I’m having a hard time writing about joy as we enter this third week of Advent. Don’t get me wrong: I love the music, church services feed my soul, time with friends is energizing. I even enjoyed the baking…most of it.
But we recently spent a week at the Global Aid Network office near Dallas, Texas where we were given up-to-date reports on the plight of refugees in the Middle East, heard of the dire need for medical supplies, blankets and food, and while we met together, reports arrived of Christians martyred for their faith.
Joy? I struggled with the word. I investigated its meaning throughout the Bible. I diligently searched for some meaning that didn’t include elements of rejoicing…and didn’t find any! Questions whirled in my brain: Is joy always “personified” by jumping and leaping and shouting? Do expressions of joy relate somehow to personality? culture? environment? circumstances? what do I do with Paul’s words to “rejoice always” when faced with injustice, poverty, greed, evil on a grand scale as well as in my own heart?
In my pursuit for a deeper comprehension of joy, several comments began to give me flickers of understanding with most emphasizing that joy is a natural outcome of intimate fellowship with God, a belief in the fundamental fact of God’s sovereignty, and a response of the mind to any pleasurable event or expectation.
Did you catch the words “fact,” “belief,” “mind” and “expectation” in that sentence? Not much jumping, leaping and shouting, but lots of choice. One man wrote, “In spite of the profound elements of grief and tragedy in (Jesus’) life, his habitual demeanor was gladsome and joyous.” J.B. Phillips paraphrases these words from the New Testament book of Hebrews: (Jesus) endured a cross and thought nothing of its shame because of the joy he knew would follow his suffering.
I think I’m getting closer to the meaning of joy. I believe that at its heart is expectation. Advent is marked by the word “waiting.” Zacharias waited nine months in silence before John was born. Mary and Joseph waited for the birth and then for a settled lifestyle in Nazareth. Jews waited for centuries for the Messiah. I say with confidence that all of us wait for something, but how we wait will determine whether or not we possess and express joy.
Lasting, genuine joy cannot be “produced.” It is a gift given by the Holy Spirit to be experienced as we submit to his leading, accept his plan and live for his glory. The best definition I found (after all that searching!) was written by Rick Warren: Joy is the settled assurance that God is in control of all the details of my life, the quiet confidence that ultimately everything is going to be alright, and the determined choice to praise God in every situation.
That is not “pie in the sky” living. It is how refugees, prisoners and martyrs express joy.