A recent blog involved conversation about loss, illness, infirmity. In the festivity of Advent and Christmas, there may be joy for us, even in the midst of loss.
Joy, according to Webster's dictionary, is the feeling evoked by well-being, success, good fortune, or the prospect of possessing what one desires. The definition of happiness varies slightly in that it is described as favored by luck, good fortune, contentment, pleasure, or that which is satisfying.
The Bible speaks to us in Philippians 4: 4 – 7: “Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, Rejoice. Let your gentleness be known to everyone. The Lord is near. Do not worry about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.”
It seems that Scripture would have us carry joy within our hearts, based not on good fortune or success, but rather as a response of faith and trust. When sorrow comes and the world disappoints us, can we extend our faith with confidence that God is comfort, in God is lasting joy, despite adversity. . . that's what Paul tells us, that peace in God 'passes all understanding.'
Furrowed lines of worry on someone's face may reflect trials and tribulations of life. Yet by contrast, in that same countenance we may see radiant inner contentment and joy. Next time you have the opportunity, notice the expressions on the faces of the musicians playing the final movement of Beethoven's Ninth Symphony, I daresay you will see reflections of joy. This Beethoven work is adapted into Hymn 836 in the cranberry hymnal: “Joyful, joyful we adore thee, God of glory, Lord of Love! Hearts unfold like flow'rs before thee, praising thee, their sun above. Melt the clouds of sin and sadness, drive the gloom of doubt away. Giver of immortal gladness, fill us with the light of day.”
Consider the verbs in that tuneful verse. Does your joy in our Lord unfold, praise, melt, drive, give, and fill your life? We all have opportunities to practice those responses throughout the year, or the day, or the week. In our faith family, where love comes to life, we are supported in Scripture and Sacrament, in the Word, and in Water. We are strengthened, supported, encouraged in worship, in prayer, in community with one another—for when one struggles, they may be surrounded by care and concern of others. Does that promise that we will have joy? We experience joy and contentment in individual ways. Joy may be revealed to us in many ways.
The exuberance of the faith of a child is a delight to observe. Many years ago there was a Sunday school Christmas program in a Lutheran church in rural Minnesota. Three ten-year-old boys were asked to hold in place the very large cardboard letters J-O-Y. This meant that they had to remain in a straight row, in proper order, to spell their word. They had trouble following directions, since it was Christmas, and there were gifts under the tree at home, perhaps a visit from Santa was anticipated, and just maybe they had had a few too many cookies that day. Billy had the “O” and it was large enough to slip over his head, which was not in the script, but which he was way too joyful to avoid. To this day, I can picture in my mind's eye Billy's glee in proclaiming the J-O-Y of Jesus' birth by wearing the “O” around his neck! Some of us laughed, others thought it lacked the dignity and solemnity of the occasion. But shouldn't we all proclaim our joy in Jesus' birth in the way that best reflects our love of the Savior? Perhaps Billy did it best, and gave Christmas greater meaning with his own personal expression of joy.
Joy to the world, the Lord is come!