Joy to the world.
That's the sentiment I hear and read a lot on line these days, as the holidays approach, and people wrestle with the difficult realities of their own lives.
Where is joy, in the midst of the busyness, the stress, the disappointment, the pain, the worry, the fear, and, well, let's just go ahead and call it what it is: the evil that we see in this world?
Where is joy?
Joy isn't circumstantial.
We confuse joy with happiness.
And God knows, we'd all like a little more of that. It's the American way, after all, right? The pursuit of happiness?
There's nothing inherently wrong with happiness.
In fact, I'd like to put in my order right now for a big steaming plate of happiness. Pile it on, high, if you please!
For instance: our son got accepted to the college he longs to attend. Well, yay! We rejoice with him. We're thankful! Or, our daughter performs a lovely dance that her audience greatly appreciates. Again, yay! We're proud of her! We celebrate her achievement as a family.
But that's happiness: not joy. It's based on circumstances - very wonderful ones, but, circumstances.
And circumstances come, and they go. They constantly change.
When my son doesn't have the financial aid in place that he needs to attend the school of his dreams, is all our joy gone? When my daughter doesn't win the dance competition in which she was competing, what happens to joy?
When that "thing" that I dreamed of, wanted, longed for, prayed for, hoped for more than anything doesn't work out: where is my joy then?
Happiness is circumstantial.
Joy is not.
And that's where a lot of us get tripped up in our Christian walk.
We still believe somewhere deep inside that if God were good, he'd want us to be happy. He'd want things to work out well for us, for us to get the circumstances that we want in our lives. And if we let that way of thinking direct us, God becomes, at that point, not much more than a genie in a bottle, or a lamp that we can rub, there to make US happy. And that, my friends, is a very pagan mindset.
When I read the chapter that contains the names of some of the greatest people in the Bible - faith's Heroes Hall of Fame, Hebrews chapter 11, what I discover there is that the greatest people of faith never received in this life the things they most longed for: the things that would have made them most "happy". (If ever anyone should have been "Teacher's Pet" or "God's favorite" in the Bible, it would have been these people, right?) Abraham was promised a multitude of descendants and a land for them, yet Abraham, in his life here on earth, had one son, and lived that life in a tent. He never got the city with foundations which the chapter tells us he longed for.
(In fact, if you read further in the chapter you discover that some of the greatest people of faith were tortured, jeered at, flogged, and put in prison. Where was God's concern for their personal circumstantial happiness, I ask you?)
Hebrews 11:13 says: "All these people were still living by faith when they died. They did not receive the things promised; they only saw them and welcomed them from a distance."
I have friends who are walking through the fire right now. Through the fire. I have a friend who is dying of cancer. I have another friend who is in limbo, waiting for his diagnosis, and things look scary. I have other friends whose children are desperately ill. Is there any greater torture than a mother who must witness her own precious child suffering, but be helpless to alleviate that suffering?
Where. Is. Joy?
Here are some verses for your consideration:
Isaiah prophesies in Isaiah 12:3 that joy will be a hallmark of the believer's life: "With joy you will draw water from the wells of salvation."
Where are these wells of salvation I'm supposed to be drawing from?
John 7: 37-38 "If anyone is thirsty, let him come to me and drink. Whoever believes in me, as the Scripture has said, streams of living water will flow from within him.
John 4:14 "Whoever drinks the water I give him will never thirst. Indeed, the water I give him will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life."
Jesus is teaching, here, that the well of salvation that we are to draw from will spring up from inside of us. That living water is the presence of the Holy Spirit, who has come to live in the heart of the believer.
In Psalm 16:11, the psalmist says: "You will make known to me the path of life; in your presence is fullness of joy."
Joy, my dear, dear friends, is not circumstantial. It is not found in the "Yay!" moments of our lives, as wonderful as those can be.
Joy is internal. Not external.
Joy comes from within: from the presence of the One who gave His life as an atoning sacrifice for our sins, that He might come to dwell inside of us. That He might cause to spring up inside of us a well of living water from which we might draw, and never be thirsty again. His Holy Spirit, bringing life to the full, fullness of joy in His presence, within us.
Joy comes from a sure and certain knowledge that we are accepted in the Beloved, and never alone, come what may.
Immanuel. God with us.
God in us.
Joy invaded Earth on that starry night, long ago. when the Son of God was laid as a baby into that manger.
And the angels could not keep quiet for the pure joy of it.
Joy to the world. Indeed.
And now, that joy is in us.
But, here's the thing: take the time to savor the water.
Take the time to acknowledge the Source.
Take the time to have joy in His presence, within you.
Take the time to give thanks for this unspeakable gift.
And while you're at it: give thanks for the many, many outpourings of grace that you receive, on a daily basis.
Thanks be to God.