Light of Joy

The Third candle of Advent is the candle of Joy. I would like to share some reflections on Joy. My intention is that my words will not only help you celebrate the Advent season, but live the season deeply and bring it into the New Year.

We’ve looked at hope and peace seeing how they go together. When we have the hope and peace of God joy is a natural consequence. The bible talks about joy and what it means to have joy, how life transformative it is why it is important for a believer to be joyous. The bible, also directs us to rejoice. When we light the candle of joy, we are saying no to simple and self-centered pleasure and yes to the joy found in the Kingdom of God. Life can be and should be joyful, even in the midst of darkness, pain, and loss we can find flickers of joy in our lives. Joy is not about the events of our life, but the attitude and response we bring to life. Joy is more an attitude than emotion.

We need to be about bringing joy to sadness. Ralph Waldo Emerson advises us to “scatter joy” and Mark Twain advises us to “Let your joy be unconfined!”  These two great writers are simply saying to not hide our joy under a basket or keep it to ourselves, but to share our joy and guide others to joy. The more you give something like joy, love, or kindness away the more you will have. We must stay open for joy and happiness. Psalm 47 says, “Clap your hands, all peoples! Shout to God with loud songs of joy!” Isaiah 12: “Shout, and sing for joy” The bible is ripe with exhortations calling us to be of joy and to be not afraid. This life full of things to induce fear and sadness, yet the bible implores us to be joyful in all circumstances. (1 Thessalonians 5:16-18)

I don’t think that I am alone in preferring joy to sadness. Sometimes there seems no way out of sadness. Sometimes sadness hovers over us weighing us down. Jesus says he came so we could live life to the full. This means that our joy should be shared that it is meant to be a communal thing. We may be the most joyous people, but if we are not sharing our joy and guiding others to joy than our joy is meaningless. Joy should be part of community and cause us to reach out to others. Joy should cause us to widen our circle of compassion. Our joy is only complete when it is shared with others, especially those struggling.

I have a hard time with joy, especially when I am concentrating on the things I lack or want. I cannot be joyful when I am worried about getting and having. There are times, times that surprise me out of my ego trip and I see how truly awesome and wonderful, how holy life is. This world has so much to offer. Too often, I miss it. I want to experience more of it. I want to rejoice in God and His love and grace. To do this I know I need to better understand the gospel, live it out in my daily life, and share it with others.

Joy is the fruit of a right relation with God. It is not something people can create by their own efforts. Henri J.M. Nouwen: “Joy does not simply happen to us. We have to choose joy and keep choosing it every day.” Joy as a choice we must deliberately extend to others each day. Smile at people, greet them, make time for them, take friends to lunch, and show others images of beauty and works of literature.

If Anne Frank, who suffered so much, can say, “I don’t think of all the misery, but of the beauty that still remains”, than we should be able to say the same and not just say it, but live it too.  Listen to Buddhist monk Thich Naht Hanh, “The present moment is filled with joy and happiness. If you are attentive, you will see it.”  Joy is found in the present moment. If we are concerned about the past or looking into the future joy cannot be with us. When we are aware and live in the present than we can have joy.

God’s very being is joyous. Just think of the many moments of joy that have overwhelmed you: gazing on a lover or your children, reading an awesome piece of literature, watching the sunrise or set, a blazing rainbow, listening to a moving piece of music. God sees, hears, and touches all these and so much more constantly. As the poet William Cowper said, “God moves in a mysterious way. His wonders to perform; He plants His footsteps in the sea and rides upon the storm. Deep in unfathomable mines of never-failing skill. He treasures up His bright designs and works His sovereign will. Ye fearful saints, fresh courage take. The clouds ye so much dread are big with mercy, and shall break in blessings on your head. Trust Him for His grace; behind a frowning providence. He hides a smiling face. God is His own interpreter and He will make it plain.”

God bathes in joy. We in turn should feel joy whenever possible. I find each day that joy is more possible than not even when we suffering darkness joy is there waiting for us to embrace and share it.

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