those who will believe in me through their message,” 17:20). While he was in the world, Jesus prayed for all believers to “have the full measure of my joy within them” (17:13). Again, we are blessed with the joy of Jesus in our hearts in the form for the Holy Spirit, and “no one will take away your joy” (17:26). This is in contrast to the fleeting joy that “the world” has to offer.
This Advent season, in spite of external circumstances, let us do as the psalmist tells us: “Shout for joy to the Lord, all the earth, burst into jubilant song with music; make music to the Lord with the harp, with the harp and the sound of the singing, with trumpets and the blast of the ram’s horn – shout for joy before the Lord the King!” (Psa 98:4; such beautiful Hebrew parallel poetry!).
And if we do that, people will be so shocked….