Joy to the World

by | Dec 10, 2023 | Uncategorized

As a child, I can remember a few distinct times I felt joy—a sort of elated happiness that bubbles up inside you (my completely inadequate definition). 

The first time was in second or third grade, while singing Joy to the World beside my father on Christmas Eve. That year had been tough and having my father’s presence beside us on that most holy night created an immense feeling of completeness like none I had ever known.

Growing up, I’ve recognized joy in marrying my husband, in the births of our sons, in quiet moments of communion with God, in enjoying the beach or the woods.

The definition of joy is a feeling of great pleasure and happiness.

In the Bible, there’s many Hebrew and Greek words which convey joy, but studying the source of that joy is what’s fascinating.

Sometimes, joy is celebrated in the good things in life. A beautiful sunrise, good food, family, and friends. But like peace in last week’s word study, joy is not simply the absence of bad things. We are all too keenly aware that life is full of the bad. Death and grief, anger and selfishness, to name only a few. And yet, in scripture, we see God’s people often being joyful in the face of such things.

While in prison, Paul wrote:

I will continue to rejoice,for I know that through your prayers and God’s provision of the Spirit of Jesus Christ what has happened to me will turn out for my deliverance. I eagerly expect and hope that I will in no way be ashamed, but will have sufficient courage so that now as always Christ will be exalted in my body, whether by life or by death.

Philippins 1:18-20

Whether by life or death. That’s radical faith, and I love that his joy is tied to another one of our previous words, hope

It’s not about everything going right, it’s about looking toward God’s love and the hope of a future reality coming to pass—a reality rooted in what God has already done and what he says he will do. In the midst of my intense headache. When I’m worried about my kids or book sales or I’m having a disagreement with a loved one. 

It’s totally significant that when Jesus of Nazareth was born, it was announced as “good news that brings great joy.” After Jesus’s resurrection, his followers encountered much hardship and persecution, many times “rejoicing in the Lord” nonetheless.

This is more than a happiness I can summon up from my own will, and Paul says as much. This must be a work of God’s Spirit.

“May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.”

Romans 15:13, NIV

Maybe it’s just me geeking-out over words, but maybe it’s the joy of the Spirit—because that’s three of our Advent words all in one verse!

Okay, one more thing just to be clear. All this joy talk doesn’t mean forcing happiness or brushing off grief and sorrow. We’re human. It’s healthy to sit with these emotions, even to feel. When Jesus was in the garden the night before his crucifixion, he grieved. He felt the separation and suffering about to be his. And yet, he trusted his Father.

To say Jesus found joy in this at first might seem a bit of a stretch. Joy in dying? And yet, because he knew his death and resurrection would usher in a new kingdom, one where death is no more, there is a sense of joy here. A movement toward hope, a faith in that which we can’t completely see or understand and yet, because of past evidence, choose to firmly root our faith in.

Jesus—and joy—have come into the world. May we meditate on these truths this Advent season!

(A big thank you to the Bible Project for helping me whittle down to the meaning of some of our favorite Advent words–hope, peace, joy, and love.

May this season fill you with all four of these life-giving words.)

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