Those who have been ransomed by the Lord will return. They will enter Jerusalem singing, crowned with everlasting joy. Sorrow and mourning will disappear, and they will be filled with joy and gladness.
Sing for joy, O heavens! Rejoice, O earth! Burst into song, O mountains! For the Lord has comforted his people and will have compassion on them in their suffering.
That night there were shepherds staying in the fields nearby, guarding their flocks of sheep. Suddenly, an angel of the Lord appeared among them, and the radiance of the Lord’s glory surrounded them. They were terrified, but the angel reassured them. “Don’t be afraid!” he said. “I bring you good news that will bring great joy to all people. The Saviour—yes, the Messiah, the Lord—has been born today in Bethlehem, the city of David!
Here is the thing with Christian joy: it isn’t stupid.
I know, I know. We would never say that out loud. But some part of us wonders if the joyful ones are just a bit … fake. Or if they’re disengaged with reality or if they are naive. Perhaps they stick their heads in the sand. Perhaps they are just a bit dumb about how hard it is in this life, about the heartbreak and the sorrow, about the evil and injustice. Joy must be a bit blind to reality, right?
I get it and I’ve felt that, too. After all, I wrote a whole chapter in my book about reclaiming lament as a response to those very things. Learning to obey the sadness has been a transformative thing for me.
I can’t escape joy. I can’t escape the exhortations of joy, the call to joy, the prayer for joy, the yearning for joy in Scripture and in the Spirit and in the Christian tradition. Joy! Laughter, song, dance, life, goodness, hope overflowing.
Joy isn’t emotionally or spiritually or intellectually dishonest. Christian joy doesn’t mean that we are sticking our heads in the sand and saying, “it’s fine, we’re fine, everything’s fine” while running past the gutter of broken dreams, eyes averted.
Joy isn’t denial of grief or pretending happiness.
Now, now I know this: joy is the affirmation of the truest thing in this life.
Joy is born, not from pretending everything is fine, but from holding both hope and truth together. The Christian can stand in that liminal space, the place of grief, even there with joy. Why? Because joy is the affirmation of the thing that is truer than any trouble, any affliction: the affirmation that Love wins. Jesus is as good as we hope, it’s all worth it, and all will be redeemed.
Almost all of our theology – and therefore our practical lives – has its roots in what we believe about the nature and character of God. It all tracks back. And really, if we want to know what God looks like, we can look to Jesus. That’s what the Bible tells us. Jesus was meant to clarify, to answer the questions, to clean up the dirty window through which we kept trying to behold the holy. Hebrews 1:3 states that Jesus is “the radiance of God’s glory and the exact representation of his being.”
So I didn’t learn how to practice joy until I learned to practice grief, and I didn’t learn how to do either one of those things well until I learned that God can be trusted.
Jesus is as good as we hope, and everything for which you are longing – love, joy, peace, justice, mercy, home, good work – is real because it rooted in God’s heart for us. Those are gifts from a good good Father. God is against the evil and suffering in this world. He is not the origin of evil nor does God “use” evil as a means to justify some cosmic end.
I couldn’t trust God if I suspected God was behind our deepest griefs and injustices. This is where the sovereignty conversations get interesting, I know. But I don’t blame God for much anymore. I see God as the rescue from the injustices, not the cause of them. I see God as the redeemer of the pain, not the origin of it. I see sovereignty, not as hyper-control over the minute and painful details of the world, but as a faithful promise that all things will be restored, all things will be redeemed, all will be rescued.
So as the people of God, the ones whose citizenship lies in the Kingdom of God, we are part of the resistance, the overcoming of them, the redemption and hope in the midst of them because they are the antithesis of the character of God. Why? Because THAT is God’s heart. That is God’s nature.
Sovereignty is a promise – not a threat or a reason. All will be held and that God is at work to bring redemption and reconciliation, and at the end of all things, we don’t escape from the goodness that pursues us, the life we are promised, the love that redeems.
Joy is born out of trust and hope and gratitude and faith in that coming Kingdom. We have a reason to rejoice. And it’s not denial or innocence or naivety or stupidity. Joy is the affirmation of the truest thing of all: redemption, restoration, reconciliation.
The joy of the Lord is rooted in the now and the not-yet of the Kingdom of God.
When Christ returns and sets all things right and heaven is established on earth, there will be no more tears, no more sorrows, no more good-byes. The kingdom will be a reunion, a shocking and wild oh-hallelujah-at-last gathering. The castoffs of our world – those whom our culture disdains and discards and disappoints and devastates – will lead the laughter and the dance. Part of our worship must be wiping the tears from every face, the labour of drawing buckets from the well of salvation to water the tired soil into renewal.
It’s messages of joy and open gates to welcome our children coming home from war, their swords forgotten, assault rifles discarded. It’s a rich harvest of exiles gathered from all the nations, refugees finding home, weapons are beaten into ploughshares, we’re not fighting anymore, we’re farming.
This is the world we are prophesying with our very lives.
Our joy is rooted in this hope and in this confidence: our Abba is steadily putting things right. God will not tire, God hasn’t fallen asleep on the job, and God will not quit. Jesus has not forgotten you. We are a people of life, not death.
Our joy is rooted in truth and that truth is the nature and character of God. Whatever we face, joy is the truest thing and this is not the end.
May your joy overflow.
I have loved you even as the Father has loved me. Remain in my love. When you obey my commandments, you remain in my love, just as I obey my Father’s commandments and remain in his love. I have told you these things so that you will be filled with my joy. Yes, your joy will overflow!
We also pray that you will be strengthened with all his glorious power so you will have all the endurance and patience you need. May you be filled with joy, always thanking the Father. He has enabled you to share in the inheritance that belongs to his people, who live in the light.
This is the third part of a series of Advent Sunday night candle meditations.